Grow Your Own: Reflections and resolutions

It’s an exciting time to plan what to grow. I hope you have fun chatting with your neighbours about what went well – and what you’re up for trying again in this new year.

Gardening can be a hit and miss affair, especially where veg is concerned. So now is the perfect time to reflect on last year’s successes and failures, before planning the new growing year’s resolutions.

I was chatting with my mate Emma, head gardener at Garden Organic, and we shared a laugh over our 2021 failures, as well as revelling in those brilliant veggies that did us proud.

We agreed it was a bumper year for beans – and that was after I thought I had lost all mine to a late frost in May. After cutting them right back to a healthy bud, within six weeks they began to provide crop after crop. Why were they so productive, I wondered? Em reckons it was the cool, wet conditions in early June which not only gave them a good start for root development but also stopped them from bolting.

Brassicas also did well for both of us, I think because we netted them early. This provided protection for the young plants from the elements, but also from aphids and butterflies which appeared later (and in my case the perennially greedy pigeons).

Carrots
Grow carrots or potatoes in old containers to save space in beds.

I admitted I was jealous of her carrot and courgette output. My carrot row was a dismal failure (I took my eye off the ball and put them in the wrong soil, with not enough sun, and suffered an invasion of carrot root fly.) And of my three courgette plants, two got badly slug damaged and only one had any real fruits to pick.

The Garden Organic courgette plants, however, were fantastic in size and output. What was Em’s secret? A mulch fabric which covered the ground, through which each plant grew.  It seems this fabric will suppress weeds and keep the soil warm and moist. And it’s made of corn starch, not plastic, so it biodegrades naturally at the end of the year.

But where she admitted difficulties was with peas. Planted by a hedge in which sparrows nest, the peas were stripped by these busy little birds. And don’t mention the sweetcorn to her! It appears a badger made his way into the gardens and laid waste – cobs and stems were scattered in his wake.

So – taking into account weather variables, poor siting, as well as pests – what will we both be doing this year?

Veg growing
Celebrate successes and plan for the new year in your veg patch. 

Emma has plans to grow her squashes up a metal-framed pergola, to lift them up off the ground and prevent leaf cover and trampling (and perhaps confound a hungry badger?!)  She’s also going to try sowing some annual varieties of broccoli and kale in the perennial veg patch, just to see if they fare beyond the year into 2023. Watch this space.

I’m going to try her idea of the corn starch mulch fabric (available online) and think hard about my carrot growing. I’m tempted to try them in a box, with a special light sandy loam, placed high up on a table to beat the low flying carrot fly.

And I’ll repeat my experiment of growing potatoes in my old black recycling boxes. It was easy to pull the tubers out, and I had a great crop. And because potatoes take up quite a lot of space, by taking them out of my raised beds I had more room for plenty of other veg and salads.

New year, new resolutions. It’s an exciting time to plan what to grow. I hope you have fun chatting with your neighbours about what went well – and what you’re up for trying again in this new year. Happy 2022!

The Grow Your Own Wicked Leeks series is written by Garden Organic, the national charity for organic growing. Each month we bring you timely advice on what to do in your organic patch, whether you’re an experienced grower or just starting out. Share your own tips and gardening photos on social media under #GYOWickedLeeks.

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