As the year draws to a close it is nice to look back at what we achieved this year. This has been our second season in the community garden, and like any garden it has had some successes and some failures!
Our beds are now nicely established and edged, which helps to define where to plant and where to walk. Although the way we have laid out the plot with edged beds reduces the amount of growing space we have compared with if we just dug up the whole plot (as you might if you were just working the plot yourself), it works well for our community plot where there are lots of different people working on it at different times.
Each of our beds has a name, which helps us to keeps notes of what we have done and where, and to communicate with each other by leaving notes in the notebook in the shed, and on our map of the plot.
As we started completely from scratch, we had to build compost bins and start our compost heap from nothing. In our first year we had very little compost to use, but by this year we have got into a nice cycle – one bin of compost is ready to dig in just as the other compost bin is full and ready to turn, which means we have a good supply of lovely compost. As our soil is very clayey, compost is vital to improve the soil structure and make it more friable. In the very dry spring/early summer that we had this year, the ground got very hard. It will probably take a good few years of digging in compost to improve the soil, but every bit helps! The difference is already noticeable.
We are lucky to have nearby stables, and we have collected manure from there (and also further afield near Heathrow!). The manure tends to be pretty fresh and it is important not to dig it directly into the soil where you are about to plant, as it will ‘burn’ the plants. Instead we leave it to rot down for a few months and then dig it in. The yellow leaves of the squashes below suggests they don’t have enough nutrients, and hopefully by digging some manure into the beds before planting next year will help to improve this.
We also learnt about the difference between summer fruiting and autumn fruiting raspberries. Summer fruiting raspberries fruit on second year wood, whereas autumn fruiting raspberries fruit on the current year’s wood, which means you need to know which they are before you prune them.
With autumn fruiting raspberries, at the end of the year you can cut all of the canes back to near the ground. In the following year, new growth will emerge, and the fruit will form on this growth in the same year.
With summer fruiting raspberries, once they have finished fruiting, you cut back the canes that fruited this year. You need to leave the new growth from this year, because this is what will fruit next year.
This year we made the mistake of cutting back our summer fruiting raspberries as though they were autumn fruiting, which means that we got lots of new growth, but no fruit! Well, it’s good to learn from your mistakes! And next year we should have a bumper crop.
What went well this year: grape vine doing well and produced its first few bunches of grapes, globe and jerusalem artichokes, strawberries (lots and lots), beans, gooseberries, herbs, rhubarb got off to a good start but then seemed to fade away, tomatoes (lots of tomatoes, but unfortunately had to harvest green again because of blight – but Carrie makes great green tomato chutney), sunflowers, carrots in a grow bag (great success).
What didn’t go so well: broad beans (lots of blackfly, this year we are winter-sowing broad beans, which I did at my allotment last year and I found they produced beans early before blackfly took hold), sweetcorn (plants looked really good, but sweetcorn was very hard, not really sure what we can do about that), potatoes (didn’t get great crops, ground was really hard and needs better, deeper digging – although the very dry spell probably hardened the soil as well, compost should help), squashes (we got a few, but not a huge amount, we probably should have planted earlier, and they could have done with more manure).
As the nights draw in and the days get colder (although we are still having some beautiful sunny days – long may it last), we’ll be planning for next year. We are have a head start on where we were a year ago, with broad beans, onions, garlic and peas sown, as well as some winter cos lettuce on the way and spinach doing well.