Now that the clocks have gone back it’s time to look back at 2016 and draw some conclusions. What worked and what didn’t work? What am I going to do differently in 2017 and what am I going to repeat? What projects do I have in mind for the coming year?
2016 wasn’t that bad, weather-wise. There was a slow start, a fairly dry spring, a middling to fair summer and a distinctly Indian summer so, crop-wise, 2016 was a pretty OK year. This is the first time I’ve taken part in the ‘grow at home scheme’ and although I joined late and didn’t start weighing my produce until early summer, I was still staggered by the amount of vegetables and fruit my relatively small garden produces – almost 80 kg of produce from about 70 sq m of growing space. And all for virtually nothing – if I don’t count the cost of my own time!
Successes in 2016
25 years of gardening has given me a fair idea of what works and what doesn’t, so there weren’t that many surprises. Root crops: carrots and parsnips did well, as did the Charlotte potatoes. The Swedes also grew well for the first time ever. I’m growing ‘Tweed’ which is supposed to be good for my conditions. It did get some sort of flea-beetle and really revolting grey aphid, in spite of being grown under veggimesh. A range of brassicas were also grown under veggiemesh. The sprouts produced big healthy plants as did the regular curly kale (until it got the grey aphids too). The sprouting broccoli also produced big plants although, annoyingly, they are sprouting now, rather than in the spring. I probably sowed them too early. The purple cauliflowers were amazing and the green broccoli was good. Peas and beans: runner beans produced the usual amazing crop, as did the broad beans. Peas were OK, but I need to plant them in succession next year (something I tell myself every year). I got lots of garlic, although about half got white rot as usual. The courgettes were also pretty productive although one grown in the shade of a hedge didn’t do so well. Salad crops were pretty reliable, with good crops early on of radish, lots of coloured lettuces later, and an amazing crop of spring onions (grown from bought plants). Chillies – two plants grown indoors in a south-facing window gave me a decent crop of bright orange chillies. I grew mini-cucumbers of two varieties and got quite a crop, but very late in the year, past salad season.
A surprise success for 2016 was red orache. I didn’t actually eat it, but it looked pretty.
Fruit successes. I got huge crops of jostaberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants. One variety of raspberry, Polka, gave me lots of fruit. The early strawberries were pretty good and I’m still cropping the blueberries. I got my first crop of apples this year, although I was rather disappointed with the flavour (variety ‘Limelight’). The plum (dessert damsons) produced a massive crop this year.
Spinach – I don’t know why this did so badly. Possibly it was in too dry a spot. I planted leeks in the same place and they’re not doing that well either. Tomatoes – a small crop with blight. Again. So this is the last year I’ll be growing outdoor tomatoes. Patio aubergines – no crop whatsoever. Outdoor squash didn’t work either. Chard – when it grows well it’s wonderful, but most got some sort of leaf-miner. My early sown beetroot was only moderately successful, with a few bit roots. Most didn’t come to anything. Not sure what I’m doing wrong. One variety of potatoes, Anyas, was disappointing – a poor crop which didn’t taste that wonderful. Although purple cauliflowers did well the green ones were disappointingly small. The French beans were nice but not as productive as usual. In terms of fruit, two varieties of raspberry, autumn gold and autumn bliss didn’t produce much fruit. One of my new fruit trees, Idared, didn’t flower at all.
The flower garden
I had a new flower-bed in 2016 where a hedge had been cut back and a couple of big shrubs removed. The ground was pretty poor so it got a huge dose of compost. I planted a new rose and some delphiniums, and transplanted some hardy geraniums and a nice dark-leaved primula. All of these did well, probably due to the compost. I’m planning on moving a Cercidyphyllum into the middle of this bed, which will involve a bit of musical chairs. The surprise flower success for 2016 were the dahlias. I planted a few tubers a couple of years ago and they flowered really well this year. I also sowed some dahlia seeds which turned into massive plants which are still flowering in November. The other success was a supermarket ‘bee mix’ which turned out to have lots of interesting annual flowers and, like my dahlias, is still flowering.
Planting/sowing plans for 2017
I usually start looking through seed catalogues at this time of year, once I’ve checked what I need to buy. Next year I’ll definitely be growing much the same things – carrot, parsnip, swede, beetroot, potatoes, leeks, garlic, courgettes, cauliflower, sprouts, kale, green and sprouting broccoli, lettuce, spring onions, radish, rocket, peas, runner beans, French beans, broad beans and cucumbers, but for some of these I’ll be looking out for new varieties. I’m currently growing spring cabbage, but I think I’ll give autumn cabbage a bash next year, if I can find enough space under the veggiemesh. I’ll be growing charlotte potatoes again, but think I’ll try out an early salad potato as well.
If I get around to grubbing out a hedge it will be replaced by a fruiting hedge of some kind, possibly espaliered top fruit. Not sure if that’s possible, but it will be something I’ll be researching over the winter.
So lots of planning to do and seeds and plants to order. And next year I’ll be trying to beat my ‘grow at home’ produce for 2016.