I love this time of year because we begin thinking of the next growing season. ďNext MonthĒ has returned after a couple of months lying fallow, and in ďThis MonthĒ I am going to plan my seed buying for the coming months.
This is the point when I will firm up my plan for planting in the beds so that I will maintain a rotation of crops. In early spring I will then know where to spread manure as it is important for some crops but even harmful for others where luxuriant top growth is not required. For example too much manure on onion beds will result in longer fatter necks and less bulb. It is also important to prepare for next month's planting, including digging a trench for kitchen waste one spit(spade) deep where the beans are going to be sown. See "Next Month".
If you intend chitting your potatoes next month it is a good idea to collect egg boxes now as they are very suitable for this purpose. Also I have been collecting eggshells to mash and spread on the carrot bed to discourage gastropod defoliation as the seedlings come through.
French Breakfast Radish
Salad: Lettuce, Rocket. Radish. Beetroot
I scrimp on the planting of salad leaves so a packet lasts me years and I buy a couple of new ones each year so I am constantly expanding the range. I usually donít even know what they are. I just go for a massive variety and rejoice in it. I would recommend you to do the same. The packets I have currently are Tonale Ice Queen, Paris Island Cos, Little Gem, Vienna, and Salad Bowl, and some varieties I bought in France: Red Grenoble, Romaine, Endive - which they call chicoree frisse- one called Kine Montepas, and White Passion
I have wild rocket, which is self seeding and perennial so it basically looks after itself. I let it grow wherever it comes up, within reason. I plant the French Radish díAvignon and French Breakfast, . As for beetroot the French Carillon is cylindrical, as, surprisingly is Cylindra and I also plant Detroit which is round. All have a particularly earthy flavour which I like.
Sun Gold Tomatoes
Outdoors I reckon it is best to grow cherry tomatoes as they are sweet tasting and ripen early. They are scrumptious, whether in a salad or griddled and make lovely sauces to accompany pasta.
Dorothy recommended Sun Gold, Thompson & Morgan for an outdoor cherry tomato, and I am continuing to grow these, it is very important to me as, sadly, Dorothy passed on a few years ago. I miss her friendly advice on how to grow them. Sun Gella, Thompson & Morgan is an alternative which is not a F1 hybrid which makes seed collection a more reliable option. Although I have managed to get a great crop outside in the past, the last few years the plants have suffered from blight which thrive in the damp conditions following a dry spell, and like all virulent diseases spread like wildfire. I donít think this is helped by those who do not clear their diseased debris quickly.
Outdoor tomatoes need to be started off in pots, repotted at least once and planted out before they get too ďleggyĒ from over exposure to the light. For that reason it is best not to sow them too early, for like many plants they are not frost hardy. Itís best done mid to late May where I live in Manchester. They do not like being too close together, preferring a bit of air circulating round them. I will also plant a contrasting red coloured cherry tomato Pomodoro Cerise from Italy which gives a similarly tasty and prolific crop. A couple of years ago my better half returned from Naples with two large varieties which I tried outside without success Pomodoro Sorrento and Pomodoro Cuor di Bue. They will be grown in my greenhouse. I am looking forward to being able to use the greenhouse again, I am still learning the techniques for successful husbandry. So far experience has taught me that this little area needs far more vigilance and time spent on it than an area much larger outside. I fear this is because the environment created is unnatural and attracts problems which otherwise would not arise. This year we had a crop of tomatoes from late June until mid November.
Onions (White, Red & Salad), Shallots
I have more success with onion sets than seed. Other allotmenteers tell me they start the seeds off in a greenhouse, but not having one until recently I have not had this option. I have some seed from France which I shall be planting inside at the end of this month Onion Rouge de Simiane, but my main efforts will be in planting sets later.
