All posts by Mark Abbott-Compton

Why smaller cucumbers make so much sense

Cucumbers are like courgettes in that when they are growing well its easy to have to many at one time and as they are far better fresh we can end up wasting a fair number of the ones we have grown

one solution to this is to grow smaller cucumbers and these can come in a surprising number of colours, shapes and sizes

The commonest small cucumbers are gerkins which we tend to eat pickled and the variety Parisian Pickling  a French heirloom  variety has been grown for this from around late 1800 and was first listed in the James J. H. Gregory seed catalogue in 1892

Picked young and used extensively for the manufacturing of gherkins (cornichons) from  the late 1800’s it has found a new lease of life as a small fresh cucumber as they  are suitable for indoor and outdoor sowing and ideal for container growing.

The prolific plants produce blunt-ended fruits that average 15cm (6in) in length, the skin is medium green in colour with dark green spots with a nice crisp flesh  that holds well when pickled.

You would of course need to peel it if you let it get huge or over-ripe (like any cucumber), but the skin is just fine to eat up to a normal size, so this a good choice if you only have room for one type of cucumber, but want pickles as well as salad.

A more modern alternative is  Picolino these are sometimes called lunchbox cucumbers as there small enough for lunch or an  additional salad on the table they produce lots fruit and being all femail there are no pollination problems and you can expect your first cucumbers after 50 days so there very quick and have good disease resistance to the common cucumber problems and will grow ok outdoors

But you can grow some more unusual varieties that are still small
Crystal lemon is a very old variety cultivated since in 1894. They were first introduced from New Zealand and appeared in Ferry Morse’s 1934 seed catalogue. Marketed as Crystal Lemon or Crystal Apple, each fruit is the size of a small apple, hence it was known as ‘Apple Cucumber’, but as its fruit is a pale yellow in colour when ready to eat it is often called ‘Crystal Lemon’.
These cucumbers do not smell or have the slightest taste of lemon or apples just the apperance that gives then there name

They taste very similar to a typical cucumber, with tender pale greenish skin and sweet flesh, they have the best flavour while young at about 5cm (2in). The skins toughen with age so pick them when they are small.

Lemon cucumbers are grown just like regular cucumbers. They are a vigorous climbing variety that can be grown indoors in a greenhouse or polytunnel or outdoors in humus rich, moist soil and sunshine

A favourite with children, Lemon cucumbers are perfect for popping into lunchboxes for a healthy snacks you can just eat them like an apple

By late summer this vigorous climber is smothered in small, round fruits like yellow tennis balls for months

Or what about the wonderfully named “Dragon’s Egg” just the perfect name and size for all children gardening.  It is an heirloom cucumber cultivar prized for the large quantity of egg-shaped, creamy white fruit its been producing since late 1800’s

Originally from Croatia, its cream colored skin and chubby oval shape really do look like an egg growing from a vine. It has a refreshing,relatively sweet mild flavor, doesn’t need peeling, and yields well; a few plants will be all you need, picking them every one to two days for the best fruit and its quick taking 65 days to be ready for harvest and does well in a container

All of the above are great to grow in fact I grow all of them as well as  cucamelons which are great picked also heres a quick 24hour pickle 

I grow most of my cucumbers is containers but you can grow them in the ground very successfully


Growing Lillies in a container

One of the best ways to add scent and colour to you garden is by having summer flowering bulbs and the most majestic are the Lilies.

The great thing about growing Lilies this way is you can give them perfect conditions and they can be used to fill gaps in the flower borders by simply placing sinking the pots of lillies into the ground were you want instant effect

It also means that you can position them were there scent will be most  appreciated


if you would like a truly dramatic effect then use the Bulb Lasagna method and plant your lillies in layers in a large pot



Rose de Roscoff Onions

If you are going to grow those vegetables that are essential staples in the kitchen but not that expensive to buy it is far better to search out superior or difficult to obtain varieties

One such variety is the wonderful onion Rose de Roscoff, also called rosé” oniona French variety that the is considered so unique and superior it has its own A.O.C  (appellation d’origine contrôlée)

You may not have heard of them but you parents or grandparents probably did as they became famous thanks to the “Onion Johnnies”, onion sellers who travelled from Roscoff from the 1800s  till just after the second world war to sell their produce further afield, notably in England. These “Johnnies” travelled the country on bikes, wearing strings of onions and dressed in their Breton striped tops are the source of our stereotype for the bike-riding French man!

