Friday, December 13, 2013

Come and Take a Tour Through our Tunnel

We are blessed with a net and plastic covered tunnel where we grow most of our vegetables. Being very green at gardening when we moved here, and not at all in the green-fingered way, I turned to the advice of some wiser and more experienced gardeners as I plotted and planned the planting of the tunnel. At the beginning of almost every month I consult John Seymour's Self-sufficient Gardener, Jane's Delicious Garden by Jane Griffiths, and the wonderful online Jane's Delicious Garden Planner where I have our whole tunnel planned outOver the last two years these guides have helped me to create a system that works for me. I say 'me' because I am the planner and the rest of my family lend a hand with the digging, picking and planting. We also have the Marvellous Molly who helps us in the garden and with the care of our animals. 

Our tunnel is divided into 6 main sections. This is to enable me to practice crop rotation to prevent a build up of pests and diseases... Perennials, Potatoes, Legumes, Mixed Veg, Roots and The Rabble. Leeks and Brassicas squeeze in between the rotations. 

As we walk in the gate we are greeted by the perennials. I like these on the edges of the garden so that they do not interfere with the bed rotation. Next to the bench there is a row of rhubarb which we transplanted from the centre of the tunnel. The rhubarb enjoy their new position where there used to be a compost heap. I also planted a few stray potatoes under the bench rather than throw them away. 

The first row of beds consists mainly of strawberries, the 100m sprinters of the garden that produce madly in October and fizzle out quickly and rest for most of the year. They take up a lot of space, but I wouldn't lose them for anything. At the end of the row we have strawberry popcorn which looks very happy.  We also have a seed bed in this row, hiding between the maize and strawberries, as it is near the tap for easy watering. I have a few Romanesco Cauliflower and Sicilian Violet Cauliflower seedlings just coming up there now. The broccoli seeds didn't germinate. I am hoping to sow a whole lot more brassica seeds this weekend. 

Now, let's take a walk to the opposite end of the tunnel, the very top. This is where our gardening year which runs from June to July, starts with the heavy Winter mucking of the beds to prepare them for POTATOES. We bring in barrow-loads of manure-rich compost. The potatoes are currently under plastic which is unnecessary but that's just the way it worked out. We have three beds of Mondial potatoes which I grew from a bag from the grocery store. Then we have one bed of heirloom BP1 potatoes which have pretty purple flowers. There is also an experimental bed of sweet potatoes. 

The chicken run with a large compost heap is behind the tunnel, and I have lined the fence with some raspberry bushes. Raspberries and potatoes are bad companions, according to Margaret Roberts, so I planted a few tansy plants to separate the two. The tansy leaves are said to be wonderful insect deterrents. 

The potatoes are not ready yet, but a little grabbling has revealed some promising beauties. As the potatoes are harvested some of their their beds will be planted up with LEEKS to see us through the Winter months. The rest will be covered in a green manure that we can also use for chicken greens, like oat grass and lucerne. I left a few of last Winter's leeks to go to seed. Their purple pompom heads are so pretty.  They are back down in the bottom row of beds next to the strawberries where last season's potatoes were. The rest of the leeks have already been succeeded by beans. 

The beds are treated with a little lime, wood ash and compost after the leeks to prepare them for the LEGUME family of plants. Broad beans go in first in Autumn, followed by mange tout peas. The broad beans have developed the dreaded chocolate spot, but I am leaving them in a little longer so that I can harvest the last of their pods. We dug in the early-planting, depleted mange touts yesterday.  They will feed the soil for the brassica seedlings that will follow. There is also a row of oak leaf lettuce that is very happy in the pea bed. 

Further along the legume beds we have sown Spring seeds for all sorts of beans, and a few amongst the strawberry popcorn. We have dried beans plants: Cannellini, Spanish Black, Adzuki and Christmas Lima.  Then we have french beans: Yellow Dwarf, Roquefort and Star 2000. There are also runner beans: Scarlet Runner, Chinese Noodle, Kentucky Wonder and Lazy Housewife. Some have germinated well and others have only given me a few plants from a whole packet of seeds. I hope to collect plenty of newly dried seeds for next year. Here and there I have sown seeds of the beans' friends, Giant Marigolds. I did a later planting of mange touts so we could keep enjoying them for a little longer. They are not producing all that much at present. I am hoping for a new flush of peas. Mmm, looking at these pics, I can see I need to mulch the legumes. I tend to leave the clover to do its thing. 

