Posted on

New year, New beginnings

Winter is finally upon us. Last weekend we had a lot of snow and now the temperature has dropped to minus 10 degrees centigrade.

Snow

The garden is covered with snow, almost knee deep, so it is even hard to differentiate between path and raised bed. Together with a friend I cleaned up the snow inside the polytunnel before heavy frosts make it impossible to sweep the snow from the top. Inside, the calendulas are getting a beating. I am pretty sure that with a few days of heavy frosts they will finally succumb to the winter weather. Everything else is at a standstill. I still have a few spinach, kohlrabi, endive and cabbage greens but they are all small and not growing very fast.

Poly with snow

Seeds

So there is nothing else to do now but plan for the coming season and wait until spring comes around the corner. My organic as well as some heirloom seeds have arrived from Vreeken zaden in the Netherlands. They have an amazing selection of varieties and I spent some happy hours filling that shopping cart on their site.

Seeds

I decided on a bit more of an adventurous journey in 2016 with tomatoes. Last year’s tomato experience was an enormous success. So this year I have gone for the bush cherry tomato Whippersnapper, a beef tomato called Glory of Mechelen (a city in Belgium), and two varieties of medium large tomatoes. As usual I have probably gone overboard choosing four different kinds but since I started selling some of my surplus vegetables to colleagues I need to have some kind of business sense and want to present them with varieties of tomatoes you would be unlikely to find in the supermarket.

Chillis

I have bought a lot of chilli pepper seeds as well. As a big chilli fan, it is a must to grow at least two or three varieties. Last year I had little time for gardening and my chillis punished me for that. The yield wasn’t as big as I had hoped. This was all due to irregular watering…. and lack of talking to them. This year I am hoping to better myself and have set myself a new goal. I have bought the Caribbean blend which consists of 25 seeds of a selected variety of chillis. Some very rare ones. The funny part is that I will have no idea what I will be growing until the chillis are formed. Next to that I will grow Ancho chillis and Chilhuacal negro chillis and I will try to sing to all of them to keep them happy.

Colourful Chillies

Courgette

My colleagues love my homegrown courgettes. They claim the taste is so much better than the supermarket ones. I wouldn’t know because I hardly ever buy courgettes. I eat them homegrown when in season and out of season I eat seasonal vegetables. So the packet from Vreeken  All colours and shapes will appeal to my work mates. With 40 seeds I am pretty sure they will all get sick and tired of my courgettes …and maybe even my courgette chocolate cake – eventually!

Courgettes in the october polytunnel

The only outside of the box seeds I will be sowing are Canadian blueberries. I love blueberries but the plants are expensive to buy. It will probably take me a few years but growing them from seed will be cheaper and will give me stronger plants.

I just can’t wait to start sowing!

Posted on

How to Increase your Tomato Harvest!

I have this amazing polytunnel but have never been able to grow tomatoes successfully. Until this year that is! After coming across a special tomato planter on the internet we decided to give it a try…

Yellow Shoulder Disorder

Last year I grew Roma tomatoes and ended up with yellow shoulder disorder. The tomatoes that is …not me of course. I was told yellow shoulder disorder is caused by extreme heat and/or poor soil conditions. The years before that, when I grew them in pots in the conservatory, I ended up with wrinkled tomatoes which is apparently caused by erratic watering.

Tomato Planter

After last year’s disaster I was determined to do things differently. I started off loading heaps of compost on the beds in the polytunnel and doing a bit of research on the internet. There I found an article about a man who made tomato planters. The concept is extremely easy, we already had most of the components required so Roger set to work.

You need wire mesh, some pipes or wooden posts to keep the wire in place (we actually used bicycle wheel rims) and a 20 litre bucket. You drill holes in the bottom of the bucket and fill it half way up with compost. Then you sink the bucket half way into the soil, plant the tomato plants around it and place the mesh around the plants.

Tomato planter

Tomato planter

Water

We used a 20 litre bucket. The important thing to remember is that you will need to provide each tomato plant with 19 litres of water per week. We calculated that with a 20 litre bucket and three plants we have to water the plants every other day. We made two planters with three plants each. The variety I chose is Moneymaker, one of the easiest ones to grow.

