learnings

I've lost count of the number of times that I've said "Oh well, it's all a learning experience..." since we established the country garden (or the city garden for that matter).  It really has been a steep learning curve, but lots of fun along the way.

Here are a few of the tips and tricks and mistakes that I've learnt along the way...

16 December 2012
Growing Garlic
Read about my experiments with growing a successful garlic crop here and here

24 February 2012
Stem and Root protection
Growing successful vegetables isn't just about planting the seeds and watering them.  For many to grow into delicious food that looks vaguely like a professionally produced version, work is required during the growing cycle.  That lesson was learnt with the fennel we grew this summer.  It was planted as seed and grew quickly.  We ate the "babies" as a way of thinning them out to allow most of the crop to grow to maturity, and they were delicious - really tender and with a strong aniseed flavour.  The thinned crop kept growing, and all of a sudden we had a mature crop that was woody and in large part inedible.  The lesson seems to be that we should have mounded dirt or mulch heavily around the base of the plants as they grew to protect them from sunlight, keep them white and tender and encourage them to grow outwards not upwards.  We've just planted a second crop and hope to have enough time before it gets too cold for a second harvest, with more care taken to protect them.  Other plants that need similar protection include potatoes, carrots, leek and celery.  Our leek and celery are now bound up in little cardboard suits which will hopefully produce tender, tasty vegetables.  I'll keep you posted on the results.

January 2012
Don't transplant carrots
Every book I've read tells you to plant carrot seed directly into the bed.  However some nurseries still seem to sell carrot seedlings, and when I was getting impatient with the slow rate of growth on my carrot seeds last winter, seedlings seemed like the perfect solution.  The problem is that carrot seedlings are usually made up of a cluster of tightly packed seedlings, not just one.  At that stage it's really hard to separate them out, and be confident that the roots will go straight down into the ground.  So I got lazy and put them in in small clumps.  Guess what?  The carrots grow like that!  Intertwined, pushed out sideways by their mates, strangled by others...what a mutant bunch of carrots we produced!!  They were still delicious (we planted Purple Dragons) but really time consuming to separate and clean and chop, and not that aesthetically pleasing on the plate!

Plant Spacings
Sometimes when we start a fresh garden bed we get over-excited by the opportunity to cram as much as possible into it, because surely those tiny seeds or plants won't grow that big...  Well the lesson is, that if there is healthy soil, sun and enough water, they will grow as big, and probably bigger than you expect!  I really have to consciously restrain myself now when I plant, and am beginning to understand that fewer plants with room to grow will probably produce just as much as more plants shoved in too close together, fighting for sunlight and nutrients.  We'll definitely remember that next year when we plant the next tomato crop...