May and June are always some of the busiest and most hectic months in a kitchen garden. That late Spring/early Summer period always comes with so much to sow, plant, prepare, and also, of course, weed. But there is also, satisfyingly, a growing amount of crops ready for harvesting.
It has been a couple of months since my last Walled Garden Diary. I think April was the last one and time has simply flown by since then. The last few months in the Walled Garden at Netherby have been non-stop and highly productive. It has been a period of significant transformation as the beds have been filling up with plants. Lots of them wanted (the precious veg) but also some unwanted (the aforementioned weeds). The weather combinations we have had, of a period of warmth and lots of wetness, have meant that everything in the garden has grown quickly and strongly.
Our propagation regime has carried on at a pace. Seeds have been constantly sown and moved on from hot glasshouse to cooler glasshouse, to the cold frame. This being my first season growing in the far north of Cumbria meant I had to learn the local climate nuances before taking the plunge and starting getting plants into the ground. That, combined with a heavy workload, admittedly meant that some things sat in their transplant trays a tad longer than ideal. But I want to paint a realistic image of a working kitchen garden and not everything goes exactly to plan, all the time.
So let’s start with what has been planted. Starting in the glasshouses they are now full of tomatoes. Four varieties are Sakura, Sungold, Tomtastic, and San Marzano, the plants are bounding away and already producing sweet cherry tomatoes for the kitchens. Also in there are the Jalapeno and Padron chilies and the obligatory basil accompanying the tomatoes. You simply cannot have tomatoes without basil – they are great companion plants for any vegetable garden.
Outside in the Walled Garden beds, space has been filling up. Those new blocks of smaller beds I spoke of in the previous Walled Garden Diary are turning from bare soil to full of plants. In recent weeks alone, hundreds of leeks have been planted, along with peas, climbing beans, pumpkins, squashes, and courgettes.
The brassica bed is now full of different varieties of broccoli, cauliflower, kale, kohl rabi, and more. And several successional sowings of beetroots, celeriac, and turnips have been going in the roots section, along with regular direct sowings of carrots and parsnips. Those latter crops are the only two sown direct, with all the other crops grown as transplants. I have always found growing veg as transplants help prevent damage from pests when they are tiny seedlings and give the plant a strong start when planted out.
Did I mention previously there are polytunnels? Well, there are two I look after, and they too have been getting planted up and also producing lots of early crops for the kitchens. Cucumbers and aubergines have been planted, alongside cauliflower, PSB, peas, broad beans, beetroot, and carrots that went in earlier this year to give us earlier harvests.
And, while talking harvests, the list for the kitchens has been steadily increasing week-on-week. The first turnips (white and purple) and beetroots have been making their way to the chefs. And peas and broad beans have been getting picked for several weeks now, the ones from the polytunnel have been stripped bare and now we move on to the Walled Garden crops.
Also, fruit such as rhubarb and strawberries have either been getting sent to the kitchen in bulk or picked and frozen to use later. Others, including over-wintered leeks, the first onions, cauliflower, lovage, and flowers (broad bean flowers and chive flowers) have been getting harvested regularly and heading their way up to the chefs. The list of veg available is increasing week-on-week as the vegetable garden starts moving towards its peak productivity.
But the weeds, oh the weeds. They haunt my nightmares with the speed at which they are appearing (again I want to give a realistic impression of the goings-on rather than a sugar-coated story). So that has been a task taking up a lot of time – including a few all-hands-on-deck weeding sessions with every member of the garden team chipping in to clear big areas.
Time has been taken for other vital maintenance tasks, like building plant supports and netting soft fruit to protect them from hungry birds. Most crops have protection in some form or other, whether it’s from birds or netting for other pests like cabbage butterfly or carrot root fly. And there is also a rogue rabbit in the Walled Garden that has eluded capture, which means all new plants need some protection or other.
And the conditions up here in Cumbria have meant a learning curve for me. One key lesson I’ve recently learned is the strength of the winds that can rip across the Walled Garden as several squashes snapped at the neck only days after being planted. Luckily I always grow extra so I have replacements to take their place and my plan is to put up a windbreak across the bed.
But I don’t want to end the blog on a moan of plants I lost. The vegetables are growing great and it also looks like we should enjoy a good harvest of fruit this summer. Our peaches are looking fantastic in the glass and many of the soft fruit bushes look like they’ll be heaving with fruit soon. At the time of writing, I still have some crops that need to be planted out in their final position. It is also coming round to time to sow the crops that will see us through winter, such as brassicas for both the Walled Garden and the polytunnel.
So this has ended up a long blog update, I guess that’s what happens when I have to cover two busy months in one post. Hopefully, it won’t be so long till the next diary update. As ever, follow me on Instagram where I post regular updates from around the garden and showcase many of our great produce.