A 21st century good life in Bristol: part 8 - veggie update

Things look hopeful in the veggie beds for a record year


A 21st century good life in Bristol: part 8 – veggie update
Fri, 03/06/2011 - 16:59
Submitted by Fergus Collins
I’ve been out of the office for a couple of weeks and suddenly it’s June – halfway through the year. So it seems an appropriate time to take stock of the veg garden – and how well it’s feeding me and my little family.
The dry spring was incredible wasn’t it? It barely rained in Bristol between the middle of March and the end of April. Luckily, we have several rain collecting barrels so largely avoided using the hose except to water the broad beans and make sure those precious pods swell.
Broad beans are fantastic plants – you stick the bean in the soil and, almost without fail (or care and attention), it shoots up strongly, flowers, attracts bees and then green pods form. I love them with a dangerous passion.
The only problem comes from blackfly and last year I almost cried at the merciless destruction wrought by these miserable little aphids. This year, they’re hardly to be seen. But ladybirds (invasive harlequins, mostly) are much more common – so perhaps they’ve been keeping an eye on the blackfly.
So far, we’ve had one meal of broadies. But if the pods all swell to adulthood, we’ll be deluged.
So what else? We’ve had four pickings of rhubarb – the less rain, the thinner the stems I’ve found. Lovely stuff though.
Spinach has grown vigorously then bolted – very depressing. We planted the red-stemmed Bordeaux variety. As my father would say of the French rugby team – all flair and no stamina.
Chard – amazing, we are self-sufficient in chard. We could eat it every day and it’s tastier than spinach. I will start freezing batches soon. I’ve also grown a strip of perpetual spinach – a relative of chard. It’s not as tasty as spinach but it’s a good green veg standby and prolific. Another close relation, beetroot is doing nicely but we won’t have any to eat for a month or so.
Salad – completely self-sufficient. We’re giving it away by the bagful.
Potatoes – not long now. I have one bed devoted to them and four large pots on the garden path. My annual record is 38lb, which I’m hoping to break.
Peas are springing up – no pods yet and I hope they come to fruition after the broad beans so that I don’t have to choose between my two loves.
I bow to my apple tree every day. Last year it produced a record 8 apples. This year, there are over 50. It’s a small tree but it’s finally come into its own.
And what else? The four gooseberry bushes should all be ashamed of themselves – a poor crop this year. Blackcurrants – take a bow – you’re small but you’ve outdone yourselves.
I’m experimenting with a patch of salsify – a delicious vegetable that’s hideously expensive. I’m finding it hard to grow – it doesn’t seem to thrive but neither have my 30 little plants died yet. But I won’t be able to harvest before autumn.
The runner and French beans have gone in, as have courgettes, pumpkins and cucumbers. Then there’re tomato plants, cabbages, black kale and purple sprouting broccoli for next year. When I write it down, it seems impressive. When I look at it all, I feel immensely proud and anxious.
Best of all, I’ve finally finished building the nestboxes for the next door’s chicken coop. As part of a neighbourly joint venture, we’re getting some ex-battery hens (by pure chance an organization that saves these hens popped a note through the door). We’re all hoping they’ll enjoy their freedom and lay a few tasty eggs, too.



Fergus Collins

Fergus Collins is the editor of Countryfile Magazine and enjoys growing, foraging and harvesting his own food from his home in Bristol.