A final summary for 2007

2007 as a whole has not been kind to gardeners. Weather side, there has been up and downs: hot and dry in the spring (constant +-24C, no drop of rain for more than 30 days between April and beginning of May), cool and very wet in the summer (temperatures +-18c,constant rain, some places had encountered floods), reasonable temperature but less than average rainfall in the autumn. There is a general understanding among vegetable growers this year: if your vegetables are not performing, it is perfectly normal; it’s not your fault! Don’t lose faith, start all over next year.

I’ve done reasonably ok this year. I’ve had pleasant surprises from my chilli peppers and bell peppers, great crop from bush beans, sugar peas, cucumbers and Chinese amaranth, success with coriander for the first time, and months of joy from the sunflowers. There were heartbreaking moments as well when my healthy tomato plants turned black overnight due to a blight attack; when I was desperately praying for rain during the more than 1-month long draught in the spring; and when I was longing for sunshine and warmth during the long wet June and July months. I came to realize how much the farmers relied on the mercy of nature to survive; how desperate and hopeless they could become when confronted with extreme weather conditions; and how very fortunate we gardeners are growing crops for joy, not for survival.

This spring, due to long warm and dry weather, many of my sowings (such as spinach) did not germinate. I love pea shoots, but before I was able to pick enough pea shoots for soup or for stir-fry, the plants quickly went to flower, and I ended up harvesting loads of sugar peas that I do not fancy very much. Luckily, my husband adores sugar peas; I was able to keep hem smiling once every 2 days with a big plate full of stir-fried sugar peas.

Courgette has always been nr 1 on my easiest growing vegetable list, yet they did not perform very well this year. Yes, they did put up a lot of growth, produced plenty of fruits, but the quality of the fruits were not comparable to those from previous years; they tended to rot on the plant. I’ve lost at least 1/5 of the fruits to rotting. The mildew problem was more severe than ever.

Pumpkins did not cope with the wet and cool summer well enough to produce quality fruits, moreover, the fruits harvested do not keep for long; some are already beginning to rot, while the fruits from last year were kept into this January.

Cucumbers: the mini-cucumbers did not perform well. The plants remained small throughout the growing season. They did produce fruits between late May and June, but the production slowed down by end June, though picking lasted till mid-August, the harvest was not significant. While the Chinese long variety ‘Tianjin Shen Non’ was a great performer. It produced long, shining, sweet fruits 30 cm long between July and August. By end August, the plants began to look sad (this August has really been cool and wet) and faded away as the night temperature began to drop. This is the first year I grew cucumbers, so far so good.

Chillies and peppers have been my price crop this year (see September + October notes). They performed superbly even under such poor summer conditions and with so little care. They are listed on top of my definitely-worth-growing vegetables list for next year.

Bush beans have been wonderful this year. I’ve never had so many beans out of the same amount of plants thanks to this variety called ‘Argus’ from Elite seeds. This variety produced long (20 cm in length) and tender beans. From July to end August, out of the +-30 plants, I had to pick almost once every 2 days, eating fresh or packing them into deep freezer. This is a rewarding crop that is definitely a must in my future bean growing.

Failed Crop
- Spinach ‘Viking’: none of the spring,summer or autumn sowings
- Mini cucumber ‘Delikate B’: sensitive to temperature drop
- Tomato: none of the tomato plants survived the blight attack

Poor Performer
- Pole beans ‘Jindian Wanwan beans’: vigorous plants, but poor
- Chinese long radish ‘Red Siji Shuiguo’: Seeds have high
germination rates,fast growing,but sensitive to root fly attack.
- Mini cucumber (Chinese market seeds): moderate production

General Performer
- Courgette ‘Diamant’: long variety,dark green skin,productive.
- Pak Soy ‘ Tai Sai’: a healthy plant.
- Chinese hyacinth beans (Chinese market seeds)
- Pumpkin ‘uchiki kuri’
- Carrots ‘Japanese WuCun Shen’: healthy plant, resistant to root fly.
- Chinese musterd green ‘HuaYe Baobao Qincai’:disease (pest) free.

