Colourful Harvest

I figured it was high time that I gave an update on the allotment. In fact it seems like an ideal time to give a half term report, as the bulk of the early crops are over (peas, broad beans, Spring cabbage, potatoes) giving way to summery delights such as French and runner beans, courgettes, lettuces. When I was a child there was a common theme to the reports that brought back from school each term. “Good, could do better” was a frequent statement, as was “Janet talks too much”. The former certainly applies to the plot. With plenty of harvests such as the one above, the discovery that I really like beetroot, the sheer joy of picking food and taking it home to eat within the hour, there is plenty of good.

Cabbage Disaster

On the “could do better” front there is the sad apology for a potato crop, which though delicious didn’t last nearly as long or yield as many tubers as I could have expected, thanks to not enough water combined with the dreaded blight. But by far the biggest failures have been with the brassicas. The ugly specimen above is one of my Savoys. Out of six healthy plants, planted under enviromesh to protect them from the Cabbage White, two were completely devoured by Cabbage White, two were mostly salvageable, and two were mercifully pristine. I have to assume that some of the seedlings got infected before they got planted out, or that a butterfly or two snuck in when we were weeding. The good thing is that I have discovered that home grown Savoys are utterly delicious, whether stir fried with garlic to accompany chicken or sausages, or eaten raw in a slaw with home grown carrots and beetroot. Out of 6 Spring cabbages three succumbed to the Cabbage White, two were tiny but picked anyway before they too could be devoured, and the one that romped away early and was picked large and luscious demonstrated what we were missing out on.

Bolting Red Cauli

The chard growing in the brassica bed has been wonderful and trouble free, I am about to plant out the next lot, but the cauliflowers and Romanesco have been a disaster. The only cauli to even start to form a head just bolted before it grew to more than fist size, the rest are all leaf and no heart.

Multi Hearted Cabbage

Oh, and the one remaining cabbage has multiple hearts! So, when I can protect my cabbages from the Cabbage White they are delicious, chard turns out to be really tasty and easy to grow, but success at caulis etc. has so far eluded me. The best thing I can say about the netting tunnel is that, because nothing (!) can get in I feel able to use organic slug pellets under it, which means we get lovely lettuces. There’s always next year.

Sprouting Sprouts

At least the sprouts are growing strongly. And my teachers were wrong about one thing – talking has been one of my strengths! It got me advice on how to recognise parsnip seedlings, a free rhubarb plant, and these:

Purple Sprouting Broccoli Seedlings

Half a dozen purple sprouting broccoli seedlings. I saw M the day I was mourning my eaten cabbages. M is ex RAF, always looks smart, even when digging, and has an immaculate plot crammed with healthy produce. His comment on my cabbage plight was that I should spray them. I told him I was growing organically, and he gave me a pitying smile. But he also offered me as many purple sprouting broccoli seedlings as I thought I could use.

Protected Broccoli

I’ve planted them in what was the potato bed, protected in another mesh tunnel, accompanied by more lettuce, and have my fingers crossed that they fare better than the other brassicas. They are about twice the size as they were in the picture above now, reminding me that I need to get some netting to protect them from the pigeons over autumn and winter before they burst out of the mesh cage.

Half Empty Bean Bed

At the other end of the scale, the legumes have been wonderful, and still are. We’ve eaten the last of the peas and both sowings of broad beans. I’ve cut the plants back to ground level, leaving the roots with their nitrogen fixing nodules in situ. I plan on sowing green manure in the cleared area, just as soon as I decide which type to try. The wigwam holds the wonderful Cosse Violette purple climbing French Beans, with a yellow courgette planted in the center.

Cosse Violette Flowers

I would almost grow them for their flowers alone – the beans that is – and the long slender purple beans (which sadly turn green with cooking) are delicious and prolific. We had our first small serving with Sunday’s roast lamb, and I am looking forward to many more pickings to come. The peas (Little Marvel) were prolific and tasty, the Mangetout (Oregon Sugar Pod) were tasty but inclined to be a little stringy. Since the Sugar Snaps (Sugar Ann), which we are still eating, are utterly delicious I will probably go with just the peas and more of them next year.

Dwarf Runners

I’m not growing “proper” runner beans because I already had lots of seed for a dwarf bean called Pickwick, which is a prolific cropper. One day I will have a bean arch, but Pickwick has been doing us proud. Legumes, it appears, I can do – this year at least. Next year, assuming we are here for long enough to make it worthwhile, I plan to devote even more space to peas and beans of various sorts.

Which brings us to the roots. No pictures, so you’ll have to take my word for it that there are carrots – not lots, but not a total failure either, and given that the seed is all 4 years old, I call that a result! The beetroot has also been a success, and tomorrow I will be planting out the next lot, along with some more radishes. I had hoped that at least three of my parsnip seedlings would survive, but no. Nada. Nothing. Ah well!

