You might remember that last year (like a lot of the country) we started venturing out into our garden more and decided to try our hand at growing our own veg. I did a little blog post on the book we used (Veg in One Bed by Huw Richards) and how we set up- ready for the year (plus my free planning template).
If you’ve been following me on my Instagram you probably caught snippets of how we got along (the highs and lows!), but I thought I’d do a review post- partly to collate our journey for ourselves (a little bit of scrap-booking on my personal blog) and partly because it’s sometimes nice to see a follow up online. I love this slideshow below which takes you through the year…
I should preface this with saying that my general attitude to gardening is: if it grows, it grows. As in, I’m a minimalist when it comes to growing/caring for things. I know that with a lot more care we could probably have had better outcomes but we only had time and energy to do what we did and that’s ok for me.
So here’s how we got on, one year on and our plans for the coming year- because, spoiler alert- we loved it! It’s been one of the best things we’ve done and I’m exciting to see how (and what) we grow in 2022.
A mini catch-up
Before we dive in, I’ll do a mini catch up of where my last blog post left you in Feb 2021. In the middle of yet another lockdown we decided on a whim to jump into raised bed veg growing. Although my Bangladeshi parents are veg growing veterans, this was our first time of taking it seriously. We bought the Veg in One Bed book and a raised bed kit from Link-A-Bord and chose a neglected corner of our garden which gets a mix of sun and shade over the day.
We did need to work on the raised bed a few times and really dig it in deeper than we initially put it so that the water didn’t run off into the grass and create a muddy bog (you can see that in the photo below). What we hadn’t realised was that as we dug deeper, this space was FULL of concrete blocks and the stone bricks seen above. There was a lot of hard graft but we finally cleared it and dug in the raised bed enough ready for some growing!
The premise of the book is that the bed is split into 10 sections (ours was 8 because of the space we had) and you plant different veg into these according to the schedule. The book works through the calendar, outlining the tasks you need to get on with that month e.g. starting off seed, caring for seedlings, harvesting etc. It’s all pretty simple to start with!
It was genuinely amazing to see how this raised bed changed over the year. From planting potatoes, tiny seedlings peeking through, to being able to come out to the garden every day and pick something to eat. Some things didn’t even make it back into the house when R was around! But some things grew better than others, and some things fell completely flat. To be honest the first half the ‘growing’ year seemed to go ok but we really struggled with the 2nd half. But speaking to others it looks like this was a universal thing and down to the unusual weather (where was the summer please?! And no, 1-2 days at 30C do not count).
Let’s start with the good stuff!
What. A. Dream. I loved every part of this growing process. We used Casablanca seed potatoes (first earlies) and apart from the frost, theses didn’t cause us any issues. We planted them in and months later R had the funnest time digging for potato gold with her little spade. We did have a long few weeks of “have we killed them already?” waiting for those green leaves to poke up through the soil, but they eventually came. But FROST was the main thing we learnt about these plants. We forgot to cover them and the smaller green offshoots quickly died back after the frost thawed. Thankfully they took a few weeks before bouncing back- but the plants that had survived from the beginning were definitely larger.
The potatoes themselves were on the small side but we didn’t care. I liked the tasted (Taufiq prefers less waxy) and my brother in law raved about how ‘fresh’ they were. I’m not 100% sure he wasn’t teasing us, but he did look pretty happy to take some home. The only other thing was that our soil is quite hard and compact- we noticed that the potatoes themselves only grew in the more looser upper layer of compost. So this year we’ve dug through more, breaking up some of the thicker clay soil in the hope that the potatoes find more space to grow in.
Growing again? Absolutely. I think we’ve got Prince Edwards this year…
These grew. Oh boy, did these grow. So much so, we’re not planning to grow any this year! We love broad beans but if I’m honest, I didn’t expect these plants to be quite as prolific as they were! They started as small plants before being moved into the main bed. After this they quickly flopped over all over the place in very dramatic fashion (photo on the left).
Speaking to friends online we realised that broad beans need more support/structure. Once we set that up, we were good to go and these giant plants grew. Honestly- they were massive and so satisfying to see in the bed! Another thing I learnt was that the flowers smell lovely.
But, yes- there’s a ‘but’ the thing we really struggled with was black aphids. They got really really covered. We managed to contain it with Neem oil and hosing but it was just everywhere and by the end I was glad to chop them down. We ended up freezing the broad beans we got (which I use in soups) and have enough for this year. But next time I grow them I will definitely grow maybe half the number of plants? Or less!
Growing again? Not this year
Tauf was pretty skeptical of growing lettuce- he’s a die hard crunchy Little Gem fan and didn’t fancy your salad leaf sort. So we got some ‘Little Gem’ and planted them. Did they grow? Yes! So much! Did they grow as they were supposed to? Nope! And that’s how we learnt a little lesson about ‘thinning out’ seedlings. In that, we didn’t thin out the seedlings and so the lettuce didn’t have space to grow into lettuce hearts. Instead we had lots and lots of younger leaves. Which isn’t a bad thing, we definitely enjoyed our salad leaves. But next year we will be thinning them out.
Growing again? For sure!
The last of the first batch of growing we did, radishes. These, again, suffered from our lack of thinning with our first lot being kinda small. BUT we learnt from that with our 2nd lot (I think we planted 3 lots in total?) The great thing about these is that they grow quickly and you can fit in a row here and there when you find a gap in your bed sections. R absolutely loved them (thanks to Peter Rabbit on Cbeebies) and would pull them out and insist on keeping the leaves in tact so she could nibble at them like a…rabbit. I barely got to eat any!
