Overall, 2017 has been a great year for growing and experimenting. I tried new methods to increase plant production, prevent diseases and I also got creative in the kitchen using the glut of the harvests to make new recipes including cakes, cider, chutneys, jams, indian snacks and desserts! Take a look at my top 7 successes for 2017 and be sure to let me know in the comments what your biggest success was for the year.1. Courgettes
The mix of sunny spells and occasional rain over summer meant my two courgette plants went into overdrive and produced a bumper harvest right into October! I was harvesting about 4 a week and must have grown around 40 of them altogether, at least. I grew the Black Beauty variety with seeds bought from Johnsons and honestly thought they would never stop producing. One thing I learnt to do is that you should actively prune your courgette plants to keep a good airflow under the jungle-like canopy of leaves. This not only prevents fungal disease like mildew but also improves access for your pollenators to reach the flowers. My Garden Muffins went down a treat at the office. Who knew courgette in a cake would taste so good?
Sunflowers are hugely popular for allotment gardeners and it’s taken me 2 growing seasons to realise why they are so loved. They grow and flower for months on end, the cut flowers stay fresh for over at least seven days, the bees and other pollenating insects love them and you can easily save the seeds for next year (or feed them to your pet gerbil). I grew ‘Autumn Beauty’ variety and the fiery mix of golds, crimson reds, yellows and burnt oranges filled me with warmth as soon as I walked through my garden gate. These will definitely be on my growing list for next year.
I put a lot of effort into my strawberry patch this year and I reaped the rewards of a magnificently juicy harvest! I manured them heavily in early spring, gave them a good weeding and built two strawberry cages in May to protect them from the birds. The lack of rain in early summer also meant that there were few slugs out to munch their way through them. All this meant I had such a huge harvest, I had enough to make two batches of strawberry jam for the first time ever!
Having learnt from last year’s early blight epidemic, I made some substantial changes to the way I grew my polytunnel tomatoes this year. I grew fewer plants, made underground irrigation bottles and rigged a string support system. You can read all about in this blog post. It was’t always going swimmingly though…I suffered a major blow when all my seedlings died in a late April frost but I made a quick re-sowing and received a number of donated plants, so I soon caught up! I really enjoyed growing the more unusual varieties like the yellow Honey Bee, Black Cherry and Amish Paste that continues to ripen right into the middle of September. Since I don’t eat them raw I made lots of Mediterranean veg and cooked up many vats of tomato sauce!
If you follow me on Instagram, you have probably already seen my squash harvest many times! This has to be one of my biggest achievements of the year because I’ve never successfully grown them before. Sure, I’ve grown a couple of small pumpkins but never a butternut squash, let alone the thirty-something that I harvested overall! I can’t wait to try the spaghetti squash once they ripen. I’ve already used some of the sweet-tasting butternut squash in curries and macaroni cheese!
6. Seating Area
This patch on the plot has been overgrown and unused since I got it three years ago. I worked my butt off to remove all the roots, bramble, ivy and rubble to clear the area and make a proper place to sit. It’s made such a difference and I can now welcome friends and family over knowing we’ll have a comfortable place to relax and enjoy the garden. It is still a work in progress as I have more projects planned. Do you see that wheelbarrow at the back? That will soon become a succulent planter. The overgrown green patch on the left is where I plan to underplant the plum trees with lots of big shade-loving plants (I’m talking LOTS of ferns). Watch this space.
7. Apple Cider
The dwarf Egremont Russet apple tree always crops really well on my plot and this year was no exception, despite some of the blossom catching frost. But this was the first time that I’ve actually made use of ALL of the apples and not letting any go to waste. My home brewed cider is still in the making, but I look forward to enjoying a nice cold bottle (or two) on Christmas day.
The plot has changed a fair bit too, I apologise that these photos are not an easy comparison! I’ve dug and wood-chipped new paths, planted the new flower bed and removed the old greenhouse to make room for more strawberries.
View facing south in August 2016.
View facing north October 2017.
The work will continue into winter but with shorter, colder days the progress will be much slower. In my next post, I’ll go over some of the failures, challenges and learning curves that I made this year. What were your successes for 2017?