I am buying the dependable Sturon and Jet Set white onions. They store well and we are still using last yearís crop. Even better in reliability are the Red Baron, which make a great addition to a salad or especially a tomato salsa. Unfortunately a lot of the red onions bolted last year. I think this was a common problem from what others told me. And probably it was a result of the dry conditions.
All three of these are available as organic sets. Another variety which I liked was Autumn Gold. As for shallots, in the past I have bought the elongated French ones by postal delivery, an organic one called Longor and Jermor. I purchased some from a market in France, while on holiday, variety unknown, and also a more rounded individual called Santť. I saved some to plant and we are still using last yearís.
Finally, Salad Onions. Just call me a traditionalist but I go for White Lisbon. I tried Ramrod one year as I had plenty of White Lisbon but it didnít make a bulb so the white bit which has most of the flavour was much smaller. The other ones I grow are Hatif de Paris which, if picked small, makes a tasty addition to a salad, as does Bianca di Maggio.
Leeks come in all shapes and sizes. Musselburgh are short and fat,Richard III are spindly, longer and perhaps a little sparkier in taste. Carentan is a lovely French variety which are a good compromise, still quite fat but tasty. Tropita is another which I happily plant to maintain a variety.
Mara des Bois
Iíve never been disappointed by any of the varieties I have tried. I started with Bolero and Marshmello, which were both flavoursome and quite prolific. However when I tried a ďperpetualĒ, Mara des Bois, it really hit the spot. Sometimes I got two harvests from the others but Mara des Bois just keeps coming. I was still taking flowers off in November. I donít know what they thought was happening, but clearly they would not have time to mature as fruit, but the plants are so keen to fruit that they canít help themselves. Just for variety and to fill the bed I bought a few Cambridge Favourite from the garden centre at a very reasonable price, and they bear fruit on a good scale. Other than this I should be able to propagate all the others to maintain a variety and a bumper crop for years to come.
Legumes: Broad Beans, French Beans & Peas
I keep my broad beans from year to year and I am not sure what they are. They are either Jubilee Hysor or The Sutton and I am pretty sure they are the former.
Iím a bit more adventurous with the French beans. I grow climbers and ordinary ones to good effect. My favourite climber is purple while on the wigwam., but turns green with a purple tinge when steamed: Blauhilde. The dwarf ones I grow are The Prince and Pros Gitana both are tasty and stringless, but they are quite different in texture and flavour.
Some years ago I tried Borlotti Beans, Major Cook and Barlotti Lingua Di Fuoco very successfully. We let them grow until they were big inside the pod and then podded them, using them fresh in stews and in a paste form mixed with Olive oil which was based on the Greek Fava, which is actually made with a bean similar to the Broad Bean. This is rather like Humus and we eat it with Pitta Bread. Borlotti Beans also taste great in a stew, and I successfully dried stored them.
With peas Kelvedon Wonder are a traditional and reliable favourite. I have also tried Rondo , which is a maincrop variety. and which has given me a great crop in adverse weather conditions. I tried Progress No 9 last year which is a second early and the result was mixed, germination being a bit unreliable. However this could have been the result of the weather so I will try it again. In the past I tried Norli and Onward but they didnít get anywhere near Rondo . I have grown Mange Tout but moved over to Sugar Snap have been very successful.
Corn is sometimes problematic. I was very happy with Jubilee produced by Mr Fothergills which I picked off the stand in a garden centre. They were fantastic. However, Golden Jubilee had a disappointing flavour the year before last. I tried Mr Fothergillís Incredible last year which were tasty, although they were an F1 hybrid. Once I find one that is not I will save the seed, hopefully in perpetuity. The year before last the Golden Bantam, an organic variety, was spindly and ineffectual. Was it my fault or the weather? I donít know. Last year the crop was eaten by rodents or birds or both, but I think it would have been OK had I followed my own advice and protected them. This year I am trying Incredible ,I will plant it well away from the sweetcorn of other plotholders for if cross pollination occurs, the crop will be ruined.