Growing again? Definitely, and excited to try new varieties.
Dwarf French Beans
These did surprisingly well! After a slow start we actually had a modest supply to pick from every few days. Just enough to char and have alongside a fry up breakfast on the weekend. They actually got a little heavy with the beans and needed some support canes to hold them up. But true to their name, they didn’t get very tall in height which worked nicely in the space.
Growing again? Yup, good yield and easy enough to grow
Loved these- so sweet and crunchy, R was a big fan and to be honest, most of them went into her tummy. But the plants did suffer from the weather and didn’t grow or produce as much as I think they would’ve in better conditions (they had a nice little spurt when the weather was half decent). They also needed a lot more support to anchor onto and grow up, so I created a horizontal trellis.
Growing again? Yes! I think I might plant more this time. Can never have enough mangetout to snack on.
What didn’t grow
I had never had a leek until we got some in our first Riverford veg boxes (maybe 5 years ago?) and had to Google how to cook them. They just weren’t a veg I was familiar with but I absolutely love them! Such a distinctive flavour. I was really excited about growing them but my goodness, we could not get them started! Our first lot of seedlings didn’t make it off the windowsill and eventually we just planted them directly into the soil (according to packet instructions) and we got some growth! Well…after months and months we got a few spring onion sized leeks. Ha! They were not what I was hoping for but actually still tasted great! But next year I’ll be trying again but take more care with trying to grow the seedlings indoors.
Growing again? Yeaaah. My love for leek endures. Hopefully next time we’ll be more leek-y with our plants. Ha.
Another new-to-us veg from our veg box. And what a veg! Sadly we don’t get them very often in our veg deliveries and I had no idea you could grow them. Well apparently you can! Unless you’re us, in which case you can’t.
Again- our seedlings didn’t make much progress but I think this is more to do with the change in the season (yup, I’m blaming the weather). And we got a grand total of…. zero kohlrabis.
Growing again? Yes, yes, yes. I have no idea what I’ll do differently, but I’m praying this is the year I get home grown kohlrabi.
Another veg that was part of the second batch of planting and again, another one that didn’t really take off. This time we learnt from the radishes and made sure we thinned the seedlings out once they grew through the soil. But, sadly that didn’t really help. They just never really got going. In the end we dug them up so that we could clear out the bed and prepare for the winter. We did have a few tiny carrots and I have to say, they did taste great! Definitely made me wish we had more success with them. So fresh and carroty.
Growing again? Yup.
Runner beans (ish)
I was a bit torn about which section to put these in, because they did grow and we did get some runner beans. But it we didn’t get off to the best start. My first set of seedlings did really well and I hardened them off and planted them into the bed. Sadly the next day we had some really awful gales and the wind really damaged them (despite me running out and trying to create a wind shield around them. To the point that they had to be taken out and started again. We did get good growth after that but they also suffered really badly from black aphids. Again, we used the same method we used on the broad beans but by the end our plant got a bit destroyed and I was happy to be done with them!
Growing again? The jury is out. Will probably grow them again- I did really love the way they added height and colour to the veg patch.
Things we learnt
So that’s my quick overview of the issues we faced and what worked well. As with anything, it’s a learning curve and here are some lessons we learnt. These are definitely things that any seasoned gardener will laugh at because its, er, pretty obvious? But for us very beginner sorts, these are the lessons we’re taking on to the next year.
- Start collecting loo rolls as soon as you can- we even got some from the family to use for the seedlings
- Make sure you keep track of the temperature/cover things when it comes to frost (duh)
- Thin out plants! Double duh.
- Dig through and loosen the soil- something we didn’t really expect would be such a problem but I guess that’s just the process of learning about your soil type
- Broad beans need support
- Grow what you want/eat- lots of people warned me about this before we started. There’s the urge to follow the book to the T but if you do you might end up with loads of veg you don’t actually like. We didn’t plant Kale for this reason, but could have done with less broad beans.
As you’d expect, we’re hoping to step it up a bit this year and try our hands at a few new veg. We’ve used my planner (found here as a free download) to map it out and will be trying our hand at some of the veg we’ve already grown and a few new ones- parsnips, sugar snaps, artichokes. The other thing Taufiq is now researching is making/buying our own composter. When he shared with his consultants that we had started growing our own veg one of them started giving him composting advice and telling him stories about how he had bought some worms. I joked at the time that one day he’s going to end up coming home with a tub of worms and I think we’re getting closer to that day!
If we were going to find some silver linings from the clouds of the pandemic, I have to say- this would be up there as one of the best things we’ve done in the last two years. It’s been a joy and an absolute privilege to have our own space to explore and grow in. It’s kept us busy and outdoors all through the year and brought us so much peace and happiness. We’ve created golden memories to treasure and it’s been an amazing release from the stress of the world around us. I’ve spent so many hours outdoors with R and Taufiq which I wouldn’t trade for the world.
By the peak of summer we were surrounded by 3ft high cosmos and wild flowers, tonnes of ladybirds and butterflies flitting by. I even set up a whole Eid breakfast for our immediate family out in the garden and it was magical. It’s been amazing to see the garden full of life (and people!) and I can’t wait to see where we go from here. If you’re umm-ing and ah-ing about growing your own veg, I would wholeheartedly recommend it.
Hope that’s been as fun for you to read as it’s been for me to write. Nothing like a moments reflection to get you excited about whats to come.
Don’t forget to check my first blog post to get more details on the book and raised bed. And if you want to join a whole crew of sewers also growing their own veg, check out the #SewVegInOneBed hashtag on IG.