The first green shoots

It may still be winter outside, but indoors there are the first signs of spring.

On the windowsill in my office I have my seed potatoes chitting. There are two varieties: Colleen (an early) and Sarpo Mira (a blight-resistant maincrop). I love to see the signs of life bursting forth:

Sarpo Mira

Sarpo Mira

And in the propagator there are tiny seedlings – they weren’t there yesterday so this is their birthday! First to germinate are a couple of ‘Pyramid’ Rainbow chilli peppers. These seeds were bought from Real Seeds, who have this to say about them:

Pyramid rainbow chilli

Pyramid rainbow chilli

[They] make a bush about 20″ tall, covered in incredibly purple little peppers. They then ripen to a whole range of pinks, oranges and reds, so you get all the colours at the same time. It is ideal as a patio or conservatory pot plant, and is very hot, too!

Can you see it?

Can you see it?

I bought them mainly because I thought they would look pretty, but I’m sure that we will enjoy the chilli peppers in cooking. Second to appear is a tiny shoot of Bartlett’s Bonnet chilli, again from Real Seeds and selected because the fruit are such an interesting shape, described as a “winged bell”. Apparently the plants can grow up to four feet tall… at the moment only the tiniest loop of stem is peaking out from the compost and you might not even be able to spot it, but trust me it’s there. So, we have ‘chilli futures’ and ‘potato futures’, fingers crossed we’ll start to see some sweet peppers germinating soon too.

The pots, by the way, are hand made in Sri Lanka  from coir fibre and latex (read about them here), the compost is made commercially using wool and bracken (details here) and I made the plant labels from strips of plastic cut from the lids of some old takeaway boxes.

 

Carnival of Capsicums

The first seeds that I plant each year are Capsicums: chillies and sweet peppers. They need a long growing season to maximise fruit production and ripening, so I sow seeds in January or February. The best levels of germination are achieved in warm conditions, so I always plant mine in an electric propagator.

Five varieties of Capsicums sown

Five varieties of Capsicums sown

Last year, in an attempt to reduce my use of resources, I planted them in toilet roll middles filled with compost, but unfortunately the germination rates were very disappointing and I ended up undertaking a second sowing much later. I thought carefully about this and realised that the problem was probably the result of raising the seeds too far from the heat. A toilet roll middle is about 5 inches long and an electric propagator heats from the base, so the seeds were quite a distance from the source of heat. This year I have cut the toilet roll middles in half, thus using less compost and reducing the distance between heat and seed. Fingers crossed that I will have more success this year – I will report back.

The varieties I have sown are: sweet peppers Lipstick and Nova; chillies Lemon drop and Alberto’s locoto; plus a mix of seven Australian heritage sweet peppers (thanks to Kate).

Colleen and Mira

Colleen and Mira

An additional job yesterday was putting the seed potatoes out to chit. When I removed them from their box, I discovered that the first earlies (Colleen) had all already started growing profusely so care was needed to remove them from the nets they had been sent in. The main crop (Mira) also had some small sprouts. I intend to share these tubers  with my sister (who has a new garden) and have a great potato harvest in 2014, like we did in 2013, but this time in both west Wales and Shropshire.

And the results are in…

An early harvest of Colleen

An early harvest of Colleen

This year I decided to keep a record of some of the crops that I harvested from the garden (not all of them, I’m not that much of a garden-geek). Really I wanted to demonstrate to myself that I am making a useful contribution to our food consumption, and to show that it is possible to grow a significant amount of food in a relatively small space. The two crops that I recorded were courgettes and potatoes. Since the potatoes were all dug up some weeks ago and the courgette plants have now been finished off by the cold weather, I have the full season’s results.

Prolific courgettes

Prolific courgettes

In total, from an area of approximately four square metres I harvested just over 12kg of courgettes. Of these 7.3kg were from ‘ordinary’ courgettes (two green bush and two Trieste White Cousa) and 4.8kg from three Costata Romanesco plants. We ate the majority of these over the summer, but some of them went into soups that are currently frozen for winter consumption.

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

Colleen and Valor in a raised bed

The total harvest of potatoes was an impressive 41kg. They have been feeding us since about June and we still have quite a lot stored. We grew these in approximately five square metres of garden plus three dumpy bags* and one small growing sack. The most prolific variety in the dumpy bags was the first early variety Colleen which yielded just over 6.07kg from one dumpy bag filled with grass clippings. garden compost and shredded paper and planted with 9 tubers. In comparison, six tubers planted in a soil-filled raised bed gave us 5.73kg. The main crop varieties Milva and Mira did less well, only yielding 3.5kg from their dumpy bag (I mixed them together). Valor (a second early) did particularly well in the raised bed containing soil, yielding an astonishing 12.7kg  from 6 tubers.

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the 'waste of space' corner

Potatoes in dumpy bags in the ‘waste of space’ corner

All varieties of potato did better in soil in beds than in dumpy bags. I think this is actually related to water availability: we had a very dry summer and the vigorously growing potatoes in the dumpy bags wilted on numerous occasions even with daily watering, whilst those growing in the garden never wilted. Despite this limitation, the dumpy bags were a great success – they increased the growing space available and added significantly to our harvest. My favourite potato has to be Colleen – they grow really well and provide the first potatoes of the season, but I liked Valor too. I think these are the varieties we will focus on next year.

Costata Romanesca - delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

Costata Romanesca – delicious fried with garlic (each of those slices is 5-8cm across)

The Costata Romanesco courgettes are a favourite of Carol Deppe and she recommends using them for drying. This is something we didn’t get round to doing this year, but I will have a go at next year. The plants are big and start off as bushes, but then get to sprawling around. Whilst not prolific in terms of fruit, those they do grow can get really big but still remain very tasty (unlike marrows) and tender. However, I do like the more normal courgettes, especially for their joyful abundance and will continue to grow them every year.

All in all, it’s been an interesting experiment to weigh our crops. And what’s the most important thing I have learned? Next time make a proper recording sheet, because trying to decipher all those scribbled notes on several tatty sheets of paper is quite a challenge at the end of the season!

-oOo-

* I have been experimenting with growing in containers in a previously unused bit of space. There are several ‘waste of space’ posts if you are interested: here, here and here

Garden dinner

I love the time in the year when it is possible to eat a significant proportion of our food from out of the garden. We are not quite there yet this year, but last night we did start with spring onions, potatoes and sage from the garden (plus an egg):

Ingredients for dinner

Ingredients for dinner

and ended up with Glamorgan sausages, boiled new potatoes (variety Colleen) and lettuce for our dinner:

Ready to eat

Ready to eat

Not quite  a garden dinner, as the lettuce came from a local farm and the Glamorgan sausages were made with breadcrumbs from a homemade loaf (organic white flour from Shipton Mill; wholemeal from Felin Ganol) plus Snowdonia Black Bomber Cheese and freshly ground back pepper, but with the sage and onions and bound together with the egg. Not entirely home-grown, but very satisfying that almost everything was fairly local.

I am having a slight problem, however, at breakfast time. Despite the strawberries, raspberries, blueberries and red currants being covered in fruit, none of it is ripe yet. Thank goodness for rhubarb to keep me going in this rather lean period!

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