Tomato planter

Fertilizer

After the plants started to flower I added some fresh nettle and comfrey leaves to the bucket but besides that no extra fertilizer was used. The mesh kept the plants in place leaving room for other plants to grow and watering was done every other day – only pouring straight into the bucket, thus leaving the leaves dry. Once the tomatoes were fully grown I removed some of the leaves near the centre of the planter to increase air circulation.

The result was amazing – we have harvested over 20 kilos from only six plants, all juicy and sweet. No pests, no fungus, no yellow shoulder disorder or wrinkly fruit in sight. We just had A LOT of tomatoes. We are definitely going to use these planters again next year and I am looking forward to trying them out with some different varieties next time.

Tomato harvest

Posted on

Sowandso Belgian Garden Update

Summer is in full swing and so are the veggies in the polytunnel and veg beds. Even though I do not have a lot of time, or maybe in spite it, the veg are doing marvellously.

Touch wood, apart from a few aphids on my Cavolo Nero kale I am not having any bug or fungi problems. The garden is full of ladybird larvae which is always a welcome sight!

Flowers

Every day when I come home from work I go to the polytunnel and every day it looks different inside. This year I am growing a lot more flowers next to the veggies. Zinnia, Calendula, Hibiscus and Nasturtium are giving the poly a cheerful look and are attracting all kinds of pollinators.

Zinnia in the poly

The two courgette plants inside the poly are cropping like crazy which is giving me a little pocket money by selling them to my colleagues who are rave about the flavour. I am growing the yellow variety One Ball from seeds I saved from last year’s harvest. A funny thing to note is that they are more pear shaped than round… I wonder why that is?!

Tomato planter

Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, oh and more tomatoes! The two planters we made at the beginning of the season out of bicycle wheel rims and wired mesh are proving to be a success. In the middle we dug in a 20 liter bucket half in the soil and half full with compost. Later I added some nettle and comfrey leaves to it. The three tomato plants planted around it are getting just the right amount of water just where they need it –  the roots and not the leaves. I am growing variety Money Maker and it sure does look like a money making business because there are kilos and kilos of tomatoes on them. The planters also provide some stability for the plants so I only need to tie up a few stems here and there. If the tomatoes all go on to ripen successfully I think we will maybe do two more of these planters next year…

Tomato planter

Watermelon

This year I am attempting to grow watermelon. The plants took a bit of time to get started but are now growing very rapidly with lots of little yellow flowers and tiny watermelons. My only concern is that these tiny watermelons will not have sufficient time to mature. Maybe our growing season here is too short, even though we are having a smashing summer up till now. Fingers crossed for at least one anyway…!

Watermelon

Chick Peas

Another experiment which seems to be going well is chick peas. I am amazed at how easy it is to grow them. I read on the seed pack that for our climate we should really grow them indoors, so I sowed my seeds in pots and planted most of them in the polytunnel. Due to lack of space I had a few plants left over and planted them in a secluded place in front of the rapidly growing hedge and in between some flax plants. So not only the plants in the poly are doing well, the ones planted outside also. Chickpea plants are lovely, they have such nice leaves, extremely small flowers which bees seem to love that turn into bright green pods. Each pod contains one or two chick pea. You can leave them on the plant until the plant turns yellow and dry them while still on the plant for storage but you can also eat them young and green for example mashed with avocado’s as a guacamole. Now that sounds yummy!

Chick peas

Last weekend I harvested two kilos of green beans from plants planted inside and outside the poly. They are exactly the same variety but the ones growing outside are tougher and darker than the ones in the poly. Other than that we have lots of peas, lettuce, chard and green leafs.

Polytunnel

What a great time of the year this is!

 

Posted on

Still Waiting for Spring to Arrive in our Garden…

It seems that here in the Belgian Ardennes over the last few days, every minute of the day the weather changes. Sunshine is followed by a hailstones as big as grapes, followed by black clouds and angry howling winds …to have the sun return once again.

As usual we are a bit behind when it comes to plant progress in the garden. My tulips consist of just a few leaves and a tiny flower head that is just edging above the soil. Luckily the apple trees are not showing any signs of life yet because I would hate to lose my blossoms to the inevitable night frosts that follow days like this.

Weather report

There is still so much that needs to be done in the garden, but now it all comes down to timing. Planting out my tubers too soon can result in frostbite. A little frost wouldn’t be too bad but we wouldn’t want the young growth to turn to mush… Same for my outdoor beans.  So I am consulting the weather reports daily and mulling it over in my head. Glancing outside for a moment while writing this I can actually see snow falling with the sun shining at the same time. That is the conflict I have to face whilst gardening at this time of year.