I grow organic courgettes, a yellow: Gold Bush , a green one from France: Verte des Maraichers ,and a stripey Italian zucchini Striato di Napoli . The outdoor cucumber is Marketer, which is also a French one, but the English equivalent is Marketmore, . I have grown them all for years with very pleasing results.
This one is easy, on the basis of if it works donít fix it. I have always grown Lady Cristl as a first early and Nadine as a second early. Both store well so there is no need for a main crop which might be attacked by blight. A few years ago I added Desiree for variety and it proved to be made a great baker. As an early maincrop I am still able to get it out of the ground before the blight strikes. Although the tubers are sometimes quite small this depends very much on the weather, if the growing period is too dry, I always promise myself I will water them but never find the time to do it. We still have a lot left, anyway. Interestingly, according to the results of a study by Gardenerís Question Time the larger the tubers the larger the crop. Thus I am going to buy local again this year so I have more control over the size of the seed. One year I grew Maris Bard, as an early and Maris Peer as a second early. Both were very good croppers and tasted beautiful. Last year it was Pentland Javelin, Pink Fir Apple and Desiree. I must say I the Desiree were the best and I keep returning to them, along with the Lady Cristl and Nadine. With a few Pink Fir Apple these will be what I aim to purchase when they become available. last year I was tempted by Ambo and Arran Victory but neither was easy to roast.
I decided to order more asparagus a couple of years ago, because I got the new half plot into cultivation. Years ago I chose Franklim., which tastes wonderful. Last year I bought two year old crowns of another old favourite Connoverís Colossal. which laboured in the drought. If you like eating Asparagus I would thoroughly recommend that you establish a bed of the lovely stuff. The only downside is the wait two or three years for it to be ready to cut.
Carrots & Parsnips
My favourite carrots are Early Nantes, which I plant very early and Nantes 2 orNantes which goes in later. They wonít win prizes for size but the flavour is beautiful. When I started I grew the stocky and resilient parsnip Avon Resister but now I grow Tender and True , very traditional and a little susceptible to canker, but very tasty all the same. The last two years I have successfullt collected the seed so no need to purchase! Both carrots and parsnips were very successful again this year. Our Christmas dinner always includes both.
Derby Day Cabbage
If you have read my previous comments in months gone by you will know that this is my Achilles Heel. Youíd best take no notice of me whatsoever and let me know what to do. I have had some degree of success with Derby Day cabbage, Marner Early Red, and the classic Peer Gynt sprouts. We usually have enough sprouts for Christmas Day which is always nice, although quite often it is because my friend Keith generously lets me have some. I could cry about the calabrese though. The first year I grew a variety produced by Johnsonís and when I tried to order it they had been taken over by Mr Fothergillís and production of this variety had ceased. Ever since then everything I have tried has sprouted to nothing. Aargh!!!!
Last year the best type of Spinach was one which was really Leafbeet called Perpetual. It needs to be picked when the leaves are small for the best flavour.
Florence fennel is a problem for me. I have been pleased with Romanesco in the past but Suffolk Herbs were taken over by Kings and I was less pleased by their offering last year. I first bought the Suffolk herbs seeds at the Lost Gardens of Heligan in Cornwall. It is important to buy one which is not susceptible to bolting or all your efforts vanish into flower. I have tried Italian ones Bianco Perfezione and di Firenze, neither of which were of much consequence, being poor germinators and a pitiful size of bulb. It is important to plant them in June, but not too late. For the last two years I have been going to try Taymar for the seeds on a friendís recommendation, but I couldnít find them anywhere.
I donít need any of the standard herbs this year as I have plenty of seed. One year I bought Tarragon while I was in France. Itís important to buy French Tarragon as this is the one that has the flavour which goes so well with chicken. I also bought Hyssop, Oregano, and Cardoon when I visited Jekka McVicarís.Farm the day before the Soil Associationís Festival in Bristol in early September one year. Sadly I learned this year that the Food festival is no more.