Start the new year with the old year’s top garden performers

IF you are like most people, you will have started 2015 with a profusion of positive resolutions on ways to become healthier, exercise more and forsake bad habits.

Why not take the same approach for your garden: assimilate last year’s successes and failures and ensure you have an even prettier and more productive veggie plot in 2015? If you have not done so already, ensure you review last season’s top plot performers before placing seed orders for the coming year.

My own seasonal synopsis is rather lengthy as last year was my first full season as Airfield House & Gardens head food grower, and together with the team we managed to manifest a flourishing food garden to keep our visitors engaged and the onsite restaurant in ample supplies of fresh fruit, veg and herbs. We grew such a wide variety of tunnel and outdoor crops that it is difficult to include a full review, but here are a few of my top performing outdoor vegetable varieties from last year that will be sure to make the seed order again this year.

Beetroot

Beetroot comes in various different varieties, shapes, sizes and colours and this year we grew several different varieties at Airfield, including the old traditional Italian beet ‘Barbabietola di Chioggia’ prized for its concentric circles of dark pink and white flesh which are striking and quite unique when sliced thinly and served raw.

We also grew the unusual beet variety ‘Cylindra’ whose name alludes to its cylindrical shape. This elongated root will grow to about 10cm in length and it has remarkably smooth skin and deep purple flesh. Compared to the more traditional round beets, this variety maintains its tender sweetness over a long season (we harvested our last beets in December) and does not become woody.

Of the round beets, Pablo F1 outshone all other varieties for its great flavour, smooth skin and uniformity in size. And of the coloured beets it was yet another heirloom variety ‘Burpees Golden’ that shone. The chefs adored all those beetroot mentioned and we will certainly be growing a medley of hybrids and heirlooms again this year.

Brokali

Contrary to what you may think, this is not a spelling mistake! Brokali is a new hybrid member of the Brassica family and is a cross between broccoli and kale, which explains the spelling. It was Airfield’s head chef that introduced me to this delicious sweet green brassica whose long tender shoots are somewhat of a cross between Chinese and European Broccoli. We grew Brokali variety ‘Atlantis F1’ and I was very impressed by its tender sweet stems and florets compared to standard broccoli. Two sowings were made, one in spring and a second in summer, which provided harvests right through summer to autumn.

Winter Squash

Since Joy Larkcom introduced me to pumpkin ‘Crown Prince’, it has been my all time-favourite member of the winter squash family for growing and eating. This year has been no different bar that I have found a close contender in the form of ‘Delicata’, a beautiful cream and striped green winter squash which is much smaller than lots of its pumpkin pals, yet packed with a richer nuttier flavour and a creamier texture.

Often the most difficult, if not sometimes painful, part of pumpkin eating is the preparation part, (Crown Prince included,) but this little star among squashes is super-easy to clean and chop,and bypasses all the crazy kitchen hacking happenings that traditionally prelude squash suppers.

Radish

As another vegetable that comes in a range of varieties, shapes, sizes and colours, radishes are a cinch to grow, look and taste great and have a host of health benefits, but for the most part are generally under-rated. They are usually pawned off as a quick crop to grow with kids or popped on plates as a token garnish. However, for their amazing array of flavour and colour radishes were top of our to grow list and top of our chefs harvest list from early summer right through winter last year. Our star performing varieties were, Radish ‘Early Scarlet Short Top’, ‘French Breakfast’, ‘Cherry Belle’, ‘Malaga’ and the yellow globe shaped heirloom radish ‘Zlata’.

This season we will be certainly grow lots of radish both for their fresh roots and their sensational seed pods, outdoors and in, for early and late crops, in tunnels.

Colourful Combinations

All plants provide a platform for playing with a palette of colour and veg is not excluded. One of the most striking combinations in the Airfield food gardens last season was the beds edged with golden and orange marigolds (Tagetes) and brimming with Leek ‘Blue Solaise’ interplanted with Brussel Sprout ‘Red Ball’.

The blue-green hue of the leeks dotted amongst deep purple sprouts was offset by the warmth of the marigolds and this bed stood proud right through until the end of December.

However, it has to be said that Brussel Sprout ‘Red Ball’ was more pretty than productive as most of the sprouts ‘blew’ before we could harvest. However on a positive note, the Cabbage White and pigeons were less attracted to this particular sprout variety and the form, colour and height that they provided, was food for the soul and eyes.


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