Sweetcorn Bed

My favourite bed at the moment is the one near the front that I call my Three and A Half Sisters bed. I’ve blogged about my flirtation with the Three Sisters planting scheme. In my case this has turned in to blocks of sweetcorn (now flowering and with swelling cobs) with courgette plants helping to smother the weeds and dwarf French beans (the aptly named Golden Teepee). It all seems to be flourishing – too much in the case of the courgettes, but fortunately we all like courgette cake… From now on, only one green courgette plant at a time!

Squash Plants

Lurking at the back of the plot are three squash plants. They are all fruiting up nicely, though I need to pinch out the growing tips and train them around to prevent them from taking over the plot behind me. Too early to say what kind of harvest I will get from these, or how tasty, but I do love them as plants, so jungly and the fruit are beautiful.


One thing I do on every visit to the allotment is check on the one remaining celeriac plant. I under watered the others and they all failed before they even got planted out, but this sole survivor is watered, observed, obessessed over, and will be eaten with great ceremony in due course.

Apart from the brassicas and parsnips, my other main failures are coriander (either munched or bolted) and Pak Choi (the same). So much for home grown stir fry on a regular basis. I will be trying again on both counts in a week or two, hoping for a good autumn crop, and I have various oriental leaf crops in modules waiting to be planted out. Overall I’m pretty content. TNG has ensured that, unlike a couple of my plot neighbours, I will not be getting a nudge from the association to clear up my plot. We are eating things we have grown most days, and its not just courgettes, and best of all, I have officially got the bug. I love growing edibles, and plan to do so for many years to come. I will miss the camerarderie – and free plants and advice – of the allotment when we leave, but I do look forward to being able to grow fruit and veg in my own back garden, so that I can water, weed, pick in my pyjamas if I want. And I will always want to grow flowers amongst my edibles.

Cosmos Sonata
Ammi majus

39 thoughts on “Good, could do better

  1. What a wonderful garden you’ve created in such a short time. I’m duly impressed. and feeling not to bad about my own garden now that I see I’m not the only one with some failures. some things worked and many did not but that seems to be the way. Last year I had bags of carrots and this year they refused to germinate. Spinach again did not cooperate. I’m blaming most of my troubles on rain though, it’s been a cold year here and the plants had a very slow start to the season. I applaud your efforts for organic cabbage. I haven’t tried cabbage yet but I’m taking notes on your mesh tents for when I do.

    1. Hi Marguerite, I think weather plays a huge part in what succeeds and what fails. And even the best gardeners have failures – M with his near perfect plot has always failed to grow carrots successfully until this year. Good luck with cabbage, and lets carry on celebrating our successes but also noting our failures – at least it means other people needn’t feel bad about their own occasional no-show.

  2. I’m so glad that someone else’s cauliflowers bolted. I’ll rephrase that. I’m glad I’m not the only one. I was beginning to feel like a veggie growing failure this year. My coriander also bolted but I let it flower and then collect the seed for soup or to sow next year. I’ve never been very successful with celariac because I forget about the watering…..Love the bean flowers.

    1. Hi Janet, glad I have made you feel better about your caulis! I have left the coriander because the flowers and scent are lovely, and I figured I might as well get seed for next year from it.

  3. ‘Cosse Violette’ looks most beautiful and certainly worth a place in any ornamental border. You have really done well at the allotment this year Janet especially as you have been unwell for some of the time. From what I gather earlier sowings of pak choi are prone to bolting so you may gat better results with your later sowing. I enjoyed your EOMV posting and the one about the mysterious cigar shapes too ~ no wonder your purple basil was unhappy!

    1. Thank you Anna, I’ve certainly not been put off, despite the illness and failures. I suspect you are right about the Pak Choi, although I have had it grow well for me up to June before, just not this year. Too dry? I can thoroughly recommend Cosse Violette.

  4. Hahaha I often had ‘Janet talks too much’ on my reports from school too! I love the flowers in the beds, first I was going to say the cornflowers were my favorite and then I saw the poppies, then I was thinking the white one must be Cow Parsley(?) which is so fragrant….hard to choose!
    The Celeriac is most interesting. Will you eat the stalks? Celery? Or cook the root and eat that? Both?
    I think your allotment has been a super success! Cabbage Whites are a nuisance!

    1. Hi Janet, it must go with the name then! With the celeriac you eat the root. I like to use it in stews, it makes wonderful soup, and it also roasts well, either by itself or with other root veg. Of course, as I only have one, and it is very small so far, I will have to pick what I do with it rather carefully… The white flowers are Ammi majus, a beautiful annual that I never grow enough of.

