Growing squashes for Autumn

Knucklehead pumpkin growing in September

Knucklehead pumpkin

This year I was given a selection of squashes to grow by Marshalls Seeds, and whilst I’m still trying to find a way to use up all the courgettes, the other cucurbits are also romping away. The happiest of all is my Knucklehead Pumpkin plant, which has now grown to about 7 or 8 metres long and is producing two large fruits. Well, that’s two fruits that I can see as the vine has scrambled its way across the scrubby area by the compost bins. There could be more lurking.

The knucklehead pumpkin is yet to start going orange or knobbly… but I’m hoping that by mid to late October we’ll have a lovely pumpkin to harvest for pies, soup and all sorts of autumnal foodie treats.

Munchkin pumpkins

Munchkin pumpkins growing up the arch

And on the arch – my biggest, bestest bargain of this year – nestling amongst the flowering Spanish Flag, my munchkin pumpkins from Sarah Raven are also starting to fruit. Although it’s fairly late in the year for the vines to be producing flowers, I’m hopeful that they’ve got a lot of growing left in them and we’ll have more than just a small handful of the impossibly cute and pretty mini pumpkins for harvesting this year. I’ve counted about ten flowers and buds so it’s a game of wait and see… not sure the persistent damp conditions and lack of warm autumn sunshine will help my cause though…

Funnily enough, the sunniest side of the arch has been swamped by the Spanish Flag climbing vines, so the munchkin pumpkin plants have struggled to compete. On the less sunny side that faces to the east, the munchkin pumpkins are thriving. Something to bear in mind next year as I’ll most definitely be going for a Spanish Flag-munchkin pumpkin combo again. It’s been my little crowning glory this year.

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and climbing Munchkin pumpkins

Arch with scrambling Spanish Flag (Ipomoea lobata) and Munchkin pumpkins

Top 5 All-Purpose Edible Plants

Herbs and alliums are two of my favourite types of plants. I love to grow them, eat some of them (in large quantities), admire their amazing flowers and watch the bees and pollinators feast on them too.

I’m currently in the throes of planting lots of alliums – mostly onion and shallot sets – but I’m also looking to boost my wildlife-friendly flower borders with a few ornamental and “dual purpose” herbs, legumes, and alliums too. Here are some of my favourites that you might want to grow in your flower garden, veg patch or allotment:


1. Chives

Chives (Allium schoenoprasum) might seem like an obvious choice, but they really are an all-purpose allium. These little beauties can be harvested throughout the year for extra onion-flavoured zing in your culinary endeavours. Cheap to buy, easy to grow and fantastic for pollinators, they can feature in container gardens, veg patches, herb gardens and flower borders alike. There are an abundance of varieties available, from mild to strong flavoured, compact 6inch plants or broader and taller 2ft specimens (A. var. sibiricum), as well as a selection of (edible) chive flowers, with white (withs silvery-green foliage), pink and mauve varieties readily available. Try garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) for a garlicky twist to the traditional light onion flavour.

2. Rosemary

Another obvious choice, but no garden or veg patch should be with some rosemary (Rosmarinus officinalis). Whether you’ve got acres of space or just a patio to play with, you can enjoy this unique, fragrant herb and your local pollinators will thrive on the abundance of delicate, blue flowers. Here at the Smallest Smallholding I’m growing Mrs Jessop’s Upright, a tall and narrow variety that fits perfectly in between the flowers in my long borders, but if you’ve got slopes or need ground cover try Prostratus, a cascading variety.

3. Welsh Onions

I first saw welsh onions (Allium fistulosum) being grown in my mum’s garden amongst the verbena bonariensis, and it’s flowers were like a magnet for the bees. I’ve since found a few pots of welsh onions in the poorly department of my local garden centre, and they’re now going in my flower borders. Welsh onions can be eaten from bottom to top, and produce fluffy globular pale green/yellow flowers in summer. They’re great for compact gardens, growing tall from smaller clusters.