At the end of Summer, all the legumes will have been replaced by our Winter BRASSICAS. We had a big problem with beetle and caterpillar damage last season, so I'll have to find a way around that. I think we have two moth-eaten cabbages and one very sad brussels sprout plant left. Before and after the brassicas the beds were very well composted. This next row is my MISCELLANEOUS row of beds. Here we have tomatoes, brinjal, loofah, cucumbers, gem squash, courgettes and peppers. In between this glorious chaos we have California Poppies, too many weeds, and a bed of asparagus that are sending up their feathery fronds as they prepare to rest for the year. I would prefer the asparagus to be on the edges of the tunnel along with the other perennials, but that project can wait for another year. 

We have planted more varieties of tomatoes than I care to count, although careful record is kept of the position of each type. They are flanked with borage flowers to attract bees, and basil to deter pests. Here and there are some butter lettuces too. All the old heirloom lettuce seeds have gone on strike, refusing to give me the smallest leaf of hope, no matter whether sown in seed trays or directly. I think the seeds were just too old. 

These nasturtiums are an excellent trap crop, keeping the slugs off the green peppers and cucumbers. I have ineffectively sown cornflowers alongside the tomatoes too. The seeds are lying dormant in the soil. Maybe there's still hope.

Last season's Mixed Veg beds were followed by the ROOT family. Carrots and parsnips don't like manure-rich compost, so they merrily succeed the hungry tomatoes and co. We have a crosswise bed of Crimson Globe beets, Paris Market Carrots and Matador Spinach. I like to make the most of the growing season, so I have already started planting seedlings from the onion family into the gaps as I harvest the roots. 

I love the beauty of the heirloom veggies. The Paris Market carrot is round like a beet, and the colour of the Chioggia beet is striking. 

Towards the back of the root section I have three more long beds. There are celeriac, Purple Dragon carrots, Chantenay Karoo carrots, Detroit Dark Red beets, Chioggia beets and parsnips. There's also a too tall celery that is taking forever to go to seed. The black salsify disappointed for the second year in a row. I had to sow the carrots and parsnips twice, as the first sowing dried out. We solved the problem  at the second sowing with sacks over the beds until they germinated. Now I am behind my planned schedule, as I need those beds for onions. We have already harvested and eaten one bed of red onions and the brown onions are almost ready. I didn't allow enough space for onions, and they are such a staple for us. 


The onion bed off to the side of the tunnel will be sown with more beets. There is also a bed of Swiss Chard at the side of the tunnel. We added these side beds to enlarge the garden so that I don't have to buy veggies for most of the year. We live off what we grow and if the crop fails, then we eat whatever else there is. I did succumb and buy my first bag of onions this year though. 

Alongside the plastic section of the tunnel, fenced but not covered, we have an array of RABBLE veggies that wouldn't fit anywhere else. I followed the Native American idea of planting Scarlet Runner Beans with Black Aztec Maize and Atlantic Giant pumpkins. The beans are outgrowing the corn which they are supposed to hold onto. I can't use the fence for support either, or the cows will eat them. We have another huge bed of sprawling Flat White pumpkins. There are some watermelons, more gem squash and I have sown seeds for Transkei Flint corn. I offset the maize sowings by at least two weeks so that they don't cross pollinate in the wind. 

Well, that's the tunnel. But then I had some precious heirloom potatoes left, so we planted them in sacks under the kitchen window.  It's been fun raising the sides of the sacks as they grow. 

Last, not least, nor in the tunnel, but very exciting for me, we have planted berries along the back fence next to the herb wheel and strawberry spiral. There are blackberries, youngberries, gooseberries, raspberries, red currants and black currants. I just need to figure out how to keep them from the birds. 

If you have made it this far and read to the end of this very long post, then I admire your perseverance. I wrote this post mainly as a record to help me for future planning. I love looking back and seeing the progress in the garden. Even the change over the past two months has been astounding. 


  1. Very inspiring post:) Thank you. Can't wait for our spring arrival so I could follow even just a bit, of what you're doing:) You'll find me visiting your blog from now on...hope you won't mind.

  2. What an amazing garden you have!!!

  3. You have so much growing Cath! Our garden is also full of promise and hope at the moment. See you sooooon xxx

    1. I'm looking forward to seeing it, and you.

  4. Cath - again - WOW! so impressed my friend. You have me all inspired once again, but I have to wait for spring.

    1. Thanks Shirls. Not long before you can start sowing indoor seeds.

  5. Wow - what an inspiring garden. Thank you for sharing it.

  6. That's largely thanks to the inspiration of your book. Thank you, Jane.