Wednesday, 30 March 2011


I finally got a new camera! This is relevant precisely because my blog mostly lacks pictures, as my original edition iPhone (coming up to its third birthday) simply can't do closeups. I've had my eye on second hand DSLRs coming up for sale on eBay, and a last I one one. Incidentally, for the lowest price this model has gone for (a shade over a hundred pounds - the last one went for £170!). I am totally made up, and hopefully I'll be able to post loving closeups of recipes and seedlings come next week.

Meanwhile, a few horticultural successes. My spring cabbages, 'Baccalan de Rennes', sown one per module, have started coming up after just a few days. I've got lots of healthy beets, Californian poppies, castor beans, and this morning I spotted signs of life from another tomato variety, 'Black Cherry'.

And a few - well, I won't call them failures yet, as they may still come up - not-yet-successes. Nicotiana need light and heat to germinate, apparently, and I can only provide both when it's sunny (today it was not - the windowsill hit a maximum of just 17.8ºC); the bananas (Musa sikkimensis and M. velutina), never the fastest or most reliable seeds, are still dormant; melon 'Charentais', and several tomatoes simply haven't had enough time yet. I'm hopeful, and still buoyed up by the other plants - the nasturtiums and Cosmos are particularly developed now.

And I may as well finish on tomatoes: I'm up to around 80 pots (including one yoghurt pot), containing a total of just under 190 plants. I will hopefully not need to pot any more up for a few days, by which time my greenhouse should be capable of housing some of the marginally hardier baby plants, freeing up more space on the usually-warm windowsill.

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Slow-cooked Boston beans

Today started dull, cool and drizzly. I was rather peeved at the Met Office, who I rely on for weather forecasts (perhaps I shouldn't), because on the basis of yesterday's prediction I had left some washing out on the line. It was as damp this morning as when I put it out there! It brightened up and got quite warm by mid-afternoon, but I was already thinking of cold-weather comfort food.

I had a portion of Boston beans for my lunch, from the freezer. The recipe below will make up to 10 portions (depending how greedy you are - I get about eight freezer bagfuls, which lasts a long time. It reheats perfectly, and is so cheap to make, it's perfect for lean times.

I suppose I should call them "Boston-style" beans, as this is simplified from the original, and they are not baked. They are awfully good, though - I never bought tins of baked beans before, but now I have no need to ever again.

Slow-cooked Boston-style beans
  • 750g-1kg dried beans, soaked overnight in water
  • two tins tomatoes
  • one onion, peeled
  • several rashers of bacon, or several hundred grammes smoked pork
  • dark brown sugar
  • half a dozen cloves
  • oil
  • salt and pepper
  1. Pre-cook the beans by boiling in fresh water, but not until too soft - they should be slightly harder than you would want to eat. Drain.
  2. Halve the onion. Stud one half with the cloves, finely dice the other half.
  3. Roughly chop the bacon or pork, fry in the oil. Remove from the pan with a slotted spoon. Soften the chopped onion in the rendered bacon fat.
  4. Put the fried onion, bacon, onion half, beans, tomatoes, and sugar into a slow cooker. Add enough water to cover, if necessary. Cook on high (if it has two settings) for several hours. Check the taste, season if necessary. Cook on low overnight, for a maximum of 12-18 hours.
notes and substitutions
This is vague, I know - like most of my recipes. If you want to make less, do so - I would say the ratio to stick to is 500g dried beans : 1 tin of tomatoes : half an onion. The beans can be borlotti, cannellini, pinto - anything really. Add more or less bacon/pork as desired - more will add extra flavour and make it seem more luxurious. The tomatoes can be whole or chopped, by the way - I go for whatever's cheapest. They will break down into a rich sauce after half a day's cooking either way. Any oil is fine - I use extra virgin olive oil for most things, myself. Be aware the bacon/pork will be salty - so be careful with the seasoning (don't add salt at the beginning, for this reason). As for the sugar, you may wish to adjust the sweetness after several hours, so add a dollop/couple of tablespoons, then see how it tastes. I have used palm sugar to great effect (it was all I had at the time) - it is deep and complex, which is perfect here. If your slow cooker only has one setting, you will not need to cook for so long - cook it until it is thick, red-brown, the beans are tender, and it tastes good!