Raised Beds

The only thing we can do right now is prepare for the season by starting to re-do some of the raised beds.

Raised bed

raised beds

 Polytunnel

Inside the polytunnel it is a different story all together. We seem to have won the battle against mice for the time being. Unfortunately it meant we had to use traps but all but one of my plants have survived.

The Chinese cabbage sown and planted out last autumn is thriving and is providing us with loads of stir fry meals. Luckily we do not seem to have a lot of slugs yet, so for now at least they are all ours for the picking.

The second sowing of peas have also survived now that the brutal mouse onslaught has ceased.

Peas

Inside the poly the plants are protected from this constant changing weather and are happily soaking up all the sunshine they can get.

Blueberry

I found a second blueberry plant for only 5 euros which I have re-potted and covered the soil with pine needles to give it a bit of mulch and as blue berries love acidic soil the pine needles will take care of that as well. They say that a blueberry will produce more fruit if there are more than two bushes and I am hoping this is correct because next to strawberries they are a massive favourite of mine and I am so looking forward to making blueberry muffins!

Blueberry buds blueberries

Broad Beans

The surviving broad beans and the beans I planted out again a few weeks ago are not as strong as the ones I planted out two autumns years ago (just at the right time), but they are already showing some flowers. I will keep an eye on them and might have to be brutal, cut my losses and take them out as starting all over again is not an option at this stage because the plants will take up valuable space for tomatoes, peppers and other indoor plants.

Broad Bean Flower

Now if only the weather would calm down a bit and I could shake off this pesky cold I have been having then I would be able to get out and get on with some work the garden!!

Posted on

New Growth in the Polytunnel

After all the snow, fiercely cold winds, icicles and slippery roads we were suddenly pleasantly surprised by a surge in temperatures and….sunshine!

The snow melted in just a few days revealing an extremely soggy garden …but a garden nonetheless. Slipping and sliding across the sticky clay I have been going back and forth with the wheelbarrow, between the compost heap and the polytunnel, adding another layer of compost in preparation for things to come.

The Chinese cabbage plants which have been severely damaged by mice are fighting back by growing new leaves, getting stronger with the extended daylight and the warmth of the sun during the day.

IMG_0066-0.JPG

And the perpetual spinach is showing new leaves already and it is only mid February. I am hoping of course that we have had the worst of winter, but you never know here in the Ardennes. We have had snow in March before and severe frosts well into April. I have taken a gamble this year by starting my seeds a bit earlier as my chillis, sweet peppers and aubergines were just not ripening enough at the end of last season. I am hoping the gamble will pay off. The water melon seeds I sowed look a bit leggy and I am hoping they will make it.

Perpetual spinach

There is still a lot to do in the garden, repairing some of the raised beds, creating more raised beds, cleaning out the winter veg, turning the compost heaps, but today I am taking a moment to sit in the lee of the polytunnel, drink a cup of tea, eat a home baked chocolate chip cookie and bask in the sunshine. There is still time for all the jobs that need to be done. It is important to enjoy that pre-spring moment when you can sit outside without a coat and feel the warm sun on your face thinking of the good times ahead.

 

 

 

Posted on

Polytunnel in December

Outside it is -1°C, inside it is 10°C. Inside the polytunnel that is!

On a beautiful winter’s day, with freshly fallen snow and lots of sunshine there is nothing better than to open up the polytunnel and do a bit of gardening.

Chinese Cabbage

This year I am not growing a whole lot during the winter months in the polytunnel. I have placed my pots inside, put on a nice layer of compost on some of the veg beds and have sown some green manure in others  giving the polytunnel a bit of a rest. Luckily our polytunnel is quite large so there is still enough space to grow some Chinese cabbage, which I sowed in the autumn …and they are doing brilliantly as you can see!

Chinese Cabbage in the polytunnel in December

Broad Beans

The broad beans planted out in November are doing really well too, growing very slowly but steadily. I will probably cover them with extra fleece if we do get severe frost later on.  I planted a few plants outside during spring for summer growth but they did not do as well as the autumn sown ones in the polytunnel. Only a few months and then we can enjoy the first broad beans of the season.

