Three out of four ain’t bad

Now, if I had stuck to a ‘three sisters‘ planting, as is normal, I would have been able to quote Meatloaf and tell you that ‘two out of three ain’t bad‘, but since I upped the ante, I’ve had to paraphrase.

The four sisters crop

The four sisters crop

You may recall that I tried a ‘four sisters‘ planting this year, adding sunflowers to the traditional mix of beans, corn and squash. The sunflowers were self-seeded from the bird feed, so were something of a bonus, but have turned out to be remarkably prolific. We have managed quite a few squashes (not bad for about four square metres), lots of runner beans – both fresh pods and seeds for drying – but once more the corn has been a disappointment. Despite growing flint corn rather than sweetcorn, and having a really sunny summer, few of the cobs are full.

So, what do I conclude? Well, corn is too unreliable to put much effort into, but I like the combination of beans and squashes, especially since the latter are so good at suppressing weeds. The beans make use of vertical space and so the squashes don’t seem to have to be planted at a reduced density compared to planting them on their own. I’m not convinced that the sunflowers were a particularly good variety for my needs, but they were easy to grow and successful and they were an accident this year, andI can be more selective in the future

Next year my three sisters will comprise squash and courgettes, beans (var. The Czar, again) and sunflowers (probably naked ones, such as var. Lady Godiva)

Squashy

Last year Patrick, from Bifurcated Carrots, was kind enough to send me some seeds that he had obtained from Carol Deppe. These included flint corn, which is now growing in my four sisters bed, and several varieties of squash.

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the 'four sisters' bed

Squashes of all varieties are flourishing in the ‘four sisters’ bed

I love winter squash – people keep telling me that I ought to try the variety ‘crown prince’, but somehow I have never got round to it. The most successful one I have grown here on the west coast of Wales is Boston – which I get from the Real Seed Catalogue. However, I was excited to have some different varieties to have a go with, particularly since Carol Deppe is in Oregon… another rather wet and dull part of the world with a relatively short growing season (at least as far as squash are concerned).

Anyway, I planted the seeds with great glee and was delighted that almost all of them germinated and started growing into robust plants. I had more than I needed, so passed some onto my friend Katy, who had a space in her garden and wanted some winter squash. Since then I have been watching mine grow… I was sure that I had labelled all of them when I planted them out, but one or two seem to now be anonymous; never mind, I will be able to match then to pictures on the internet, I’m sure.

Costata Romanesco - not a winter squash!

Costata Romanesco – not a winter squash!

However, I was happily inspecting the abundance the other day when it dawned on me that one of the varieties – Costata Romanesco – looked much more like a huge courgette (zucchini) than a winter squash. So, I dug out the packets and, sure enough, it’s a summer squash! I got out my copy of The resilient gardener by Carol Deppe and discovered that this variety can grow up to three or four feet long… although she recommends harvesting it before that. She claims that it’s very flavoursome (she hardly has a good word to say about courgettes on this matter) and can be dried for use over the winter in stews, soups etc. So now I’m even more excited about the prospect of a tasty and storable summer squash.

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Delicious fried in olive oil with chopped fresh garlic

Just to test it out, I harvested one for dinner last night – only about 9 inches long, so a mere baby. I fried it in olive oil, with a little chopped garlic, straight out of the garden and it was, indeed, delicious. Another good characteristic of this variety is that it is dense and has a relatively low water content , unlike those horrible watery marrows that some people grow. This quality means that it is good for frying and should also be great for drying.

Dinner last night... all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

Dinner last night… all out of the garden except the small servings of chorizo cooked in cider

So: thanks to Patrick for the seeds; Linda – I will need to take you up on that offer to borrow your dehydrator later in the season; and Katy – some of those winter squashes I gave you are summer ones!

Filling the gap

In my earlier ‘Waste of Space‘ post I described my plans for a previously unused area beside the house. The first stage was just to get something in the area and I started by placing some potatoes along the fence in bags. These have grown like mad, but the rain and strong winds last Friday rather battered them – being raised above the ground they are more exposed than plants growing directly in the soil. However, they weren’t completely destroyed and so should still be producing tubers down in the compost.

Mangetout with some of the storm-ravaged potatoes

But potatoes were only the beginning. The next addition was two large pots of mangetout to grow up the fence. This fence has had to be covered with mesh and the height increased because of escaping chickens that would  get over the top (via the compost bins) in order to visit the neighbours or take a stroll down the street. Sadly our greatest escapee, Gytha, died yesterday, but the mesh has to stay as the others are not entirely trustworthy. So, tall pea plants seemed a good way to mask the mesh and make use of vertical space that was just begging to be utilised. The plants were started in the greenhouse where some of them were eaten by a mouse; however, some survived and are now a few inches tall… fingers crossed they will produce some pods.

My latest addition to the area is a ‘dumpy bag’ filled with compost from my big green cone compost bin and planted with the ‘three sisters’. For those of you who don’t know, a dumpy bag is one of those cubic metre sacks that building materials arrive in. The builders merchants won’t take them back for reuse (in case they fail, I guess) and so they are generally regarded as rubbish. We have several of them and I’ve heard of them being used elsewhere for planting so thought I would give it a go once I had enough compost to fill one.

Mostly from waste: a dumpy bag filled with grass clippings, cardboard and home-made compost.

As for the ‘three sisters‘, they are squash, corn and beans, which grow well together as a ‘guild’. In theory, the corn should provide support for the beans, but I know that corn is a tricky crop here in west Wales, so I have added some canes for the beans. My planting is very dense, but since the bag contains compost with a cardboard-grass clippings-cardboard sandwich in the base (to hold moisture and provide heat as it breaks down) there should be plenty of nutrients and the beans should fix nitrogen to further boost the fertility. I did cover the top of the home-made compost with about an inch of coir fibre with no added nutrients to serve as a mulch and discourage weed growth from the compost until the squash leaves get big enough to suppress any weeds on their own. I only had three runner bean plants left from my earlier garden planting and these are looking the worse for wear, but I’m hoping that they will perk up now they are in such a great growing medium. I planted three different squashes: Boston (a winter squash), summer crookneck and a courgette (zucchini)… any rampant rambling can be across the tarmac or along the little fence. This is a real experiment for me, but I think that it might be quite successful.

Slowly less of the space is wasted

<span>%d</span> bloggers like this: