Sunday, 12 June 2016

How much to grow

A manageable variety of veg
How do you decide how much of each vegetable to grow? You want to have enough without a massive surplus. Some vegetables you can sow successionally every few weeks (carrots, beetroots, lettuces etc.) but others you only sow once so you have to get it right.

A lot will depend on how much space you've got available and whether you want to concentrate on a few favourite vegetables or have a large variety and how many vegetables you typically eat. It takes a bit of planning. Of course, every year is different, with different weather patterns. Some crops will do better one year than the next, but there should always be something tasty to eat! Here's what we sow for two adults, no kids, but with lots of visitors.

First of all, the big crops:
Drying the big onion harvest
We eat pretty much an onion a day so we need to grow at least 350 onions per year. Allowing for some crop failure and thieving birds, we plant 450 onions, most as sets, but some from seed as overwintering onions so that we have early spring onions.

However, even with this, we haven't quite managed to have an all-year-round supply. Mainly because not all onions store well. If they are thick-necked they will need to be used up quickly. We had a year's supply of onion chutney, but this year there was a fresh onion gap from February to early May when the first spring onions were ready. This gap is gradually being filled with perennial onions (Welsh onions, Egyptian onions and something called the Very Useful Onion), as we build up their numbers.

This year, one variety of the 400 set onions we planted has not come up at all. Luckily, we sowed quite a few shallots, a first-time crop for us, and they are doing well.

New potatoes: always eagerly awaited
Potatoes are easier: one 2kg sack of early potatoes and one 2kg of maincrop potatoes, plus another 10 or so selected as seed from last year's maincrop potatoes, give us enough potatoes for the whole year. The potatoes store excellently in a shed in plastic buckets lined with newspaper, but from mid-May onwards they become less appetising so in March or April we process as many as we have freezer space for as chips. From mid-May until the beginning of July we only have potatoes in chip form.

Pretty purple-sprouting broccoli
For the brassicas (and cucumbers, tomatillos and melons), our magic number is eight: eight cauliflowers and Romanescos each, eight summer and winter broccolis, eight kale plants, eight Brussels sprouts, eight red, white and Savoy cabbages. That is for two adults who like to eat brassica (and who like to experiment with sauerkraut and kimchi). If you're not a big fan of cabbage reduce considerably but leave a margin because slug/white cabbage butterfly damage can be enormous.

Fun little pumpkins
We also like to have a comfortable margin for our courgettes. Some folk think we're crazy for having six plants for two adults, but courgettes are super versatile and, if you really have too many after making chutney, courgette cakes and using them in salads and sauces, they're easy to barter or give away. Similarly, we grow a lot of winter squashes and pumpkins, since they store well and are fun to grow. Most of them you'd struggle to find in a shop.

Chard is a winter staple for us. Actually, it lasts an entire year, from one June until the next. We usually grow two three-metre rows of it in one of our raised beds. Carrots will have at least one raised bed to themselves (two rows over four metres), beetroot half a bed and garlic two thirds (will probably be upped to a full bed in future).

For our legumes (peas, broad beans, French/runner beans), we usually aim for about 20 plants each.

Then a row of kohlrabi, a couple of rows of swedes and parsnips, 20-some Jerusalem artichokes and celeriacs, 16 sweetcorns, 12 peppers and around 100 leeks. And a liberal sowing of radishes and lettuces throughout.

Stringing up tomatoes
We usually get a bit carried away when it comes to tomatoes. Previously we only really had space for 16 but grew 25. Now, with the polytunnel up and running, we have 40 plants and that will hopefully be enough to do some canning and freeze some more.

Similarly, we also have more chilli plants than we really need (12), but if we have a glut we will make our own tabasco sauce and chilli powder. And they don't take up much space in the freezer.

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