Broad Beans in the polytunnel in December

Surprise seedlings

As well as Chinese cabbage and broad beans, we also have coriander, chard and perpetual spinach and one corner of the tunnel is covered with strawberry plants….you can never have too many strawberry plants in my opinion! I spent a few lovely hours in the polytunnel, with the sun shining it almost felt like summer. I was clearing out the last of the chilli plants and weeding between the coriander plants when I saw two seedlings that look remarkably like courgette or pumpkin seedlings. Ahhh the joys of gardening in a polytunnel. It just keeps on surprising me!

Courgette or pumpkin seedling

 

Posted on

November in the polytunnel

Today I took the day off work and got to spend time in the garden. BLISS!! If you’re away at work all day like I am, particularly at this time of year, you hardly get to see your garden in the daylight, so any gardening has to be squeezed in between chores at the weekend …and of course, the occasional day off work.

Polytunnel

I decided to clean the inside and outside of the polytunnel, to get the maximum amount of sunshine on the plants still growing within. And that is just what I want to share with you. The plants that are STILL growing inside the polytunnel! I don’t know if you have noticed but it is already mid November… you could be forgiven for forgetting because of the amazing weather we’ve been having. Only two Saturdays ago we had temperatures up to 20C, there were actually people walking around outside in t-shirts. So far we have had just one slightly frosty night – and that was in August! And that’s saying something, here in the Belgian Ardennes.

Sweet Peppers

So back to the polytunnel. This year I am growing long red sweet peppers and they did fantastically well. They grew big and had lots of flowers and were loaded with small peppers. These sweet peppers do need a really long growing season so I started sowing in February and planted out in May. It still took them a very long time to ripen into that bright red colour so I am very happy with this mild weather we are having which will ripen even the last of my sweet peppers. We have stuffed them with feta cheese, potatoes and homemade pesto. Just a bit of sunshine on a plate really.

Sweet Pepper Marconi mid november

Nasturtium

Next to the sweet peppers there are of course Nasturtium. For such a delicate flower they sure can endure a lot. The nights do get a bit cold now but they keep on producing more flowers giving that last bit of nectar to the odd bumble bee that flies into the polytunnel. And for me they add just a bit of colour to hold on to summer a little longer.

Nasturtium mid november

Chard

Another very reliable plant that has been growing for the second year in the polytunnel is chard. To be precise Rainbow chard. These are the same plants I sowed last year autumn. They have been producing and producing through winter, spring, summer and are still going strong. I cut out some of the flowers so the plant started producing more leaves and it is working.  They will continue until the harsh frosts set in, then they will die back and will start again next spring. I am thinking of seeing how long they will last before I sow a new batch because you should never be without chard! I particularly love using it in yet another River Cottage recipe: Chard and ricotta tart.

Rainbow Chard mid november

Courgette

But the most amazing of all is that today I harvested yet another courgette!! It came from a plant that popped up as a surprise in the tunnel. I have never grown this variety before so I have no idea where it came from. The plant produces a light green courgette with dark green spots. The funny thing is that this plant is much, much hardier then the One Ball yellow courgette plants or the regular dark green ones, which both produced a lot but were over and done with about two weeks ago. This plant however is still hanging on in there. It does have mildew on its leaves but also new growth and tiny courgettes forming. Now it all depends on how the weather will behave over the next few weeks whether we will be able to harvest even more courgettes. But like I said before, it is the middle of November for goodness sake! Two years ago I remember we were shivering in minus 18 degrees by now!

Courgette mid november

But that’s not all we’ve got growing in the polytunnel. I sown and planted out Chinese cabbage, coriander and broad beans. Last year I did the same with broad beans and it was a huge success. They did so much better than the summer sown ones outside.

Climate Change

Last weekend I watched a (recorded) episode of Gardener’s World and Monty was showing plants that are flowering in November. He said we shouldn’t be too worried. We gardeners are the first to notice the changes in our climate. Together with the plants we are growing, we are adapting to the changes. Instead of holding on to the traditional seasonal growth, we must evolve like the plants are doing. It might take a bit of extra effort but we might be rewarded with some bonus bounty!!

Hibiscus Cannabis flowering mid november

 

Posted on

The Polytunnel in July

It’s already mid July and summer is well and truly here. We’ve had our first heatwave making it extremely hot in the polytunnel. In these conditions, the only thing to do is water the plants very early in the morning, open all the doors and side ventilation and leave it be until dinner time for a quick in-and-out to harvest produce for supper.