4. Lavender

Scent, flavour, texture, colour, lavender has it all. A staple in many English country gardens, allotments and veg patches, lavender might be a common feature, but its place in our growing spaces is well deserved. Bees, butterflies and other pollinators will flock to any variety (though English is preferred to French), and there’s a plant for every growing space from compact Hidcote through to the long, tall spires of Lavandula angustifolia. Bake with it, smell it, look at it… just enjoy it.

5. Peas (and Beans… legumes in general)

I’m a bit of a pea-growing novice, and have little experience. I’m growing some this year, because these vertical-growing legumes are not only a welcome culinary treat, but the sheer number of varieties of peas and beans available means that there’s not only a variety for every taste, but also a huge array of flowers that are so beneficial to pollinators. Peas and beans look great in any vegetable garden but can also add height, texture and colour to ornamental borders too. And with nitrogen fixing qualities, they’re fab for crop rotation and healthy soil.



Small, and Not-So-Perfectly Formed… But Packed With Flavour!

The title of this blog post sums up most of my vegetable harvests so far this year. With not much on the menu to start with – mostly potatoes, onions and garlic, the yields have been spectacularly small and poor.

Grow your own potatoes and garlic - Picasso Potatoes and Cristo Garlic

Just a snapshot of the kind of yields I’m harvesting – some potatoes are a decent size, but many fall under the ‘pebble’ size category. The garlic is small, but packed with flavour.

But putting my positive hat on, I can vouch that my homegrown veg might be a disappointment in the size department, but not so in terms of taste – everything I’ve eaten so far is packed full with flavour. The Cristo garlic may not have swelled to gargantuan proportions as it has done in previous years, but just two small cloves of my homegrown garlic have literally transformed my cooking. The depth of flavour is second to none, and I have never come across the same in shop-bought fare.

I once made the heinous mistake of buying organic garlic from Tesco without reading the label… only to find that it had been shipped all the way from China. The garlic itself was bland, bland, bland, so there was no consolation for my purchase. So although my garlic harvest will likely only sustain us for a few weeks at best (we must use at least one bulb a week), for that short time, I shall be able to revel in the almost-indescribable deep, multi-toned, fragrant richness that comes from my own homegrown yield.

The onions – well, they’re rather pathetic, if I’m honest. It’s my own fault – I barely prepared the soil, bunged in slightly soft onion sets and hoped for the best…. and was promptly met with a miserable start to Spring, and a sustained heatwave where our soil turned to sand. Must do better.

The potatoes have been a mixed bag – yes, they’re small, but boy are they good. The Picasso in particular have peaked my interest, as they’ve somehow evaded the perpetual blight (no, not that kind of blight) of scab that I had resigned myself to facing each year, on account of our sandy soil. But no, the Picasso have proven me wrong and emerged from the earth as modest-sized hunks of cream and pink, a little rough around the edges but generally no worse for wear. That’s a success in my book. Their flavour is outstanding, and as a roastie/mash spud, they’re up there with Maris Pipers, Desiree and Roosters. I’ve even go as far as to say that they might actually oust our perennial favourite, the Maris Piper, as my favourite roastie spud… the creaminess of Picasso is out of this world, and if you haven’t given them a go, then they come highly recommended from me!

The Majestic potatoes were not so lucky and seem to have succumbed to scab – but a cursory scrub and peel, and they’re good to go.

The raspberries are finally beginning to ripen, and the plan is to scrump a few apples from the windfall from our neighbour, or just ask around generally if anyone has any cooking apples spare, and put together a nice apple and raspberry strudel, or crumble. As a gardener, Mum is often handed bags of cooking apples from clients, who are desperate to give away surplus, so I imagine we’ll have a fair few coming our way within the next few weeks. Cooked apples are one of my favourite foods ever ever ever. In fact, we’re thinking of getting a couple of cooking apple trees in to replace the ancient Victoria Plum – last year or the year before, it gave up the ghost after about 90 years.