If you use cheap bacon offcuts, this can be a very cheap meal indeed - well under £5 a batch, so no more than 50p per portion. I like to serve it on toast, sometimes with poached eggs. You could add cooked, chopped sausages for extra meatiness.

Sunday, 27 March 2011


I don't go in for arbitrary numbers all that much. I'm too ruthlessly rational for that. So it's the first day of the new year, so what? It's all essentially made up. However, it's hard not to notice things like losing a certain amount of weight, or harvesting a certain quantity of vegetables. So I have been idly counting seedlings as they spring up, and today I have reached the 500 mark. I should say, that includes shallot sets, which may be cheating, but they are cancelled out by the Lobelia, which are so numerous and tiny that I haven't a hope of counting them.

My current windowsill inhabitants are:
  • 178 tomatoes
  • 37 shallots (although 11 will be planted out later today)
  • 4 Eschscholzia (freshly-sprouted in the last 24 hours)
  • 34 aubergines
  • 12 castor beans
  • 35 Calendula
  • 15 okra
  • 45 Cosmos
  • 8 broad beans
  • 17 sweet peas
  • 17 nasturtium (Tropaeolum majus)
  • 33 beetroot (the first 'Chioggia' appeared today)
  • 66 chicory

Which is all very exciting, but also slightly worrying, as I am only halfway through my spring sowing, and I have totally run out of windowsill space. I am rushing things out into the garden as fast as is sensible (the shallots are fine, the broad beans will go out soon), but it means I really need to get on with repairing the greenhouse as soon as I've finished a piece of work that's due this coming week.

The tomatoes are still centre stage. I sowed the last varieties today (yes, 178 is just the first batch), and have been potting the older plants on for a week or so. I now have 68 pots full, not counting the ungerminated ones. I was a little concerned they weren't growing very quickly, but I was wrong - I checked on Tomato Lover, who very helpfully takes pictures of her plants every week throughout the year, and mine are actually bigger than hers were at the same age (the largest ones are now nearly 3 weeks old). The ones in their own pots now are getting quite sturdy, coming to the end of the seedling stage, and getting large enough for me to realistically call them 'plants'. They are certainly growing faster than the other crops, but then maybe they prefer the warm, sunny conditions on my windowsill more than some. In any case, they have been a huge success already, and give me the positivity and confidence to continue with the whole project.

'Green Zebra' seedlings desperate to be repotted - I got 40 plants from a pack claiming to contain 30 seeds! A dozen were potted on after I took this picture

Meanwhile, I planted some broad beans I'd started off indoors outside, next to two I'd already planted out a few weeks ago. They are in a newly-dug and fertilised bed, with council and homemade compost, sifted garden soil, and blood, fish, and bonemeal. A few perpetual spinach plants that survived the winter in the greenhouse (or what was left of it after two major storms) are interplanted with them, and the back of the bed has been sown with turnips.

To be honest, I have been disappointed by the beans. Whether it is me (I started them off in toilet roll tubes) or the seeds themselves, I feel the germination rate has been pretty poor (maybe 60%). The 'Karmazyn', a pink-seeded variety, has been worse than the 'Red Epicure' (red-seeded, unsurprisingly), although the outdoor-sown ones have done better (see below).

Another bed needs topping up with garden soil (it's mostly homemade compost), and then I am trying carrot seed mats. The idea is from Annie's Kitchen Garden, where the method of gluing seeds at pre-measured spaces onto flimsy paper towels works like a dream. I have never grown a crop of carrots successfully, mainly because I do it in pots and then neglect them. This time I'm hoping not having to thin them will mean a successful crop.

Meanwhile, my first tulips have been blooming this past week, bringing some colour and a real sense of spring to the back garden. Nearby, two large planters of peas and broad beans I sowed before I went away last month are poking through, and providing hope for my first crops in a couple of months' time.