Polytunnel in July overview 2

Tomatoes

My tomatoes are coming along nicely. At the beginning of the season I had a bit of an aphid problem attacking the Amish Paste toms. I used a garlic spray and I searched for ladybirds in the garden which I placed on different plants in the tunnel and it seems to be doing the trick.

Next to Amish Paste tomatoes,  I am growing the same variety of cherry tomatoes as last year and another tomato variety called Moneymaker from a packet of seeds I got free with a magazine. All seem to be doing very well with loads of green tomatoes just waiting to ripen. To be on the safe side I did cut away a few leaves to improve the airflow hoping to avoid the blight problems like I had last year. Most of the tomatoes will end up being preserved in one way or another. Most likely I will be making lots and lots of roasted tomato sauce.

Polytunnel in July chillies and Tomatoes

Corn

I have again placed the sweetcorn near a door to maximize ventilation and to ensure the cobs get pollinated. Last year I grew a few plants outside as well but the yield was far less and only part of the cob got pollinated, leaving gaps in between the kernels. This year I am not even bothering to grow any outdoors and have instead planted a few plants extra inside.

Polytunnel in July Corn

Chillies

One plant that thrives in this hot weather is of course chilli! My love for chilli is well known and friends and family fear having dinner at our house. This year I am growing Nosferatu and Aji Limon and one that I have been looking forward to growing for a long time: Ancho.

A long time ago I lived in Mexico for a while and chilli rellenos were always my favourite. Never knowing how hot the Ancho chilli would be (some can be really mild while others can suddenly be very spicy), eating chilli rellenos was a bit like a game of Russian roulette.

Courgettes

Two courgette plants take up the space where I grew corn last year. One regular green variety and the yellow fruited variety called One Ball. Today I harvested about 6 small courgettes and made courgette chocolate cake and a frittata. It always amazes me how big these plants get and as usual I miscalculated so they are overcrowding a few lettuces.

Polytunnel in July Courgettes

Kohlrabi and Artichokes

New this year are Kohlrabi and two globe artichokes, the kohlrabi are almost ready to harvest giving the artichokes more space to grow. As artichokes are perennials I carefully selected their spot as I wont be able to grow anything else there for some time.

Polytunnel in July Kohlrabi and Artichokes

Planning a Strategy

I still find it difficult to plan a strategy for year round growing, not really sure when to start sowing for autumn and winter. I have a tray of Chinese cabbage and pak choi ready to plant out but there’s no room. I really don’t want to discard any plants still thriving which is such a waste.  I will keep them in pots as long as I can and might end up planting them outside, sow some new ones for the tunnel….

Polytunnel in July overview 1

Second Year

One thing is for sure, so far this has been an amazing season! With an abundance of sunshine, great temperatures and the occasional shower replenishing the water tanks essential for irrigating the polytunnel. Thanks to the nasturtium, calendula and coriander we get loads of bees flying in and out the tunnel. We work side by side in a perfect harmony, they do the pollinating and I do the weeding and watering.

I find it hard to believe this is just the second year we’ve had the polytunnel. Even though earlier in the spring I did not have as much time as I would have liked to get the growing season underway, everything seems to have caught up. It’s so nice to see that nature does what nature does best.

 

 

Posted on

Harvest Monday – July 7th

All that sunshine that we have been having has done wonders for the vegetables in the polytunnel. Everything is growing a lot faster than last year but then again, we constructed the tunnel in April so this year I had the advantage of an early start. Just this morning I saw that there are already chillis forming on the Nosferatu chilli plants!

This weeks harvest is definitely colourful!

Harvest Monday July 7th Harvest total

Yellow One Ball Courgette

Last year Bridget bought a package of Yellow One Ball Courgette seeds from Victorian Nursery Gardens and told me enthusiastically about the many courgettes she got from one plant and how lovely these are to stuff with fresh herbs and cheese and then bake in the oven. Every year we exchange seeds and of course I wanted to try out the One Ball courgettes so one of the packages I graciously received from her were a few seeds of the Yellow One Ball Courgette! I sowed three seeds but only one came up. It does not matter because this one plant is thriving in the polytunnel and has just started to produce tennis ball sized round courgettes. I have yet to try out stuffing them but I have used the smaller ones on pizzas and in pastas.

