Trial and error (and error, and error...)

       Joan - Burnside
My plot - Autumn 2012
My plot - Summer 2018

When I first took on a plot at Burnside in September 2012, it was all I could do to crank out a few carrots, broad beans, onions, radishes, beetroot and parsnips. Even peas were completely beyond me in the first year as I couldn’t keep pace with whatever was munching the seedlings. I did, however, have a decent harvest of sweetcorn in my first summer, which seemed fairly exotic at the time. Inspired by this, I have aimed to try something new and relatively unusual every year, with varying degrees of success.

Most of these experiments have long since been consigned to oblivion, such as Munchen bier radishes (the ones where you eat the seed pods instead of the roots), crystal lemon cucumbers (round yellow ones, a bit watery and tasteless), and kohl rabi (all very well, but they seem to take a ridiculously long time to cook).

More recently, I had a go at growing melons, specifically Emir F1. They are supposed to be tolerant of low temperatures and the packet said it should be possible to grow them outside. They got off to a good start and I grew them on indoors. Once I’d worked out which flowers were the female ones that should produce fruit, it started to look quite promising, and lots of fruit appeared to be forming.

However, I should probably have reduced the number of fruits considerably to give the remaining ones more chance of ripening. I then had to leave the plants to take their chances outside while I went on holiday.

The final crop? It came to three melons not much bigger than a tennis ball. A sense of achievement, yes, and they did taste nice, but probably not worth all the time and effort!

The next year, I decided to try cucamelons. Kings describe these as ‘grape-sized cucumbers with a taste of water melon with a fresh tinge of lime’. Hmm… I’d say they don’t taste of much at all. They cropped prolifically enough and survived in pots outdoors, but I wouldn’t bother again, not least as I couldn’t persuade anyone else in the family to even try them!

Moving on: this year (2018) I planted a few oca (oxalis tuberosa, grown widely in the Andes) which had been kindly given to me by a fellow Burnside tenant. It’s a tuber, usually reddish pink in colour, and can be used similarly to potatoes, although it has a slightly tangy lemon taste. It is blight resistant, which has got to be a good thing. Total disappointment, unfortunately: the plants grew well enough but didn’t produce any tubers at all. However, a couple of things might have gone wrong here. They do best where temperatures don’t exceed 80 degrees too often, so this summer’s heat and drought probably didn’t do them much good. Also, to be honest, I had no idea when to harvest them. I checked just now while writing this: apparently the tubers form during autumn and should be harvested mid-November. Oops!! Still a rookie… But I think this one is worth trying again…

This year I also tried physalis, also known as cape gooseberry, a very sweet orange coloured fruit in a papery husk, related to the ornamental Chinese lanterns. The seeds took several weeks to germinate but they then made quick progress. The tiny yellow flowers with chocolate brown blotches in the middle were beautiful, and lots of fruit did form. The early ones ripened fully and tasted very nice, although they were quite small. However, a lot of the later fruits remained resolutely tiny and green. I had grown them in pots indoors and they grew very tall so quickly that they became too unwieldy to pot on into containers big enough to keep them adequately watered. That’s my excuse and I think it’s another experiment I’m unlikely to repeat!

Planning ahead for 2019, I have decided to try salsify and edamame beans. I am hoping these may both be a bit less testing than some of my experiments. Apparently, edamame beans don’t need staking, which suits me, although they do have a long growing season (I will bear this in mind in the light of my silly mistake with the oca…). Salsify is apparently a bit like a thin parsnip with a delicate flavour and easy to grow. Here’s hoping. I am also going to attempt pumpkins for the first time. I’m going straight in with Goosebumps, an ugly looking warty skinned affair. Watch this space – I will aim to report back in a year’s time!

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