  5. I think you are right about the weather playing into success this year, but I am more concerned with next year’s crop of insects. I am wondering if there will not be a profusion of them. I just mentioned on another blog, like you, I almost just plant beans for the flowers, yet we do enjoy fresh beans. Carrots and beets fresh picked are THE BEST and it is good they are producing for you. Your garden has come a long way in a short time. I think bar the cabbages, it has done really well.

    1. Thanks Donna, it has certainly been an adventure. I don’t know what the insect life will be like next year. I have so many more in my garden this year, but I have no way of knowing how much of it is due to planting more insect-friendly plants, and how much just weather. Given the crazy weather you have been having in so much of the US, you would have to assume it it will have some sort of effect.

    1. I was going to argue that the names are because I need to be able to explain what is going on where and what needs doing to TNG and FIL, but I realised that is a lie, as we always end up doing the “oh, you mean the one in front of the bench with the netting” explanation… I am supposed to be cutting the cosmos for the house but I can never quite bring myself to, they look so beautiful there, even though I know I will get more flowers by cutting regularly.

  6. Our purple cauliflower is like yours but the ordinary white ones are good. The purple ones weren’t netted and subjected to pigeon attack.

    As for the enviromesh – the one problem with it is that you can’t clearly see what is going on underneath – out of sight out of mind. This has caused us to have a really poor carrot years as we never noticed that the weeds were outcompeting the young carrots – the carrots can usually hold their own. As for the brassicas we cover with insect netting so we can see if any butterflies have managed to sneak in and can get rid of caterpillars before the do too much devastation.

    1. Hi Sue, so maybe it is my fault for being to fancy with the caulis – my excuse is that I already had the seed… Sorry about your carrots – I too find the mesh a mixed blessing. I find I can see through it to the weeds OK, but the hassle of unpegging it and then grappling around under it is a powerful incentive to pick a different area to weed! I plan to build removable meshed cages in the future to make it easier.

  7. Fantastic looking produce Janet (and love the purple colour of your basket :)). More than good enough I think, compared to some of the ones I know. Everyone has got their own set of little ‘failures’ every growing season, whatever sort of plants you grow. Good to read you’ve got a rather relaxed attitude about it.

    Gardening in your pyjamas, something to look forward to :)

    1. OK, so lets be clear about one thing – there will be no pictures of me gardening in my pyjamas!! The basket is ace, isn’t it? Bargain from Aldi, we have green and orange too. Though TNG refuses to carry one for some reason… This year was all about learning for me, so I expected some failures, though the destruction of the cabbages that I had so carefully planted under mesh was a bit of a facer. Overall, I am pretty happy – and am off to make another batch of beetroot hummus to eat with beremeal bannocks. Life is good!

      1. Maybe one or two photos could creep in :) I’m a fan of Aldi, not only for the bargains but they have genuinely nice stuff in there, your basket included. A visit to our local one is on the cards soon!

  8. ‘Could try harder’ was common on my school report. This still applies but not to you Janet as your allotment resumee shows. You’ve put a lot of thought and effort into the growing and learnt much in the process. The weather conditions are always ideal for some pest or disease and bolting has been a common complaint this year. Love the look and sound of your beans and think of all that nitrogen fixing under the soil. If you were to pick from the allotment in your pjs am sure even more people would talk to you and offer you replacement veg to grow.

    1. Thank you Laura, you made me laugh out loud with your suggestion of a trip to the allotment in PJs! I used to know someone who would go sailing in her PJs. She drove up to the lake, put on her drysuit, sailed and then drove home again for brunch. Think I will wait until we move though… Thank you for the encouragement, it has been a lot of fun, and thoroughly life-affirming.

  9. Gosh it looks very productive you should be proud. Harvested all my potatoes today as we are suffering with wireworm so I decided to dig them up before any more damage could be done. I haven’t netted any of my brassicas especially as we had a dead grasssnake caught up in some netting and it freaked me out. I have been spraying with garlic spray and so far they arent too bad. I was told yesterday that if when you cut a cabbage you leave a stump behind and cut a cross in it you will get 4 small cabbages, the same is meant to work for lettuces.
    I totally agree with the huge sense of achievement from growing your own.

    1. Hi Helen, I think we should both give ourselves an enormous pat on the back, particularly you given you work full time too. Sorry the grass snake freaked you, good to know that garlic spray is effective, might try that in the future. Certainly cheaper than enviromesh! We had a bit of wireworm too, but it was the blight that got us :-( Am going to try the cross thing, sounds good. In fact I am wondering if my apparently multi hearted cabbage is the result of a botched cabbage harvest having a similar effect, as I was sure I only had one left.

