Hooters Hall

Archive for the ‘Growing vegetables’ Category

Polytunnel Pineapples, Tomatoes, Basil & Shallots

A few years ago while on holiday in Cornwall we visited the lost gardens of Heligan. It’s a beautiful garden and the background of how it was rescued from decay and ruin is an excellent read. If you search for lost gardens of heligan on Amazon you can find the book and DVDs. One of the most interesting things at Heligan is the Pineapple Pit. It is heated by horse manure and designed specifically for growing Pineapples, a prized rare plant in Victorian times. You can read more about the Heligan Pineapple Pit on their blog post The story of the £10,000 Pineapple

We don’t have a pineapple pit at Hooters Hall but we do have our hot beds now so I’ve decided to have a go propagating some pineapple tops. This is going to be a long term project. Once a Pineapple top has successfully rooted it will take 2 years before it flowers.

I bought my pineapples from the supermarket. There are lots of You Tube videos and written information online about propagating pineapples. Basically you need to slice off the top then strip the leaves off the bottom inch or so. As you strip the stalk you can see little brown tendrils which will become the roots.

Some of the information online advises rooting your pineapple stalk in water but I’ve planted mine in a pot with some free draining compost. I’ve buried the pots in the hot bed so now we just need to wait and see if they root. Here are some pictures of the process.

Less exotic than the pineapples I also got my tomato, basil and shallot seeds planted this weekend. I’ve got a few varieties of Tomato including a dwarf windowsill variety Tiny Tim, Brandywine, Black Russian and some early varieties from Europe.

The Basil I’m growing this year is a British variety which I haven’t tried before. It’s supposed to be better suited to our climate more tolerant of the British Summer weather. This year I am determined to do several sowings of Basil and get better at using it in preserving / making pesto . I did quite well with my tomatoes last year and we’re still enjoying dehydrated, frozen tomatoes and green tomato chutney.

The heated propagator is still full of my Sweet Peppers so I put the seed trays with the tomatoes and basil in the hot bed with the pineapples. I also planted some Shallot seeds. It’s the first time I’ve grown Shallots. I’ve got some in seed trays and a row of them in the raised bed in the polytunnel.

Here are all my seed trays tucked up, nice and cosy in the hot bed.


Polytunnel Plans 2017

I spent today tidying up the polytunnel ready for a new growing season. I can get to all my different sized pots and seed trays now.

In the background you can see my Tree Cabbages. I’m gradually adding perennial vegetables to the polytunnel. As well as the tree cabbages we also have some nine star perennial broccoli which we haven’t  tried yet.

Of course the fruit trees are still in place as is the raspberry bed, grape vine and willow patch.

I’ve got some spring onions and carrots in the raised bed already and the elephant garlic that I planted in November is just starting to appear.

I grew a lot of cabbage last year but with the tree cabbages doing so well I’m not doing any this year. I have now got all my seeds for the year.

The first seeds to get planted will be the sweet peppers. They need to in by the end of January to have any chance of a long enough & warm enough growing season. I’ve got a heated propagator so hopefully that will help getting them off to a good start. I’m going to try lots of different varieties and see which does the best.

The tomatoes were very sucessful last year so I’m going to try some different varieties including more heritage plants & some that have an early harvest. I’ve also got some small cherry tomato seeds which I’m planning to grow in our front porch,with basil, to take advantage of the south facing aspect and also so that it’s easy to grab some when cooking in the kitchen.

I’ll be doing another trough of cut & come again salad leaves. I much prefer freshly picked salad leaves rather than the bagged up stuff from the supermarket. Growing them in the trough means I can move then aroubd easily and have them near the kitchen or campfire cooking area for super fresh salads.

Another staple for us is spring onions which are particularly good in the straw bale garden. I did some sucesssional planting last year and we’re still harvesting now.

I haven’t grown carrots for a few years but as well as the early ones I’ve already got in I’ll be doing regular sowings throughout the growing season together with some shallots which I’m growing from seed rather than sets.

We’re still enjoying the basket of fire chillies that I grew and dehydrated in 2015  but I”m going to grow some jalapeños this year, hopefully to have fresh as well as to dehydrate and store.

Building on my sucessful with melons in 2016 I’m going to try growing a watermelon as well as the galia type that I’ve already grown.

In 2016 the polytunnel did turn into a bit of a squash forest towards the end of the summer. To try & avoid that I’m going to grow Butterbush butternut squash which has a more compact habit. I’m also going to grow spaghetti squash again because they were so delicious.

My new challenge for 2017 is going to be sweet potatoes. I’ve got slips suitable for growing in the UK ordered for June. Having enough heat seems to be one of the keys to success so I’ll start them off in my heated propagator and then use cloches.

Fingers crossed for sunshine, just the right amount of rain & a lack of pests.

What to grow ?

Over the past few years at Hooters Hall I have been experimenting with growing different plants and perfecting my propagation skills. At the end of last Summer the goats got into the polytunnel and basically stripped it of all vegetation. Frustrating though this was it did give me the opportunity to have a bit of a think about how we use the polytunnel.

This year I have decided to be a bit more focused. I love growing plants from seed. The magic of planting a seed, getting the environment right to start germination and for the plant to grow. I’ll never tire of that but, then the question is what to grow from seed ?

Having a polytunnel means my growing season is extended and I can experiment with more exotic plants because I can control the environment. I’ve also got a heated propagator so I can get the temperatures just right for germinating specific seeds rather than relying on the British weather.

Most veg books and blogs suggest growing what you eat. Although this is very sensible, and a good place to start for a beginner, I got a bit bored growing lots of carrots, potatoes and onions. We’re also lucky to live in a part of the country where there are a lot of commercial and back garden growers. The veg stalls in our local market are very good with a plentiful supply of very fresh, well priced basic veg and there are plenty of farm gate stalls around and about.

Bearing all this in mind I decided to focus on growing produce that is less everyday, more expensive or harder to get hold of locally and that I can sow in succession (because I do love germinating seeds). I’ve also decided to experiment with straw bale gardening this year. There’s lots of information online about straw bale gardening if you’re interested. Essentially it’s soil less, raised bed growing using straw bales as the growing medium. It takes a bit of preparation, and you need to keep on top of the watering, but the positives include faster growth and fewer soil borne pests and disease. So far it’s involved a lot less weeding and my crops in the straw bales are a few weeks ahead of crops I planted in the soil at the same time.

Getting back to what to grow, after much perusing of seed catalogues and discussions with the Hooters Hall cook (my husband Chris) I decided on the following.

Kohlrabi, Summer Cabbages, Cauliflower, Peas, Broad beans, Spring onions, cut and come again salad greens, Spaghetti squash, Winter squash, Melons, Cucamelons, Basil, Courgettes, Sweet Peppers, Tomatoes, Quinoa and Beans.

As well as plants for eating I’m growing lots of Sweet Peas for the garden, adding to my natural dye garden and experimenting with growing some trees from seed.

Growing everything from seed means I often end up with more plants than I have room for so I’ll be putting any surplus plants on our farm gate stall and in the online farm shop.

Here’s a picture of some of our growing in a straw bale and freshly harvested ready to go in stir fry.

Kohlrabi growing in the straw bale garden

Kohlrabi growing in the straw bale garden

Homegrown Kohlrabi

Homegrown Kohlrabi