This spring, we asked five of our favourite garden bloggers if they were planning anything new and exciting over the summer. Their responses varied from experiments with onions to enticing a hedgehog into their garden, and more.
Now it’s autumn, we’re intrigued to see how they got on. If you’re hunting for new ideas for your garden, there’s plenty of hindsight here to help you get it right first time. You may even be inspired to run your own controlled experiment next year…
Bunches of onions
“This year,” says Mark of Mark’s Veg Plot, “I planted onions two ways…”
- 30 sets were planted individually
- Other sets were planted in clumps, each containing 6 – 7 onions
He used the Ailsa Craig variety for both planting methods to see which yielded the best result. None of the onions got off to a great start, Mark says, but once the weather finally improved at the beginning of June, they soon got going. As expected, the clumped onions produced smaller veg but, according to Mark, the overall yield was about the same.
So – pleased or not? It turns out Mark is very satisfied with the outcome of his experiment: “We like to have onions of lots of different sizes for use in our kitchen. The small ones are particularly attractive since you seldom see ones like this in the shops.”
This summer “I will be growing as much food as I can for my family and visiting wildlife,” said Sally of Sally’s Garden Blog. So how did she do?
“I’ve been really quite happy with the amount of veg I’ve produced…I love eating salad with a meal, so [I grew] lots of fast cropping salads, and quite a lot of coriander.” Then there’s the basil and spinach plus six different types of tomatoes this year… According to Sally the tomatoes have been slow to ripen, but it’s great that she hasn’t had to buy any for over a month now. And you must try Sally’s favourite breakfast tip – toast, marmite and sliced tomato…
All in all a good summer for produce then; but how did things go on the wildlife nurturing front? Sally says:
“Our garden has literally been full of bees, moths, butterflies, birds and we finally have a hedgehog! We have had a lot of fledgling robins, sparrows and bluetits in the garden… it is joyous just sitting and listening to them all.”
For Sally the highlights of the summer were her crunchy Trombamico courgettes, and her Black Beauty Dahlias – her favourite plant. “I truly think it is the most beautiful flower I have ever grown. It is so simple in its form, and dainty, and the colour of the petals when they first come out is really almost black.”
“Adding holes in the fences and a gate for hedgehogs,” was how Nic at Dogwooddays hoped to encourage some of these special creatures to take up residence on her patch. Sadly, despite her best efforts, none have turned up to fill the vacancy yet – a bit of a tragedy given how close to extinction our prickly friends are, here in the UK.**
Things weren’t all bad though, with Nic recording success on the bird front with blue tits nesting in one bird box and and white-tailed bumblebees taking over the sparrow box. Despite a blackbird nesting in the honeysuckle, Nic says, “the sparrows haven’t nested in the terraces yet, but it’s early days and they have started to visit the garden regularly.”
If you’d like to encourage wildlife to your garden, the key, she says, is to let parts of your plot go wild: “leave bushes overgrown for nesting birds, plant climbers as habitat for invertebrates and birds, leave piles of grass, leaves, logs and stones for the hedgehogs, and ensure that creatures can get in and out of the garden.”
Bird boxes, hedgehog houses and bird feeders are all fine ways to attract wild creatures, but as Nic explains – good natural habitats for wildlife are just as important.
** Nic has just reported some good news on the hedgehog front! They’ve found hedgehog droppings on the path and outside their back door so they’re investing in a trail cam to keep an eye on these most welcome nocturnal visitors. The holes in the fences have clearly worked. We’re delighted to hear it!
What’s the best place to grow chickpeas? Richard at The Veg Grower Podcast tried several locations:
- One plant went into good soil in his home greenhouse – it died.
- Two plants went into heavy clay at his allotment – one died and one survived.
- Two plants went into his allotment greenhouse where the soil is poor and rather dry – these survived and prospered.
This year, Richard harvested about 100g of dried chickpeas, but next year he plans to plant a lot more saying, “Overall I found these plants to be quite attractive, growing to about 2 foot high with a fern like appearance. Very easy to look after, just a little bit of watering as they seem to like dry conditions.”
If chickpeas were a mixed bag, Richard’s vegpod was a great success. He says there was no weeding required and the built-in reservoir made watering a cinch. “What this means is that we have not had to buy in any salads at all this year as it’s all been grown in the pod.”
Over at the excellent gardening blog, Hurtled to 60, Ronnie’s plan was to set up the makings of a festive feast in a special ‘Christmas lunch bed’. So how did this work out? “My ‘Christmas Lunch’ bed idea was a little ambitious with the veg peaking too soon…” says Ronnie. Unfortunately the parsnips, a vital part of any Christmas dinner, failed completely. Planting them along with radishes didn’t work. Although it produced excellent radishes, there were no parsnips at all.
What other lessons did Ronnie learn this summer? She also tried the ‘three sisters’ planting method for pumpkins, runner beans and sweet corn. She didn’t quite get it right this year, but she’ll let the sweetcorn get better established next time, before planting the beans.
That said, she chalked up some fantastic successes in other parts of the garden. Her ‘no-dig’ potatoes – International Kidney (Jersey Royal) and Charlotte – tasted fabulous. Her garden peas proved another hit with the heritage ‘Champion of England’ variety providing an excellent harvest.
But the real star of the allotment for Ronnie, this summer, were flowers. Including roses, gaura, salvias, larkspur, day lilies and cosmos, Ronnie says her bed “has drawn a lot of admiring comments and is somewhere to sit with a cup of coffee between doing a spot of gardening.” With such a lovely place to relax and ponder, no wonder Ronnie is already full of plans for next year – including merging her narrow beds into larger, more productive ones.
It’s great to see our favourite green fingered gardening writers and broadcasters prospering in their patches and we’d like to thank them all for taking the time to update us on their progress. If you’ve got a favourite gardening or allotment blog you’d like us to feature, why not drop us a line? We’d love to hear from you.