    2. Hi Helen, as a fellow wireworm sufferer, and given you mentioned growing green manure, you might be interested in trying white mustard? Apologies if I am teaching you to suck eggs, I know you have a great and knowledgeable network, but I just found this and thought I would give it a go myself, see if I do better with the tatties next year…

  10. Good going, Janet. I had been thinking I must buy some ammi majus seeds and then found some the other day in my seed box. I’d bought some (goodness knows when) and promptly forgot all about them. Doh! Probably too late to sow now – will check. Only ever had one good year with coriander (it is a notorious bolter!); grown in shade it did well and eventually kept us in ‘seed for curries for a couple of years!

    Enjoy your celeriac!

    1. Hi David, I will be collecting coriander seed, and I think I need to wait until the end of August to try again, when it is less hot. If you sow Ammi now you might get a lovely “crop” in early autumn when mine is long gone.

  11. I am growing Cosse Violette too. I usually grow three different French beans and it helps if they look different. The lovely flowers are a bonus!
    Cabbage White butterflies have an uncanny knack of getting under netting and fleece. I don’t know how they manage it.
    At least you have lots of successes to balance the failures :-)

    1. I like the idea of growing lots of different climbing French beans. I have some yellow dwarf ones, with very pretty pure white flowers, but teepees covered in multi coloured bean flowers and then pods would be gorgeous. Stealth butterflies are a nuisance!

  12. This year I only grew beets and carrots. The rest of my garden is for flowers. My gold beets refused to do anything and I put flowers in their pot, the Chioggias were small but tasty and I haven’t pulled my carrots yet. I agree with Margeurite that your garden has been a wonderful success. The pea flowers are beautiful!! But being able to pick veggies in your pajamas is the best!!!

    1. Sorry to hear your golden beets didn’t thrive. Mine certainly grow more slowly than the traditional red ones but I think they have a richer taste. Hope your carrots are lovely, I am still waiting to pull the first of mine, I want to pick my moment!! Am looking forward to gardening in PJs…

  13. Janet, what progress, OK a few set backs, which to my mind is how we learn eh?

    A beautiful bounty from your garden, well done you!

    And, learning is the key isn’t it, no two seasons or days even the same, veggie gardening is unique to each day.

    If its any consolation alot of the cabbages up here look the same on our college plots, beetroot has all bolted, beans and peas doing well here too. Tatties, well we’ll see about those, none up yet at work.

    Talks too much and could do better

    *sigh* that also could have been my report, I think however if they saw us now, they’d think, hmm, still talks alot (me not you!) and then perhaps for you……………

    Tries hard, learns from experience, happy to take other peoples comments on board, team player, learns from others, VG, big tick, gold stars all round.


    1. Hi Fay, I certainly seem to learn faster through failure than through success! I appreciate the vege disaster consolation, if a college can have failures I don’t think I should feel too badly about mine. And what a lovely half term report, thank you!

  14. SEE ME! Ha ha, l used to get that sometimes when l really hadn’t put much effort into my work but, Janet, this cannot be said of you! In fact, my forefinger needs a rest after scrolling all that way down. I wouldn’t be so harsh on yourself. We have all experienced failures this year, for sure, in a very difficult year. At least the flowers look good!

    1. Hi Trevor, sorry about your finger – I did say I talk too much ;-) I’ve not been put off, though I might try different varieties of cauli next year, and be doubly careful of my cabbage seedlings. Sneaky things these Cabbage Whites!

  15. Janet, I still remember when you were planning out your allotment, amazing that you have achieved so much in one growing season.
    My romanesco also grew a bright purple head. I wasn’t sure if it was because I had a faulty batch of seeds or because the seeds of hybrids are not guaranteed to grow true.
    Your single surviving celeriac looks magnificent. Do you have a recipe in mind ?

    1. Thanks b-a-g, it does all look rather different to when I first took it over. Purple Romanesco sounds rather fine, if unexpected. Celeriac will probably just be roasted, as there is only the one. In a little olive oil until all golden and nutty and wonderful.

  16. Your harvest round-up is most impressive, and I’m really jealous of your beans. But it really is swings and roundabouts – you win on something and you lose on something, and every year is different. And next year, you’ll probably have loads of good cabbages, more celeriac than you can eat and a huge amount of unblighted spuds…

    (I recommend celeriac and apple soup, by the way – mmmmmm.)

    1. Hi Kate, I like the sound of celeriac and apple soup, though I think it will have to wait until I can grow more than one plant. Or until I buy some! And I am sure you are right about the swings and roundabouts. I am trying to remind myself that this doesn’t mean I am rubbish at cabbages and great at beans, because next year, who knows!

  17. Headmaster’s comments: “Janet has made good progress this year. If she applies the knowledge she has acquired, I see her going on to greater successes in the future”! :)

    I empathsise with your comments on the Celeriac. A “sole survivor” is often treated with extra reverence in my garden (and kitchen) too.

    1. Hi Mark, I can take that as a report, pretty accurate I’d say – weather permitting…

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