Tulip 'Candy Prince' against the back fence

Friday, 25 March 2011

Tomatoes: roll call (part 2)

Continued from part one...

Incidentally, if you were wondering what indeterminate/determinate means, and what the "X days" figure is, I'll quickly explain. A determinate tomato grows into a bush, to a preset size, and no larger. It does not need pruning to control growth. An indeterminate tomato is a sprawling vine, that can grow two or three metres in a season. To concentrate the plant's energy into fruit production, it is customary to remove side shoots and stop the main shoot once it reaches a set height (say, 6 feet). The days figure usually refers to the time between planting the tomato in its final position (in a pot, grow bag, or into the garden soil) and the first ripe fruit. It's good for estimating harvests, in association with average final frost dates (as tomatoes cannot survive frost, they aren't planted out until it's past, unless you have a greenhouse).

Orange Strawberry
I should probably be calling this German Orange Strawberry, but there was a little confusion over the name when I was choosing seeds. Unsurprisingly, it's a strawberry-shaped orange tomato, though it can vary (often it's flatter). A late beefsteak, maturing after 80-90 days (though recommended for outdoors). Indeterminate and vigorous.

Purple Cherokee
photo by observing life
A classic American heirloom with a good reputation for flavour. It's worth pointing out that terms like "black", "pink" and "purple" are rather misused when applied to tomatoes; these ones are typically a dark red, but can be quite variable inside - as can the overall shape. A bit fussier than modern types, but allegedly worth it. Indeterminate. 80-90 days.

This is one I tried to grow two years ago. My sister passed me a load of heritage seeds that were past their best, and although most did well, not one of this variety germinated. I ordered some more last year, but never planted them - my main motivation was a recipe for tomato wine she'd included, something this variety is renowned for. My experience so far hasn't filled me with hop - only one of the first pot of seeds germinated, and the second pot took much longer than any other variety, producing just three. Today, however, that first seedling was joined by eight more - all appearing overnight! So it's a slow starter - let's hope it makes up for it later on. Huge bunches of bright red fruits (up to 50 per truss). Indeterminate. 70-80 days.

Another descriptive name, this is a small, pale yellow-cream cherry tomato that's highly rated for flavour. Some confusion as to whether it can be grown outside - I won't take the chance. Indeterminate; I couldn't find a figure for days to maturity.

Sub Arctic Plenty
I ordered these last week simply because they are the earliest-maturing variety available. An unexciting appearance - medium-sized, round, red - but they offer the chance of harvesting ripe homegrown fruit by midsummer's day, even though I only sowed them a couple of days ago. I'm thinking of trying my hand at cross-breeding, using this one and one other - with the hope of producing an early, but less boring variety. Determinate. 51-60 days (some sources say even quicker).

Summer Cider
With this one, I was swayed by the name. Some varieties of tomato have names so evocative, I am prepared to take a chance on that alone. Actually, this is quite a recent variety, developed in the Netherlands at the end of the 1990s, but it looks more antique: large, bulging yellow fruits with a blush. A dense beefsteak type. Indeterminate. 80-85 days.

Sun Belle
Another one left over from last year. These are very unusual-looking, pear- or bottle-shaped little fruits, ripening to bright yellow. Apparently a very old variety, but I couldn't find much else about it - I'm assuming it's indeterminate, but I have no idea when it will ripen.

Super Marmande
The champion of last summer. I bought a single plant (see this previous post for a picture), and it grew so large I could hardly manage it. A handful of huge, ribbed fruit per truss, pale red when mature. The flavour was excellent - a simple tomato tart I made for friends with these was heavenly. I had to grow it again, as it produces both quantity and quality. Recommended for outdoor growing, though I'll chance one under "glass". Indeterminate. 75-80 days.

Okay, so again I admit, I am growing a lot of tomatoes! But some may not thrive, some may not ripen, I may lose a lot to blight (thankfully the last two years, it came very late in the season - after I'd had my fill of fruit). But it sure is exciting!