Very versatile with their unique flavour,the Rose de Roscoff can be used as a vegetable, a side-dish or as a condiment, raw the onion is crunchy with a slight sharpness, this transform‘s  and is sweet soft and fruity when cooked.

They have high vitamin C content and their long shelf-life which was also the reason they were stored in “Onion Strings” which you can platt yourself, the largest onion at the end is referred to « penn kapiten » – the Captain!

The easy to grow from sets sown either into the ground or module’s in spring and like all onions is important to keep   competition  from weeds down



Green coriander seeds

If you dont grow coriander then you have probably never had the opportunity to the wonderful green coriander seeds that follow the flowers

Once picked they only have couple of days before they will start to dry out, change colour and flavour and in my experience  the only place you can find green coriander seed is in a garden.

Coriander is one of the herbs that no matter how well you grow it does quite easily bolt and go to seed.Now while dried coriander seeds are fabulous to have in the kitchen and easy to save from your coriander plants the green seeds taste quite different and are like small flavour bombs

Green Coriander’s seeds flavor is truly unique and different from the leaves, its citrusy with a slightly nutty note  and works  well with roasted or grilled vegetables or added to beans, lentils, rice dishes

The seeds are best harvested when they are young and bright green

For cooking green, harvest the seed heads as you need them and pull off the seeds, use whole or bashed to release their flavour in dishes

so the next time your coriander bolts dont be to quick to rip it out and pop it on the compost heap as it hasn’t finished giving you fantastic flavour for your kitchen



Simple explanation of different types of No Dig beds


I am often asked “what are the differences between the different types of No Dig beds ?

To begin with lets explore what the use of the term  No dig means

A the one extreme  there is the simple process of covering ground with a layer of compost, and here compost referes to homemade garden compost, greenwaste compost, well rotted animal manure and normally for most people these days this will be produced by horses  or a mixture of the above

Then we have the no dig approach were we cover the ground with a weed suppressing mulch like cardboard  or plastic to kill weeds wait a season or two for weeds to die then remove and plant this is very time intensive

The quicker method is place cardboard layers onto soil and cover this with a layer of compost this is sometimes referred to as sheet mulching or sheet composting and can work really well for potatoes in a NoDig potato bed  and salads especially lettuce so are favoured by micro scale salad growers. the cardboard is essential for suppressing weeds but allowing  roots to grow through into the soil beneath

Raised beds are as the name suggests are growing beds that are raised or higher than the soil level. this is achieved by either wooden sides which can give a neat very pleasing tidy effect and allowing the beds to be worked form the dividing paths.

In a more informal vegetable garden or allotment  by turfs as in ‘Barra’ beds  or deeper bed using hay or straw bales and these also could use “hotbed’ techniques

These raised beds and be filled with either compost as above or a mixture of compost and soil depending what is available. Raised beds warm up quicker and drain better and can be more  intensively cropped,Beans, peas and root vegetables all prefer these conditions

Lasagna beds are simply beds that are made using layers as in a lasagna. These layers can be differentiated from the other two by a greater intricacy of layers and a predetermined focus on varying layers of nitrogen and carbon and can be taylor made for specific vegetables needs

these beds can be as shallow as 4 inches to as deep as 3 feet in the extreme but 4-6 inches can give fantastic growing conditions so then these are raised lasagna beds!

At its simplest you can grow some  vegetables varieties  in the sheet composted bed and they do ok but the time and effort it takes to prepare more specific growing  conditions always is worth the effort

No Dig vegetable gardening