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

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