Thursday, 24 March 2011

Tomatoes: roll call (part 1)

It's my grandfather's birthday. He lives next door to me (semi detached houses), which I know is unusual. Back in the 80s and 90s, our family ruled this street - my parents, brother and sister and me lived here, my grandparents next door, and my great-grandmother next door to them.

Sadly now there's just two of us. My great-grandmother moved to another part of town (she died a few years ago, aged 101), my siblings moved out, then my parents, and my grandmother died last year. So it's much quieter, and a little lonely at times. To be fair, I like my own company most of the time, and my uncle and his wife visit next door every day (and lots of other family members come to stay at both houses quite often), so it's not so bad.

Anyway, I've been rather busy, baking a madeira cake, buying flowers, copying a video of my sister in a school show (in 1987!) as well as doing my own chores, but I have a moment now while I'm waiting for the dvd to finish, and I've been meaning to talk a little more about tomatoes (you may wish to stop reading - I'm sure most people don't find them as interesting as I do).

In fact, if it wasn't for my grandfather, I probably wouldn't be growing tomatoes at all. He always did, last year being an understandable exception, and in fact back in the mid-20th century had his own commercial greenhouse for a time. Back then, my home town was renound (at least regionally) for its tomatoes, and plenty of other produce, as its rich, peaty soil hosted a substantial market gardening industry. That's mostly gone now, though local raspberries and tomatoes can still be found in the summer months. Anyway, I always found tomatoes a little scary - too much work, in my imagination, to dare grow myself. But he never seemed to have a problem, although a small greenhouse helped. A couple of years ago I took the plunge, and although mine were outside, I had a fine crop. Last year I didn't grow from seed, but plants I bought and was given gave me enough to show me it wasn't really that hard after all.

Below I will, following the lead of Tomato Lover, give a run down of the varieties I'm hoping to grow in some detail, and then estimate the dates when I should be picking them. If nothing else, it will be useful to look back in 6 months' time and see how accurate the stats I'm relying on are (such as average final frost date, and days to harvest), and how long I can keep the crop going (I started later the past two years, but I was harvesting right into November).

Black Cherry
photo by Peppysis
A dark cherry tomato, unsurprisingly. I've read good things by people who have grown this, both in the UK and the US (where it originates). Up to a dozen fruits per truss, 65-70 days after planting. Indeterminate.

Costoluto Fiorentino

A big, red, ribbed beefsteak tomato from Italy. I suppose I'm taking a chance with this, as it will probably want warmer, sunnier weather than I can reliably provide. However, it can be grown in the UK, apparently. Tall plants, producing 75-80 days after planting. Indeterminate.

Cream Sausage
photo by swanksalot
I had to grow this, it's so unusual-looking! Plum-types (of which this is a particularly elongated example) growing in trusses of half a dozen or more. Pale creamy-yellow, recommended for drying (something I definitely want to try). 80-85 days. Determinate.

Gardener's Delight
The classic red cherry tomato. As I said in a previous post, these seeds came from a magazine - I wouldn't normally choose to grow such a mainstream type. Having said that, everyone who has grown it recommends both the flavour, cropping, and disease resistance. So, rather than cliché, it's a classic. Indeterminate. 65-75 days.

Great White
It's a shame I couldn't find a usable picture of this, as it's a really stunning variety. Huge, lightly ribbed creamy fruit, a little darker (yellow/green) around the shoulders, often weighing more than half a kilo each. Extremely tall indeterminate plants, fruiting after 80-85 days.

Green Zebra
photo by emkeller
I bought these seeds last year, and if I hadn't, I wouldn't be growing it now. Having read a lot about these, they sound like trouble. Striking they may be - pretty even - but they will only ripen under cover in this country, and are apparently prone to disease. I don't have as much of a problem with the colouring as some, but the killer for me is that it's quite a recent variety (developed in the mid-80s). Indeterminate. 75-85 days.