Harvest Monday July 7th Yellow one ball courgette

Next are the peas!

This year I am growing Victorian Colossal Climbing Peas also from Victoriana. Some in the polytunnel and some outside. They are producing big juicy pods with large peas. Good enough to eat right then and there but this bunch had a destiny…

Harvest Monday July 7th Victorian Collosal climbing peas

Rainbow chard

Chard is one of those vegetables that is really worth growing yourself. It is perennial, it produces until the frost sets in and comes up again early in spring. It is one of the few vegetables that is still lovely to eat once the plant has bolted and its use in the kitchen is versatile. My personal favourite is rainbow chard, the bright colours are just brilliant! Bright pink, orange, yellow and white just look amazing in a dish.

Harvest Monday July 7th Rainbow chard

So what to do with all this homegrown produce? Make a quiche! Together with the French Beans and Kohlrabi and two different kinds of goat cheese this was the perfect dish to eat while watching a World Cup football game!

Harvest Monday July 7th Quiche with homegrown veggies

 

Posted on

Harvest Monday – June 30th 2014

Harvest Monday

Last week I visited the blog of our friend and sometime guest writer Mark Willis from Mark’s Veg plot and saw that he participates in a lovely concept called  “Harvest Monday”, an initiative by Daphne’s Dandelions, another great gardening blog. I began to think about the harvests we’ve been producing in our garden for quite some time now …and I’d love to share it with you by participating in Harvest Monday!

Spinach

So here goes, let’s start with spinach. I sowed some in October in the polytunnel and have been harvesting since the beginning of spring. Now that summer is here the polytunnel is too hot for my winter spinach and they have all gone to flower. At the beginning of spring I sowed some summer spinach outside in the veg bed to make the transition from polytunnel to outdoor spinach. The polytunnel spinach has since been replaced by corn. My favourite way to use spinach is in a pasta dish with a creamy sauce with lots of fresh herbs like basil and oregano and slivers of salmon.

Harvest Monday June 30th Spinach

 Radishes

Don’t you just love that sharp taste of home grown radishes? They are a lot feistier then the shop bought water bombs. I grew some in the polytunnel but it is way too hot in there and they bolted before I could truly enjoy them. A second sowing in the same bed as the outdoor spinach proved to be more successful. A few times in the last two weeks or so I went out into the garden before work and pulled up a few radishes to take to the office. The fun part is to offer them to my colleagues and wait for their responses to the spicy homegrown radishes. Love it!

Harvest Monday June 30th Radishes

French Beans

My dearest aunt Corrie gave me a pack of Purple Queen French beans last year. One of my favourite varieties, lovely lilac to purple flowers which produce those deep purple beans that turn a deep green when cooked. The yield is amazing and the beans are firm and crunchy when cooked only for a few minutes. In my opinion, French beans are one of those essential vegetables to grow. I mostly use it in combination with other veg, for example in a tomato based pasta sauce or in an Indian curry or a potato salad. I always sow mine in pots or toilet rolls and plant them out later. I started in the polytunnel and allocated part of a veg bed for about 12 plants that are now flowering and producing beans. Next to the corn I planted another couple of seedlings that are a few weeks behind the other French beans in the polytunnel and I planted a few plants outside which have just started to flower. I will continue to sow in succession all through the summer and cram in the odd plant here and there so I will be able to freeze most of the beans I need during the winter months.

Harvest Monday June 30th French Beans Purple Queen

Kale

And last but certainly not least is the Cavalo Nero di Toscana kale I have grown for the first time this year. As I mentioned before, I spotted this plant in the middle of the ornamental garden at East Ruston Vicarage Gardens in Norfolk, England and just adored how lovely it looked in amongst the beautiful floral display. Ever since then, I’ve dreamt of creating a flower and veg garden combo and this year I’m giving it a try, planting out lots of veg and flowers cheek by jowl including the lovely Cavalo Nero Kale with its long blue-green leaves. I’ve already cut a few leaves for a truly yummy recipe I saw on yet another great gardening blog; Real Men Sow:Pasta with Kale, Chilli, garlic and anchovies.

Harvest Monday June 30th Kale Cavalo Nero di Toscana

So that is this week’s harvest here at Sow and So Belgium.