Top Performer
- Courgette ‘Di Nizza’: a round variety,tender and very tasty. Recommended.
- Bush beans ‘Argus’: highly recommended.
- Cucumber ‘Tianjin Shen Non’: highly recommended.
- Sugar peas ‘Norli’: A highly recommended variety if grown for sugar peas. This dwarf variety produces long tender and sweet tasting sugar peas, very productive.
- Chinese coriander: no variety name (see September notes)
- Chillies and peppers: no variety name (see September + October notes)
- Amaranth: no variety name (see September notes)
- Mixed salad ‘maxi mix’: cut and grow baby salad.


Autumn Tidy up

End October - begin November is for me one of the most beautiful season of the year when leaves are turning golden, yellow, bruin, orange and red; and the temperature is still mild, a great time to go for a walk in the woods, enjoying the wonderful colour display the nature is offering us, for free! Even in my garden with little trees and plants, colours are still everywhere: the golden yellow/bruin foliage from my beech hedge, the wonderful yellow from one of the neighbour’s ginkgo tree and the golden red from the neighbouring trees. The world would be such a boring place without the glorious display of those colourful trees and shrubs.

I am not a keen winter vegetable grower, it is now time for me to clean up my vegetable patches, harvest or check what are left in the ground, and plan ahead for next year.

I've cleared away all left-overs and weeds from my raised bed 1 and spread grass clippings in the bed to cover it for the winter. Raise beds 2 and 3 are now fully covered with green manure Phacelia sowed in September. They all need to be dug in to rot down during the winter. Raised bed 4 has been the bed for root vegetables + tomatoes this year. I’d lost all tomato plants to blight in the summer, the blackened plants were cleared away, and in their place, I sowed some carrots 'Japanese Wucunshen' and some Chinese red radish 'red Siji Shuiguo' in July and August. The carrots are looking great, but the radish has been suffering from severe root fly attack, resulting in small tunnels all around the root ball:

In raised bed 5 and 6 (these are smaller beds), I sowed some Chinese Pak Choi 'Bai Cai' in July and in August. Those sowed in July have been marvellous, producing healthy and juicy plants.
I have been harvesting them since August; but those sowed in August are looking very sad for the moment: small holes are spotted all over their leaves, yet no pests have been detected. I have no clue what disease or pests this can be.
A wild guess would be that these are results of cabbage flea attack. I’m afraid the plants have to go.

The growing season for my vegetable garden is coming to an end for 2007. But this does not mean an end to my gardening jobs, as I’ll be busy in the next months or two planting trees, fruit trees/bush and shrubs. I will still be out there: in the garden.


6 Oct 2007

18c / Wind 2 / Sunny

Wonderful weather! The temp. is 18c, yet it feels like 22c in the sun, warm and gentle.

I started my day by harvesting the sunflower seeds. The sunflowers have been blooming to death this year. 2 plants are still producing bunches of flowers. It’s time to harvest the rest though. I'd harvested some 30% of the sunflower seeds already in September. This is now the second harvest. I cut down the big seed heads and left them to dry under the sun. The biggest head is 35 cm in diameter, with wonderful fat seeds.
I hanged all the smaller seed heads on the wooden panels of the compost bin for the birds to enjoy. Birds are important members of my garden. They should be able to share the harvest as well.

Before noon, I turned 1 compost heap over to the empty one next to it. The materials were gathered in the past few months, some of them were beginning to break down, attracting lots of worms, and looking really very healthy. After turning, I covered the heap with a sheet of thick plastic and left it to the worms and insects. By early spring, I should expect to harvest plenty of delicious compost full of goodies and organic matters for my vegetables and plants. Can’t wait till spring!

Now is a good time to start up a new compost heap, there are plenty of materials in the garden to be used. I started by lining on the base of the heap with some thick stems cut from the sunflowers, they are slow to decompose and will allow a bit air circulation in through the bottom of the pile which is essential for the heap. On top of the thick stems went in the thinner and softer stems of the sunflowers, together with some grass clippings. I then threw in a layer of prunings from the faded aster, mixing in some grass clippings again. I will build up the heap in the next few days with garden wastes and kitchen waste; and turn the heap once before the winter sets in.

The second harvest of this weekend was the chillies and peppers. According to the weather forecast, the night temperature should drop to 3C, with risk of ground frost. I need to harvest the fruits all in before the frost kills them. Here they are:

A few that were not harvested, apparently survived the night frost, looking happy and shining under the warm sun.


