Review of 2017: garden successes and failures

I’ve learnt a lot about gardening this year. I’ve filled my 44 hanging and wall baskets to bursting, as well as my four raised beds. Some things have worked well (I’ve grown more than £150 of organic produce and haven’t bought tomatoes all summer!) and some less well (one measly squash from six plants?). So given the scope of the smallholding project we’ll be taking on by the end of the week, I thought I’d look back on my biggest garden failures of 2017 to help me create a reminder list of things not to repeat once I have a proper garden. So here without further ado, are my top ten garden mistakes of 2017:

1. Believing the hype: Climbing strawberry / “Hanging basket” raspberry and blackberry
I have a tendency to believe the advertising hype of new miracle plants. A climbing strawberry and hanging baskets filled to bursting with raspberries and blackberries all sounded perfect for my tiny urban garden. What a shame that they simply didn’t work. The strawberries grew a couple of long leaves and then simply stayed the same. Not a single fruit did they bear, and not a single tendril did they put out. What a waste of soil. From the two “hanging basket” raspberries and the two blackberries I got a total of 11 raspberries. Rubbish. From now on I shall be a lot more cynical!

2. Herb overgrowth
A lot of my herbs went to seed this year. I actually don’t mind too much because then they attract lots of lovely bees, but it is a shame not to be able to eat them. I think I need to make sure I cut them down to the ground every so often so that they don’t all turn into flowers next time. 

3. Pathetic peppers and peas
Actually I don’t have much of a learning point here for the simple reason that I have no idea whatsoever why every single one of my eight pepper plants keeled over. I hypothesise that snail hastened their eventual end but I don’t quite know why only one of them developed a fruit (which then rotted and fell off). The peas, on the other hand, were snaffled by snails. It was brutal. One day I had climbing peas and a few beans, and the next day, just some sad stalks. I was robbed! Note to self, go after snails. 

4. Squashes / pumpkins vertically

I was very pleased when I managed to get my “hundredweight” pumpkins and my “crown prince” squashes to climb up trellises. But in all honesty, given that they took up most of two raised beds, and that I only got three fruits from nine vines overall, I’m not sure they gave me much bang for my space buck. Vertical gardening is great for small spaces and small gardens but I don’t think that squashes and pumpkins are the best choice for really tiny patios. I also had to prune them on a fortnightly basis to stop their triffid-like growth strangling everything else in the garden. All in all, I’ll definitely have a pumpkin patch at the new house, but I don’t think that I’d grow pumpkins or squash vertically again. 

5. Planting too close together (beets and carrots)

This one is a mistake I’ve made before and find really hard not to repeat. I always find myself squeezing in more plants than are meant to be in any given patch of soil. But the result is that a large amount of my crop is really quite puny. Next year, with a proper vegetable patch, I’m hoping to be stricter with myself in giving my crops the room they need to grow. 

6. Pinching out tomatoes
I actually think I did enough pinching out of my vines but what I didn’t do is to take off the growing tips or to tie the side shoots in properly (again, lack of space made this tricky). But I have to say, given that six vines and a few hanging baskets with cherry tomatoes have supplied our whole family with tomatoes all summer, it doesn’t seem to have adversely affected the crop. It did, however, provide copious space for enormous spiders to set up residence. The “mountain magic” tomatoes were growing outside so overcrowding wasn’t an issue, and actually they’ve been enormously prolific. So although I’ll grow them properly in the poly tunnel next year, I think I’ll leave the outdoor ones to ramble.

7. Chillis

I planted two chillis this year, one gifted to me by a friend and one that I bought as a plug. The first fell prey to the voracious appetites of the South West London slug population, and the second produced two good-sized chillis that never passed green and eventually developed black sides. Bizarre. Why didn’t they ripen? Was it too cold outside? I don’t know, but I’ll try them inside next year just in case, 

8. Pollination problems (plum)
I”ve had my little plum tree for nearly four years now so it should be cropping very heavily and indeed, every year I get a decent bunch of plums and every year they all drop off of the tree. I feel like a total moron because it wasn’t until this year when I had problems with pumpkins doing the same thing that I realised (thanks to the geniuses on my Instagram feed) that it was because the tree wasn’t being pollinated! We’ve bought fruit trees for the new house and I’ve made sure that I have pollination partners for all of them to plant in close proximity. 

9. Buying plugs
Actually I think that one of the main problems I had overall was that I didn’t plant out my seeds myself. I bought a lot of plug plants from what I thought were reputable nurseries and by and large they were utterly disappointing. They generally arrived pale, weak and often with their leaves completely stapled by the packaging. I will never, never buy plant plugs again. They’re simply not strong enough and I’m convinced that the time they spend in the post makes them punier still. Never again. They’re also considerably more expensive than seeds. What a waste!

10. Leeks (didn’t plant out soon enough)
The leeks were a bit of a disappointment and I think it was because I sowed them directly. I did thin them but they never really grew to anything approaching pencil thickness, let along actual leek size. Another one to try sowing properly inside next year I think,

All in all I think I’m going to call 2017 a year of gardening practice rather than much else. Still, bring on next year, I’m sure that things can only improve. 

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We farm a three acre smallholding in Hampshire, England, having fled London in pursuit of the good life for our little family. We mess about with an assorted menagerie and try to be as self-sufficient as possible in meat and fruit and vegetables whilst enjoying our plot and an outdoors lifestyle with our son. I am the luckiest person that I know.

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