Have you been enjoying some of your home grown produce yet?

 

 

 

 

Posted on

The Grow your Own Season has started!

Every year when I start sowing I have this moment of panic. Will the seeds germinate, will my seedlings survive, am I still on time, where am I going to plant out all these seedlings,   … oh my, have I really sown too many …again?

Seedlings and dirty finger nails

Weekends are spent outside with dirt under my finger nails and callouses appearing on my hands in all the  usual places. Glancing down at my hands whilst working at my computer in the city, I can’t help being amazed at the contrast of these two worlds.

Broad beans

Failures and Successes

It’s the end of April now and I am slowly getting on top of things in the garden. Most of my seedlings have survived but for a few tomato plants that I foolishly left uncovered in the polytunnel one frosty night at the beginning of March.

The artichokes I sowed in February are by far the fasted germinating seeds I have ever seen. I enthusiastically bought a packet of Violet Artichoke seeds from the Provence and read later that they do well in warm and dry conditions. I guess the name should have been a give away… One or two of these will be planted in the polytunnel. Even though I have lots of space I can’t afford to “lose” more space as artichokes can get quite large.

The others I am planting outside after the last chance of frost. Fingers crossed they like Ardennes weather as well.

Disappointing this year were the onions seeds, both of the varieties I have did not germinate very well so I changed tactics and bought onion sets. That’s gardening for you, failures and successes.

Bumble bee on broad bean flowers

Polytunnel

Last year in April we constructed the polytunnel, and what an amazing adventure it has been so far.

At the moment, mostly thanks to the very mild winter, we have a bumper crop of purple sprouting broccoli, spinach, endive and lettuce. All sown last year, and now during the hunger gap, we can enjoy our first home grown vegetables of the season. The strawberries we planted first in the polytunnel are teeming with flowers.

Bumble bees fly in and out pollinating the strawberry and broad bean flowers and the first broad bean pods are showing. I have planted out courgettes, french beans and tomatoes well ahead of last season.

The Amish Paste tomatoes are already showing little flower buds.

Strawberry flower with butterfly

Potatoes and Persillade

Outside, the leaves of the potatoes and onions are showing, the outside strawberry bed is also brimming with pretty white flowers. The rhubarb is finally showing those juicy stems and the parsley left over from last year is transforming from small plants to very large bushes.

I have already made two batches of persillade!

Even though this time of year is always a bit stressful for me, even more so now that I’m also designing and planting our back garden, growing vegetables and have a full time job all at the same time, I wouldn’t want to miss out. Knowing full well what bounty we can look forward to at the end of the line.

Once I have tasted a home grown strawberry warmed by the sun, sweeter and more flavoursome than shop bought ones  I’ll know why I endured and persevered.

 

Posted on

The Polytunnel in March

The last few weekends have been busy with me spending virtually every waking hour planting out the hedge in our new back garden. Now the task is done, at last I find myself with some time to spend in the polytunnel.

Pollinators

The sun was shining and not one cloud was in sight, the doors of the polytunnel were wide open and the first pollinators came by for a visit. At one point I was huffing and puffing not realising that the temperatures inside the tunnel had risen up to 25 C. All those layers of clothes really weren’t necessary!

Polytunnel march 2014 6

Lettuce Soup

I took out some of the older lettuce crops. They were sown in October and had lost a bit of that fresh crisp lettuce taste. A few of them  I converted into lettuce soup …which is surprisingly good. The rest is destined for the compost heap. I took out the pak choi as well. Somehow I haven’t had much luck with pak choi yet. The slugs hardly leave any leaves for me and before you know it the plants bolt. I will probably try a different variety in the autumn because I love pak choi. It’s the perfect vegetable for a stir fry.

Stir fry

For a week or two now we have been able to feed ourselves from the garden again. At the moment we are big fans of making a stir fry with spinach, kale and sprouting broccoli. Together with some brown rice and seasoned only with a bit of fish sauce for that Asian salty taste, it’s a very simple and healthy meal.

Calendula

I left two pots of Calendula plants in the polytunnel from last summer and they kept flowering all through our very mild winter. They don’t look like much but now that the broad beans are flowering they are attracting much needed pollinators.