Chinese Amaranth 苋菜(小米菜)

I’ve seen Amaranth growing in gardens in my neighbourhood as ornamental plants. They reminded me of my childhood years when we had Chinese amaranth as vegetables stir-fried or worked in salads. They were very popular edible summer vegetables. My mother used to blanch amaranth in fast-boiling water first; drain them afterwards and put them into a dish; she then dressed the blanched amaranth leaves (stems) with a hot sauce made from soy sauce, sesame oil and a locally made chilli paste. Heaven!
I enjoyed the flavour of the amaranth very much, but hated the red-coloured soup. My mother sometimes stir-fried the tender shoots with some fresh ginger and some garlic. Back then, there were two types of amaranths on the market: we called them white amaranth (white stems, green leaves) and red amaranth (actually purple-green-coloured leaves). My mother ended up buying always the red ones. She must have found the coloured one pleasing her eyes.

Chinese Amaranth, also known as ‘Chinese spinach’, grows very well in warm regions; but they do perfectly well here, as proven this year in my vegetable garden. Sow them only when the temperature gets warmer, I did it this year in May; broadcasting the seeds directly in the pre-prepared raised bed, not too deep as the seeds were quite small. They were really fast-growing veggies once germinated. I started to pinch out the main stems when the plants were about 10cm tall (the pinched-outs were stir-fried, of course). They began to develop side shoots. Harvest when the shoots are still tender, this can mean picking weekly in the summer. Repeat this pinch-and grow process until late summer when tiny pink colour began to appear on the tip of the shoots. I then stopped harvesting just to allow the plants set seeds.
The dark purple flower heads hanging down above the yellowish green leaves are an eye-catching feature in any autumn vegetable garden.

I regard this a valuable leafy vegetable for my family in the summer months when I normally have only fruit bearing crops to harvest at this time of the year (beans, tomatoes, chillies, courgettes etc.); moreover, unlike some oriental veggies such as Pak Choi, when stir-fried, they tend to release some juice in the wok, resulting in ‘cooking’ the veggie rather than ‘stir-frying’ it; amaranth has this ‘dry’ character that when stir-fried, they tend to absorb the juice or the flavour of other ingredients in the wok, giving the veggie stronger flavour, which is exactly what stir-fry all about.


Pumpkins 南瓜

I sowed 2 varieties this May:
1) ‘Uchiki Kuri’ from SomElite seeds. This Japanese variety should produce relatively smaller fruits with golden orange flesh, sweet chestnut-like flavour. I find this plant rather vigorous.
By the time each plant produced 4-5 fruits, I snatched off the growing tip of the plants to allow energy going to the remaining fruits. The very wet and mild summer might be the cause of so moderate harvest now in September, with an average of 3 fruits per plant; but the sweet and tender taste of the pumpkin is beyond words. I baked them in the oven (skin on), made soup from them. They are simply delicious! It definitely is worth planting a few of this variety next year.

2) The second variety is from China, seeds given by my mother. Funny thing is: she could tell me no more than ‘these are pumpkin seeds’. There was no better way to find out than just sow them, wait and see. This pumpkin is relatively vigorous, but set fruit rather early; they are green in colour, oval in shape, the size and shape of an American football.
By end August, the fruit was completely ripe, and the skin turned slightly golden. I couldn’t wait cutting it open and taste. The taste is not significant, a bit sweet, but very watery, ok for in the soup, but not suitable for pumpkin cake or mashes. I might consider growing it next year though, for their seeds! These are fat, big seeds that come off the flesh very easily. I have roasted some in the oven. Jammy!


Sunflowers and Sunflower Seeds 向日葵 / 葵花籽

I love sunflowers; they bring smiles to my face. I also love roasted sunflower seeds. Because of their decorative and culinary characters, sunflowers have always earned a place in my garden every year.

