Saturday, 1 September 2012

Thinking forward to next year.


Swallows gathering ready to leave

This year has been a challenging one but still I have learned a lot and things have moved forwards here on the smallholding.
But as September is upon us, I start to cast my mind to next year. Which varieties have earned their place in next year's plan? What should I change? What has worked well?

Saturday 1st September 2012
An autumn sunrise!
Of course, next year may well be completely different. But here are my initial thoughts.

Potatoes - They liked the water this year, but the swollen lenticels made them a difficult prospect to sell. Then The Blight hit. I tried over a dozen varieties, which has given us way too many spuds given that I can't really sell many. And that's a lot of digging to plant them in ridges, earth them up and then dig them out at the end. So next year I'll be more selective. I've not even investigated how some of the types have fared or harvested, but my initial thoughts are:
Earlies and Second Earlies
Bonnies - a definite - large, smooth, abundant, good-looking. Quite large losses to blight, but next year I'll be more ready to deal with it!
Red Duke of York and Salad Blue - The Yorks are a mealy potato, great for chips and roasting. Didn't enjoy the wet soil though. Salad Blues did well, but more of a novelty crop. They give a nice, sweet mashed potato, but the purple flesh turns a little greyish.
I'll probably choose one of these varieties each year. Both hit heavily by blight.
Dunluce / Arran Pilot - Two good early potatoes. Dunluce grow big quickly but Arran Pilot didn't reach full size before the tops were bitten. Probably grow one of these in future, along with Charlotte. All affected by swollen lenticels, not great on a new potato.
Swift - I won't bother with this one again. Maybe it just didn't like conditions this year, but poor yield, never really got going.
Edgecote Purple - An attractive, purple potato (clue's in the name) which has cropped fairly well. Not too many tubers got by blight. Shame I had to take off the foliage so early. The spuds which reached full size were amazing. A definite for next year.

Maincrops
I've not harvested many of these yet. Last year the Desirees and Pink Fir Apples did brilliantly, but that was a dry year so I'm expecting the opposite this year. However, there'll always be a place for both of these in my potato patch. The Setantas cropped well. Although the tops were decimated by blight like all the others, I seem to have a good crop of healthy, red tubers under the soil. I've not tried them enough ways to comment on taste yet.
Sarpo Mira - strange to see one variety almost totally unaffected by blight. Top growth is still green, even now. This is a big advantage, though I have been told that the taste is a bit bland. I'll let you know.
I'm really hoping the Orlas do well, as they're sold as the organic gardener's spud. Top rotted away with blight, so we'll see what lies under the soil.

Peas
Well, we've all learned that peas love loads of water. What a great year for them! I used to think they weren't worth growing, and they're probably not if you're going to put them in the freezer. But as a fresh crop they take some beating, even if they don't stay on the fork, especially raw which is how I prefer them. I must say, I find it hard to tell between different varieties. They're all lovely! The traditional Kelvedon Wonder did well this year and they're going cheap in the shops at the momnent. I could save my own seed, but if it's economical I like to change it every now and again.
The Sugar Snaps were lovely too, so fresh and crunchy, but I'll make more effort to get a successional crop next year. As for the mangetouts - well, the purple-podded look nice and crop well, but for me they're a bit too cabbagey. Next year I'll be trying a more traditional green mangetout.

Beans
What a disastrous year! Virtually none made it past the slugs, which is such a shame. I grow French Bean Blue Lake for fresh pods and Canadian Wonder for kidney beans to dry. I tried the latter as fresh pods last year but couldn't bear the stringiness. The Borlottis joined both these varieties in totally failing this year.
On the plus side, the pack of "exotic beans" which I got from the 99p shop (or was it Poundland?) gave me a pretty good crop of purple pods (Purple Teepee) and the yellow pods (Monte d'Or) tasted beautiful. I'll be interested to see how the black-eyed beans do.They are healthy at the moment. I'll be buying a few of these packs next year, though it's a bit of a pain having to sort out the seeds from the mixed pack.

Runner Beans
Again, these struggled to get past the slugs. The Painted Ladies are a heritage variety which I've chosen on account of their red and white flowers. They are vigorous and crop well, but I've decided to go for a stringless variety next year. I don't like a mouth full of razorlike stringy green stuff and, even if I try to pick them young, I reckon that a customer finding themselves chewing on one of these would not come back.
The Czars, which I grow for their white flowers and white beans, are much less vigorous but, when I do eat them as pods, less prone to be stringy unless they are obviously too big. So they get another chance next year.

Three Sisters
Well, it only ended up as Two Sisters but I've been pretty impressed. The Sweetcorn (Lark) has flourished, it's wispy heads towering above the carpet of courgettes, squashes and pumpkins. Aside from the courgette mountain problem, this system may get even more space next year. I'll add more different winter squashes, as they look great and store well.

The cucurbits which I grew in tyres have done very well too, so I'll continue with this next year.

Leeks and Celery
The leeks and celery seem to be growing very well indeed in each other's company. We've started taking some of the young celery already and I look forward to the leeks later in the year.

Root crops
The Parsnips (Tender & True) have, I think, done brilliantly. Another crop which likes plenty of water early on I guess. I'm confidently expecting to have to bring in a digger to get the whole roots out. I don't know whether interplanting with garlic has helped, but since they've done so well I'll repeat this next year. In stark contrast, none of my Hamburg Parsley came up from two sowings. Such a shame as I really like it. I'll try again next year, but if it fails again...
Carrots of all varieties have had a catastrophic year. I've always been able to rely on these doing well before. I'm sure they'll do well again next year and I'll still grow lots of different colours and shapes.
The Scorzonera, which did so well last year, also failed to materialise. We really like the taste but the long, black roots are extremely fiddly to peel. In contrast, its sister crop, the Salsify, has done brilliantly, as has the Celeriac next to it. Both crops need longer to harvest, but I'm full of expectation. I'll leave some Salsify to flower, since it's a lovely plant all round.
Beetroots have done OK this year, though germination was poor and the slugs got all of those which were planted later. But I do love the taste. I think three types is enough, a red one (may try one of the longer tubers next year), stripy Chioggia and a golden one for sure.

Brassicas
As usual, everything else has got on top of me and the poor brassicas have dropped off the bottom of the list. Next year! The turnips did well early on!



So, that's the beginnings of my plans for next year. No doubt over the winter months I'll be absorbed in planning everything in much more detail. There's the flowers and herbs too, and of course I have a polytunnel for next year which will give a whole new range of opportunites and challenges.

Roll on 2013!

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