Monthly Archives: January 2013

Planting Plans: Root Veg

As the snow drifts past the window, it’s yet another weekend where I can’t do much with the allotment, other than dream of warmer days. I don’t need it to be tee shirt weather, just warm enough so I don’t have to Penguin Walk for twenty minutes on slippery pavement to get to the plot.

My weekends haven’t been completely idle, I’ve nearly finished watching the second season of Downton Abbey and have done rather a lot of seed and plant ordering online.

As things begin to arrive, I find myself sorting though and contemplating this year’s planned endeavours. The root vegetables are very possibly my favourites,  not just because they do so well for us, but because there’s such variety to be grown. Last year was really about finding out if we could grow anything at all. As we’ve managed to do that, I now find myself wanting to grow more things we couldn’t otherwise get or afford to buy on a regular basis. The next few posts will be all about our great Planting Plans.

Last year, due to the necessity of having to clear the plot first, we planted our garlic rather late in February. While we got a nice crop midsummer, the size of the bulbs left something to be desired. This year we planted in late October and already we have green shoots poking through. We bought a collection of bulbs from The Garlic Farm which included Elephant Garlic, Lautrec Wight, Iberian Wight and Tuscany Wight. I’m not sure if I’ll be 100% sold on the Elephant Garlic, as I like my garlic strong enough to blow your face off. We shall see.

Planting Garlic.

Planting Garlic.

We grew some rather boring, run-of-the-mill white onions last year. While their impressive size gained us some nods of approval at the allotment association’s annual show, they do take up a lot of space on the plot and are so easy to buy. This year, we’re going for flavour over size and are trying Red Gourmet shallots. Scott makes the best sausage and mash I have ever encountered, so some fried shallots would be a great addition to that.

This year our allotment will be orange carrot-free. Along with the very successful Purple Haze carrots we grew, we’ll be trying out Dragon Purple. I bought the Dragon Purple seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue. Hopefully, carrot fly will be less of an issue this year due to the purple colour throwing them into a state of confusion. Also, I’ll be better about netting the carrot seedlings.

Beetroot is another repeat crop, this year I’m trying Solo. A good friend has supplied me with a beetroot hummus recipe, which I really want to try out. The first crop last year did quite well, but the second crop never really got a chance to grow before the colder autumn weather set in. I’m determined to get a second crop this year, just have to make sure not to leave it so late.

New this year, it’s leeks and  parsnips. I’ll be growing Musselburgh leeks from young plants as I’ve had to accept starting masses of things in our tiny flat is just not feasible. Baby leek plants are one crop that will be ordered in this year.  I will be doing the parsnips from seed however, growing the traditional Tender & True variety.

Finally, the potatoes. Three different varieties this year which are Charlotte, Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red. Charlotte is a repeat for last year, as we grow masses of tarragon in the herb plot and we absolutely love French potato salad. Salad Blue and Highland Burgundy Red are coloured varieties, which will be a great cooking experiment. I’m hoping they will retain some colour, as the idea of blue and red chips makes me smile. It’ll also be an interesting experiment to see how these varieties deal with the ravages of blight, which are endemic on our allotment site.

Salad potatoes.

Salad potatoes.

So that’s just the root veg so far, there’s still the rest of the plot to go through. The brassicas are the next big contender, as many of them are still providing for us even now and we should really grow more of them. Then there’s the squashes and fruiting vegatables to consider, which is harder to think about at the moment. They’re such quintessential summer plants, but I still see the vision of them, even as I watch the snow fall.

Looking Ahead

Now, I’m not much of a New Years resolution person. I never vow to lose x amount of weight or to completely stop eating sweets. I usually think of something I’d like to improve on, rather than anything absolute. Last year I decided I need to make more effort in keeping in touch with friends and family. Now, I’m not perfect, but I have been much better about it in the last year. Also, following my resolution of ’05 I certainly eat fish far more often now.

As we cleared out the plot, packing away the pea frames, cleaning out the shed and such; I got thinking about what could I improve with at the plot.

I could certainly improve my timings with crops, there were (and are) far too many beds sitting empty when they should have been producing something. Keeping up with the weeding is another, our fruit bushes virtually disappeared under a blanket of grass and bindweed this summer.

However, it was our carrot crop that inspired my ultimate “resolution” in the end. This summer we grew two different varieties of carrot. One standard orange variety and (for pure whimsy) a purple variety. The summer crop did so well that I did a second autumn crop. The first crop was untouched by pests, so it was a little disappointing when the second crop was a bit damaged by carrot fly. Now, I do need to be more vigilant about protecting crops, which could be yet another potential resolution, but it’s not what I’m getting at.

My new variety of Trouser Carrot

My new variety of Trouser Carrot

When we lifted the two varieties of carrot, both grown side by side, there was a marked difference in the amount of damage each had suffered. The hybrid orange variety had come out far worse. The non-hybrid purple variety had minimal damage. Now, this is purely observational and by no means a proper scientific experiment with statistical significance, proper reproduction or control groups. Still, it made me think more about the pros and cons of hybrid crops. Hybrids are generally considered high yielding  but do have their limitations. I certainly grew F1 hybrid vegetables last year and many did just fine. Modern varieties certainly have their own value, heritage varieties were “modern” at some point in history after all. Hybrids more often than not, gain us highly valued yields  even if they have the draw back of producing seed that carries little to no value*.

As I said, I don’t believe in absolute rules, so I will continue to grow some hybrids, but really want to try out more uncommon non-hybrid varieties in the allotment this year. I’ve got my copy of The Real Seed Catalogue. I have always had an interest in heritage/ non-hybrid varieties, in part of their cultural and natural history, but also for their genetic value. As a biologist at heart, I like to think with this resolution, I can add my own small support to continuing and preserving something that may have an immense value to us and our environment.

Non-hybrids galore!

Non-hybrids galore!

* For those that have been lucky enough to have avoided several years of university genetics courses; F1 hybrid plants are the offspring of two parent varieties of plants that have been carefully cross-pollinated. These parent plants or “inbred lines” each show a very desirable trait such as profuse flowering, growth vigour or uniformity, for example. Individually, they don’t tend to do that well. However the first generation, the F1 generation, show “hybrid vigour” and display the very best traits of their respective parents. However, this doesn’t last beyond the second generation as the poor traits tend to start showing up in the F2 generation and  beyond. Thus the seed you collect from an F1, won’t necessarily produce offspring anything like it.