the zipcar garden continues…

Why did we construct and nurture the Zipcar garden? Given the relatively low prices of mass produced fruit and veg in our supermarkets it was certainly tempting to just continue buying those, and building our garden from scratch certainly wasn’t the cheapest option. However, on the one hand there was the fun of construction – clearing, repurposing and rebuilding what was otherwise a rather rough and pasty piece of land has a satisfaction all of its own. On the other hand however, and we don’t need to tell you this, you savvy member you, it was a concerted nod towards more sustainable living.

We’re no Kevin McCloud, (much to our disappointment) - we haven’t bought a plot of land in a wood in Somerset and utilised the specialist skills of mechanics and off-grid plumbers so we can re-use our own excretions to power lamps and stoves in our hand-built, sans-wife, mini-house of sustainable escapism. However, we are making small inroads into what is becoming one of the greatest challenges of our generation. Don’t believe us? Here’s a helpful diagram from the New Economics Forum 2009 report called ‘The Consumption Explosion’:

A vast proportion of this consumption is food-related. You can find the full and fascinating report here. Scary stuff. And so with a flawless level of continuity; If you think that’s scary, look at what we found on our broccoli!

A caterpillar during competitive eating

Winding things up

As you may have noticed, ‘summer’ is beginning to slowly button up its coat and put on its all-weather walking boots, ready to begin the long journey past the equator to hang out with the Australians for another year – lucky them. But at least we don’t have to worry about sharks or poisonous spiders - swings and roundabouts as they say.

So as the long summer evenings metamorphose into more autumnal shades, we reflect on the few months of relative warmth and sunshine that we were lucky enough to have experienced. Remember sitting out in the sun of an evening? The gentle clink of glasses meeting over a picnic, the smell of freshly cut grass and the ability to wear shorts without drawing curious looks? No? Well you better try and do all those things fast, because the sun’s making a dash for the beach - in another country!

The Beds

The beds have come a long way since April. Starting from tiny seedlings in just a few short months, and with the aid of a temporarily benevolent sun, our beds sprung into life rather quicker than we’d expected or were prepared for. The real growth was in the main down to the burst of heat and light towards the end of June and early July – you may remember a certain legend winning Wimbledon around that time. You may also remember a lot of people eating their hats around the same period.

There's something in the earth they're trying to get away from


For some reason we felt that one can never have too much broccoli. Of course, this hypothesis was ultimately proved wrong. As it turns out, one can have too much broccoli. Planting three rows of Purple and White broccoli whilst wilfully ignoring the recommended distances meant that not only did they sprout up and out like a steroid-fuelled version of ‘Audrey 2’ from the Little Shop of Horrors, but they wilfully suppressed the growth of the surrounding onions. Here’s something we learned: If you plant all your broccoli at the same time, you better have a big appetite. It tends to all come through at once, and if you’re anything like us, you probably don’t have a call for 10 broccoli at the same time. Probably.

Purple broc, white broc and Ted with dead broc.

About 2 weeks ago we had to un-plant these Jurassic Park-esque monstrosities. We left one or two planted as they do keep growing small (and more manageable) florets, but for the most part we pulled them out to allow the onions one last gasp at the fast disappearing coat-tails of summer.

Another reason for pulling them out was the Lovecraftian gathering of Caterpillars who had taken up residence amongst the leaves whilst rather rudely helping themselves to a number of fine dinners, destroying most of what was left in the process.

They said there was no such thing as a free lunch. They lied.

Purple broccoli and its nemesis from Arrakis.


This is our second attempt at garlic. In the first Zipcar Garden a few years ago we tried planting garlic, only to pull it up 4 months later to find that it was exactly the same as it went in. Clearly we hadn’t administered the correct rites, rituals and sacrifices upon planting. Still, on this occasion it would be inaccurate to suggest the same thing happened, though it was similar. If we assume this was a relative success, we could say that it’s a fairly low impact veg for growing – simply plant, water and feed occasionally and that’s it. No garden-wire of trellising needed. You can judge for yourself in the picture below, but to date we only managed to harvest two. All the rest were crushed by the clumsy appendages of the courgette plants.

If we were Vampire hunters, we'd be undead by now.

Courgettes / Marrows

These were either the garden’s biggest success, or biggest failure depending on whether or not you like marrows. Out of everything we planted, these grew the biggest, fastest and bore the most veg given there were only 4 plants (which were supposed to be Butternut Squash – the person who swapped them in the shop is out there somewhere – you know who you are!). To date we still haven’t found a quick and easy way of cooking marrows but we’re reliably advised that there are successful ways of doing it. Sadly our efforts culminated in the marrows having the texture of a partially degraded, wet sack of cotton wool. If you like the taste of soggy mush, then you’d have loved it and are therefore welcome to pop round anytime. Nowadays we just take photos and admire them from a distance. Ted seemed to enjoy them though.

Smell, taste, lick lips. Unfeasibly large vegetables.