Jaune Flammée
These, on the other hand, I am very excited about. Lovely, round, bright orange fruits, borne in trusses of up to a dozen, with a flavour described as "spicy". Not too unusual to scare people off, but different enough to feel special.

Huge thanks for much of the information in this post and the next one to Passion Tomates, whose database of tomato varieties is second to none (lucky I speak French!).

The remaining varieties will be reviewed in the next entry...

Tuesday, 22 March 2011

Unseasonal pleasures

It has been a dry March, so the Met Office tells us. I believe them. The last few days in particular have been pretty nice, except a spell of dullness and light rain on Sunday. However, Saturday was so warm and sunny that my friends and I decided to break out the barbecue for the first time this year. Yes - a barbecue, in northern England, before the spring equinox. But it was a good decision, because we had a great time, and although it got cool by dusk, we were more than adequately warmed by the glowing coals (which, using my friend's thermocouple thermometer, were clocked at around 1050ºC).

I made punch, a recipe that calls for the unlikely combination of bourbon, pineapple, passionfruit, maple syrup and sparkling wine, which had been a hit a few years ago, but I wasn't totally happy with it - not fizzy enough. However, I also threw together a dish that was delicious, so I thought I'd share it.

Barbecue garlic, lemon and herb chicken
serves 3
  • 1 chicken
  • several cloves of garlic, peeled
  • sea salt
  • black peppercorns
  • 1 lemon
  • fresh rosemary
  • fresh bay leaves
  • olive oil
  • method
  1. Joint the chicken. There are plenty of guides on the internet, but it really boils down to using a sharp, thin-bladed (boning) knife, and following the contours of the meat so you separate it into natural portions (I got 6 - the wings, leg-thighs, and breasts). Remember to leave the skin on, to protect the meat when it's grilled. The carcass does for stock.
  2. In a pestle and mortar, pound the garlic with salt, then pepper, to form a paste. Smear it all over the chicken pieces, and put them into a bowl.
  3. Zest and juice the lemon; sprinkle these over the chicken. Crush the rosemary in the pestle and mortar, and sprinkle this over too. Take the bay leaves and slide one under the skin of each portion.
  4. Cover with clingfilm. Leave to marinate for a couple of hours, or overnight. Before cooking, drizzle with oil to keep the meat moist.
notes and substitutions
Ready-bought chicken pieces would be fine, so long as they have the skin on. Other herbs could be used, such as thyme or mint; dried bay leaves would be okay, but they will probably crumble a little. Although I made it for a barbecue, the chicken would just as easily grill or bake in a conventional oven.

Today has been barbecue weather again - maybe even warmer than Saturday. I've been tempted to break out my own barbecue, but I will resist for now.

Monday, 21 March 2011

Running to keep up

This really is an exciting time of year for a gardener - perhaps, other than the height of the summer's harvest, the most exciting of all. Seeds keep going into trays and pots, on an almost daily basis, and almost as often, last week's show signs of life.

I started repotting my tomatoes today. Although I'm still waiting for the final few varieties to arrive in the post, reminding me that sowing season is still in full swing (the later-sown tomatoes apparently grow faster to catch up with their older siblings), I'm having to separate the largest plants already, which are showing signs of their first true leaves. This is partly my fault - I sowed ten to thirty seeds per pot, because they'd spent a year in a paper envelope and I expected most to be dead. Tomato seeds are famously vigorous, so I needn't have been so liberal - one pot inexplicably houses nearly 40 seedlings (good going from a pack of 30), so the sooner I separate them, the better.

I have taken to putting the date on the labels when I sow, so it hit me that it's nearly three weeks since the first batch went in. Given the wisdom is that they get planted into their final positions after 7-8 weeks, we're already approaching the halfway point. Scary and exciting in equal measure.