This year, I sowed two varieties directly in the ground in May: one with white seeds (variety name not noted, seeds brought home by my daughter from school) and the other one with black seeds (seeds from China). Both are supposed to produce tall plants with giant seed heads. I had grown the white one last year with success. This is an amazing variety with either huge seed heads 30 cm in diameter with big, full white seeds; or produces lots of side shoots with pure yellow flowers.
One of the plants produced more than 36 side shoots last year, an absolute record in my sunflower growing history! The black one is new to me. Both varieties turned out to be really fast growers. By mid July, they had grown to their full size of 2.5-3 m tall; producing bunches of side shoots with beautiful flowers. I thinned some side shoots out (flowers in the vase of course), hoping to get bigger single seed heads. It didn’t help much, the heads remained small, the size of only a football or smaller. There were a few exceptions though for both the white and the black varieties, those produced giant seed heads the size bigger than a basketball with big seeds. Some of them have been harvested last weekend:

As far as the flowers are concerned, I consider it a successful year. The glorious blushes of bright yellow flowers on the plants and their side shoots brightened this year’s already gloomy and cloudy summer days up for a very long time. But on the seed side of the story, it’s of a disappointment really. I blame mainly the constant rainy weather and cooler temperature this year for their poor performance, and hope that they would amaze me the way the white one did last year if we are to be blessed with drier and sunnier days next summer.


Success with Coriander 香菜

Coriander is my favourite herb, yet I’d never had luck growing them well in my own garden; with the 2 varieties of seeds I bought from a garden Centrum, they either produce little leaves or set seeds too quickly.

This June, I obtained some seeds from a friend of mine who received his seeds from China. I want to do everything correct this time with these seeds. I first went online to search for tips on how to grow corianders successfully. To grow them well, I need: well-drained humus soil, a sunny and open site (a friend told me, she grew them in the shade with success), and (during the growing season) moist soil but not over water the plants. Armed with the info, I set myself out to work. I started off by building myself a raised bed with timber. The raised bed was 120 cm /70 cm / 15 cm in size. I then filled the raised bed with 2 parts of garden ground, 1 part of garden compost and 1 part of all-purpose potting compost. I sowed the seeds in drills on the 30th of June. The seeds germinated 10 days later. From then on, I kept the soil moist, this was not difficult to do since July was a wet month, and I had to water the seedlings occasionally. By the 27th of July, the seedlings had grown into 15 cm tall plants. From the 2nd of August on, I was able to harvest lots of green shoots daily to use in the kitchen.

I had never in my wildest dreams expected my corianders to be this abundant! They were strong, they were leafy, they did not bolt at all, and they were just gorgeous. I kept picking, giving them away to friends; we even made dumplings with corianders. I’m so very grateful of the friend who made my coriander dream come true by giving me the wonderful seeds. I could not hide my happiness. I did it this time!

Lessons learnt: sow them in successions every 2 to 3 weeks to ensure longer harvesting.


Chillies and Peppers 辣椒 / 柿子椒

This is my first time growing chillies! Not because I planned to, I was given some seedlings early in the spring by my neighbour’s dad. Having thought that chillies were grown in greenhouses in our region,
I had never thought of growing them by my own in the open. “I will give it a go”, I thought. After preparing the soil with manure and compost in late May, I planted the seedlings in the full ground and forgot about them all over until one day in July when I walked by, I noticed long, thin green chillies all over the then bushy plants. What a delight to see! I started picking the tender ones for stir-fry from early July onwards, they tasted super. By beginning of August, from the 5 plants I had, I'd picked 5 times, each time at least 15-20 fruits. The riper ones became hotter so I left them on the plant to grow on. Some of them are already ripe, they look now like this:

One-way my mother always does with red chillies: tie them up and hang them dry, which was exactly what I did with my harvest yesterday. They would serve me well the whole winter through in dishes. Other things my mother would do with red chillies include preserving them in jars with salt and spices or making chillies paste.

Despite the mild and rainy summer this year, they turned out to be such easy and fruitful veggie to grow! I would definitely grow them from next year on.

The same goes with sweet peppers. The seedlings came also from my neighbour's dad. It seems that all chillies and peppers are doing very well this year. The sweet pepper plants bear at least 4 fruits each;

each plant produces at least 2 very big fruits and 2-3 smaller ones.
The big ones are bigger in size than the average ones from the supermarkets, but thinner in flesh. The sweet peppers are in 3 colours: red, yellow and green. The yellow ones are sweeter in taste, the other 2 produce healthy and shinny fruits as well, definitely worth saving seeds for next year.