The onions were always going to struggle. Once we’d seen the veracious nature of the broccoli in its desperation to reach the sky, we tried to construct a small fence to keep the leaves from blotting out the onions’ sun. This worked for about 2 days before the mutant broccoli broke the barricade and continued to oppress the onions in a classic land-grab worthy of historical record. In the end though, we did manage to grow edible produce, more the size of shallots than onions but they taste good all the same (and make you cry less when cutting them). Clearly red onions have a stronger constitution than white ones.

An onion! An onion! My kingdom for an... oh wait, there's loads. Forget i said anything.

French Dwarf Beans

We didn’t talk much about the French dwarf beans during the other garden posts as they too suffered from rogue broccoli and over ambitious marrow leaves. On top of which they were under a more shaded part of the bed. However, eventually we cultivated enough for a beautiful starter (top and tail the beans, salt, butter, garlic – yummy). We’re fairly sure that were they to have received more sun, we would have needed a trellis to take the weight of the beans. These will definitely be revisited next year.

French beans, English raspberries.


Similar to the peas, our raspberries have done exactly what they said on the proverbial tin. We bought two types – summer and autumn fruiting respectively – and were inundated with tasty raspberries over the last 8 weeks from the summer fruiting variety. They formed the soul of many a ‘Conservative Cabinet’… sorry, no, I mean 'Eton Mess'. The autumn fruiting ones are just coming through now and we’re expecting at least a month of fruit or we’ll be writing to the International Confederation of Raspberry Bush Proliferation. And if they don’t exist, we’ll create them just so we can write and complain. Of all the fruit and veg we grew, the raspberries and the peas were so successful it was as if they’d come from the hallowed isles of Waitrose itself (at a fraction of the cost).

Raspberries. What more can we say?


Despite their best efforts to ignore the climbing frame I built for them, like a petulant toddler, the peas produced a large and tasty crop – enough to fill a small bucket to the brim. Much time was spent painstakingly attaching stems to the frame with garden wire, but in the end the crop was definitely worth it, and one can’t help but wonder if the frame had been better built, or the peas planted more directly underneath it, whether the toil would have been less. On another note, peas have caused us some real pun-related challenges. If you’ve got any, feel free to peas post them below. Thank you.

Oh, what we wouldn't give for a peasing pun.


We planted these late this year and in outdoor grow bags so they didn’t have the best chance at cropping. However these were up there with the raspberries in terms of ease of cultivation. See the previous post for the 3-step ‘how to grow tomatoes’ guide. Fortunately over the past 4 weeks we’ve had a small batch ripen weekly – much more considerate than the broccoli – and thus they’ve been a great investment that taste great (much tastier than money).

Tomatoes - the fruit that dared to dream of being a vegetable.

Green Peppers

From the start the green peppers, or possibly red peppers – we think they’ll go from green to red when they ripen – didn’t inspire us with hope. They were in a slightly shaded corner of the bed, stuck behind the now infamous broccoli and the pea pyramid. As such the sunlight was never going to hit them as much as some of the other veg, but lo and behold in only the last few weeks we’ve seen some real growth and expect to have a crop by mid September! The birds took the first few - greedy ol’ birds - but seem to have gone off them which is nice because our propensity to set up netting at this late stage in the game is very low.

Peter Piper picked a pepper. So they say, but what kind? A ghost pepper? I doubt it Peter!

Goodbye from us, and goodbye from Ted

“So long, farewell, auf wiedersehen, goodbye!” And so some classic schmaltz from the Sound of Music brings us to the end of this year’s Zipcar Garden experiment. We hope you’ve enjoyed our jaunt through the horticultural madness of gardening and in some small way, perhaps more by our failures than successes, have been enticed into doing something similar yourselves. As we said at the outset, if we could do anything to help out the birds and the bees, we should. And if we can alleviate even the smallest part of our country’s burden on the wider world, we should do that too. Every small increment makes a difference somehow.

Did you enjoy following our progress or do anything similar yourselves? We’d love to hear about it below. In the meantime, we’ll see you next year. Join us just after the ‘snowy spring’!

Gardeners' Zipstertime

Previous Zipcar Garden Posts:

April - The history of the Zipcar garden & planning for 2013

May - Building the beds and planting, and meet Ted (security).

June - The sun came out! Cue growth and photos with a warm hue.

July - Andy Murray won Wimbledon! Oh, and there was lots of sun and growth.

August - Six things we've learned about growing vegetables.

Useful Links:

RHS September To-Do list

How to plant a Herb Pot in 10 easy steps

RHS Vegetable Planner

BBC ‘Dig In’ Grow your Own Information

BBC Radio 4 - Gardeners' Question Time

UK Gardening tips & information

Zipcar on 'Four Thought':

Zipcar and car clubs got a mention on Radio 4's Four Thought with Greg Votolato (course director and lecturer at the V&A Museum). To hear about his addiction to cars and his arguments for more sustainable designs...

Click here to listen now.

Fresh Summer Recipes:

Don't forget to check out our fresh summer recipes for some tasty treats!