Meanwhile, I ought to mention the other things I have on my windowsill. While the tomatoes have taken centre stage in my thoughts (and posts) recently, I haven't forgotten to sow lots of other spring veg. I now have two trays of shallot sets 'Red Baron' bought on impulse in the Wilkinson sale (inspired by Monty Don on the first episode of this year's Gardeners' World), aubergines 'Turkish Orange', 'Rotonda Bianca Sfumata di Rosa' and 'Violetta di Firenze', beetroot 'Boltardy' (just emerged today!) and 'Chioggia', broad beans 'Karmazyn' and 'Red Baron', and okra 'Burgundy'. Outside there are more broad beans, as well as peas 'Serpette Guillotteau' and turnips 'Snowball'. Elsewhere, chillies and the curious South American fruit cocona (Solanum topiro) are keeping me on my toes.

And as for ornamentals (although some are also edible, most have been chosen to complement the vegetable garden), I've got 32 tiny Calendula 'Art Shades Mixed', two trays of ungerminated Musa sikkimensis (the Darjeeling banana, a plant of which I bought last year and have adored for its size, speed of growth and sheer indulgently tropical appearance), just-emerging sweet peas ('America', 'Beaujolais', and 'Senator', all heirlooms), stubbornly dormant Lobelia 'Red Cascade' and nasturtium 'Jewel Mix', and adorably vigorous Cosmos 'Sensation' and 'Daydream', and castor bean 'Impala' (soon to be joined by 'Carmencita Red', 'Carmencita Pink', and 'Zanzibariensis'). Having just sown trays of Delphinium 'Pacific Giant Mixed' and Eschscholzia 'White Linen', my garden sounds more skewed towards flowers than vegetables, but trust me, it's just a little prettification of my plot.

As I say, it's a busy time! I'm amazed I've managed to keep up so far - but it'll take more self-discipline than I normally possess to prevent it all falling apart in a month's time...

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Tomatoes: the plan

Around 130 tomato seedlings have come up already; they're currently basking on my south-facing windowsill (except today; it's dull and cold) alongside aubergines and assorted other vegetables and flowers

So it's on! I have sown the tomato seeds I already had (mostly left over from last year), and the germination rate has exceeded my expectations considerably! I've also chosen a few more types, and the seeds should arrive in the next few days, making a total of 15.

Here's the final list:
  • Black Cherry
  • Costoluto Fiorentino
  • Cream Sausage
  • Gardener's Delight
  • Great White
  • Green Zebra
  • Jaune Flammée
  • Orange Strawberry
  • Purple Cherokee
  • Riesentraube
  • Snowberry
  • Sub Arctic Plenty
  • Summer Cider
  • Sun Belle
  • Super Marmande
This may seem like a crazy number, and I admit, I am growing far more than most people recommend. I have been partially spurred on by the excellent blog Tomatolover, which aside from being an informative and fun account of home growing, shows that you can produce a huge range of tomatoes in a very small space, without too much fuss. I sowed the old seeds not expecting a high success rate, and in order to use them up, so that took me to 6 or 7 types; I absolutely had to grow Super Marmande again, after my one outdoor plant produced several kilos of fruit last year (which were delicious; see picture below), and then... well, since you can only grow tomatoes from seed once a year, and since I know I have the opportunity this summer to do so, I want to experiment as much as possible. Life's really too short to just grow Moneymaker or Alicante (yes, I'm growing Gardener's Delight, but the seeds were free with a magazine a year or two ago).

I wanted to grow as many different shapes and colours as possible, and to steer away from boring, round red types that you can get easily and cheaply in the summer anyway. The fifteen amount to four cherry types (one dark purple, one pale yellow, two red), six large beefsteak types (two red, one cream, one purple, one orange, one yellow-orange), and five miscellaneous (medium round red, long thin creamy yellow, medium green striped, medium orange, and small yellow pear-/bottle-shaped). They are mostly cordons, some can be grown outdoors, others are recommended under cover, and flavours range from sweet to acid, and even one described as 'spicy'.

All I can say is, I hope it all goes to plan!