Polytunnel march 2014 1

Sunflowers

And last but not least, sowing has started. In October I sowed a bunch of flowers such as Phlox, Nigella, Delphinium, Sweet Pea, Lupin and a few more. Most of them survived and are now growing like crazy. They are almost ready to go outside but knowing the unpredictable weather here in the Belgian Ardennes, I will play it safe and keep them in the tunnel a bit longer. I also sowed some other flower seeds such as Cosmos, Hollyhock …and of course the sunflowers for the Sow and So sunflower competition. I chatted with Bridget last Saturday and she showed me the ALREADY PLANTED OUT sunflower seedlings. Our friendly competition just became a lot more serious… As usual we invite you to join our contest to grow the largest sunflower in 2014.

Polytunnel march 2014 3

Vegetables

As well as the flowers, I have also sown french beans, a couple of courgettes and a bunch of herbs all in propagators for planting out later. The carrots, radishes and onions I sowed in situ in the veg bed.

Polytunnel march 2014 2

As we had hardly had a winter to speak of this year I get the feeling that we’re rushing headlong into spring. Every time I go in  the polytunnel there’s another plant is bursting into life, and I can hardly keep up with harvesting the spinach and sprouting broccoli! This has to be my favourite time of the year!

How about you, which part of the growing season is your favourite? High summer when everything is in bloom, or perhaps autumn during harvesting?

 

Posted on

A Bad Gardener

I have been a bad gardener lately…

Moving House

It has been a hectic few weeks here at SowandSo Belgium, unfortunately however, nothing that involves gardening. We have finally moved into our new house! For those of you that don’t know. We used to live in a temporary house made from units on the same plot of land but 70 metres from and a bit closer to the road. Moving house means we pack the car, drive 50 metres and then unpack again..! There are still lots of things that need doing and all my time is being taken up with painting, moving things around and cleaning. All this means that the garden and polytunnel are being a bit neglected, I’m afraid.

Polytunnel with new house in background
Polytunnel with new house in background

Covered up

On the other hand, there isn’t much going on in the garden anyway. We have had our first serious frosts and a spot of snow as well. The heavy clay soil in the veg beds is sticky and saturated. In the polytunnel I have all the ornamental plants in pots wrapped up in fleece. The Garden Party kindly advised me to leave them there until next spring because we can (and do) get severe frosts up to -18C here and it would be such a waste if my carefully cared for hydrangeas and Vitex Angus Castus died.

Once every couple of days I do a quick round, have a peek in the polytunnel, water the plants and then quickly go back to my decorating duties. I am sure I am not the only gardener that has to juggle between their gardening life and the world outside, but when I do my rounds I feel guilty and a bit apprehensive. I want to do it all but it doesn’t seem to work out and for the first time in a few years the garden has to suffer a bit and take a back seat.

Veg garden on a dreary december day
Veg garden on a dreary december day

Winter

I am going to say something now that will probably outrage all gardeners in the world… Fortunately it’s  winter – I would be so stressed if we’d moved house during sowing time or harvest!

Winters are tough here in the Ardennes, with lots of snow and severe frosts. Almost every one here in the surrounding villages have a veg patch of some kind but in winter they are bare apart from leeks. Most don’t bother growing anything during the winter months even though their veg beds are not as exposed to the icy winds as mine are. One of the tips we gave in the 15 tips for beginner gardeners ebook we wrote is to have a look at what your neighbours are growing. They have probably been doing it for a while and have learned from their mistakes.

Green Manure

So this year I did what my neighbours are doing but adding my own twist. Instead of leaving the veg beds bare, I sowed green manure in most of them, to provide nutrients and organic matter to the soil. Being the rebel that I am, I am also growing some kale and brussels sprouts …but nothing else. This year for the first time I am also growing some veg in the polytunnel. Spinach, endive, a few lettuce heads, and I’ve just planted out broad beans. I didn’t go overboard because this is a trial run. I don’t have any heating in the polytunnel so I want to see how these veg will do during those severe frosts I mentioned.

Green Manure - Yellow Mustard
Green Manure – Yellow Mustard

I still need to clear the nasturtium in the polytunnel that has finally surrendered to the frost. I also need to scoop up horse manure from the back of the field and put it on the soil around the fruit trees and bushes. Tomorrow morning I will leave my paint brushes to dry out and will get the wheel barrow out to scoop some poop, get mud on my fingers instead of paint and breathe some fresh air. Tomorrow I am dedicating a day to gardening!