Super Marmande ripening last August

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Planning a summer of (homegrown) love

Last year's harvest highlights

I have been mulling something over for a while, regarding this blog, and it's now time to announce my conclusion: I am broadening its scope beyond buying and cooking to growing too. I have been growing vegetables for years, on and off, but it was summer 2009 that I really got stuck into it. This year I have gone up another gear, and it's my intention to become self-sufficient in a number of vegetables, despite having a tiny urban garden.

It's an exciting, frustrating, educational experience, and I think this is an appropriate place to share what I learn, and to post some nice pictures. Eventually, I'll be able to post recipes and pictures of the end point of all this work: home grown meals!

The last couple of weeks have been a busy time, with sowing seeds and preparing (garden) beds. I've embraced eBay as a source of unusual vegetable and flower seeds (and to a lesser extent, plants). Last summer I bought one or two things, including a couple of ornamental banana plants that are growing so rapidly, the changes are apparent from one day to the next. However, over the winter, I have made wish lists (standard for me), and then found the best-value trusted sellers. When the appropriate sowing time came along, I ordered them, and without exception, I have had good results.

My trip to Iceland feel at a slightly awkward time, as I would have preferred to have sown the Solanaceae (tomatoes, aubergines, peppers and the like) in mid-February. However, since I got back I've made up for the lost time, and by all accounts it doesn't make all that much difference - the later you sow, say tomatoes, the quicker they grow. And at this latitude, it's not recommended too early anyway, unless you have a heated greenhouse (which I don't).

Two years ago I sowed a range of heirloom (heritage) tomatoes, and had mixed results. To be fair, it was my first time, and I'm not the most disciplined of gardeners (I tend to go through bursts of activity, followed by weeks of indolence). However, I still had a glut of tiny yellow cherry tomatoes, and a few other assorted fruits.

Last year, I ordered about half a dozen types, almost all new to me, and proceeded to get waylaid by other things (namely, the death of my grandmother, and its consequences, which fell right in the middle of the sowing season). I bought several plants, and was given a lot more by my uncle's wife, so it worked out fine - especially as these were supplemented by a huge number of self-sown yellow cherries from the year before, which grew happily in the cracks of my terrace. I was more careful about feeding and watering, staking and pruning, and I got several kilos of fruit, this time split mostly between red cherries and huge ribbed red 'Super Marmande'.

I also grew peas, rocket, radishes, a huge range of herbs, a great deal of soft fruit (mostly strawberries and raspberries), turnips, courgettes, and probably other things I've forgotten.

I learnt a lot, as every gardener does every year, and given I knew I'd be living here for at least another year (probably longer), I started making bigger plans once the season was over.

This time, the intention is to make the most of every scrap of ground. Actually, a good half of the outdoor space around my home is concrete or paved, and the back garden occupies a slope - so not the best of plots. However, the front is south facing, with sunshine all day long (when it shines), and the slope in the back also faces south, and is sheltered by fences and walls on all sides. I have built a terrace at the top, and last year regularly recorded temperatures 10 degrees higher than ambient - allowing my to grow my tomatoes outdoors, and for Mediterranean plants like olive, grape vines, and oleanders to thrive there.

I have brought the front garden back into cultivation this year, it having gone from cottage flower patch to overgrown couch grass meadow since I last did much there. I will keep large perennials, like roses (which I love), but the rest will be stripped and planted with beans, peas, shallots, leaves and root crops. The slope in the back is half covered with soft fruit, which I'll leave another year, but the rest will be packed with sun-lovers, like summer squash. I built a greenhouse at the end of last summer, and another will squeeze on the other side, giving me somewhere to put tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, peppers and a melon or two. At the top, to begin with, more legumes and lots of herbs, and later I will see what I need to make space for. At the bottom, in an awkward shady space, I will put those crops that like shade, and those which tend to bolt in hot weather - so later peas, salads, and some herbs.

I'll post a full list of varieties once I've drawn it up - in all, in a space of around 60 square metres, I expect to be growing a good hundred crops. It sounds impossible, but it's really more a matter of watering, feeding, and making the most of containers. It can be done, as you'll see.