There is nothing as thrilling, as gathering the vegetables one has grown. ~ Alice B. Toklas

Thursday, 7 April 2016

Pots of Potatoes

I have eight florists buckets in the cold frame planted with Vivaldi earlies.  It means they are protected against the cold wind and frosts.    I am using home made compost to cover them as they push through.  I haven't bothered to sieve it and as you can see there are bits of stems that haven't quite rotted down in the mix, but I don't really think it matters.  One thing I look forward to is the first harvest of potatoes some time in late May/early June.  They grow pretty well in containers as long as they are well watered.  I have been growing them this way for the last four or five years very successfully.  Just enough for a couple of meals per pot.  I usually grow Charlotte but couldn't get hold of any at my local garden centre so bought Vivaldi instead - a similar tasting potato and hopefully just as versatile.  Fresh from plot to pan to plate - totally delicious.  To my mind this is what growing your own veg is all about.

"The flowers of the potato, delicate petals whose stamens bunch together to form a point, are amongst the most charming in the vegetable garden.  Marie Antoinette wore them in her hair. The flowers of the Salad Blue are perhaps the most beautiful of all, an ethereal lavender and white, with deep orange-gold stamens often heavy with pollen.  Charlotte, a soft candy pink; Kestrel, a piercing lilac and white.  Summer rain and even cloud makes their flowers close and droop like a swan in repose.  As dusk falls, they gently close."~ Nigel Slater

Wednesday, 6 April 2016

Chard / Leaf Beet ... Cut and Come Again

On Saturday I sowed some ruby chard seeds.  Today I noticed that they had germinated.  Now that was quick!  Four days. Proof that the weather has definitely warmed up and a good time for seed sowing.  A welcome addition to the kitchen garden if only for its colourful stems.  I rarely use this as a vegetable on its own but use it more like spinach added to the dishes I cook.

Chard grows well in containers, and overwinters in all but the coldest areas.  A very decorative vegetable, choose ruby red or rainbow coloured varieties for maximum interest in containers.
Germination period: 10-20 days
Sowing to harvest time:  8-12 weeks
Soil requirements:  Virtually any humus-laden soil
Climate:  Chard thrives in cool northern climates, but can bolt if it gets too dry
Cultivation:  Sow in autumn or spring, thinning plants when they are about 4in. tall.  Plants crop almost all year round, pull outer leaves of and more will grow.  you can even cut back to the crown in winter for an early crop in spring.
Watch out for:  Slugs
In the Kitchen:  Salads, steamed vegetable, stir fries, pasta dishes.
Varieties:  Swiss chard, Rainbow chard and Ruby chard
(Taken from The Edible Container Garden by Michael Guerra)

"Swiss, ruby and rainbow chard are one of the few vegetables that remain in this plot in deepest winter, while I let the soil take a rest.  The earthy, mineral notes of chard are detectable even in the youngest sprouting seed but get stronger as the leaves age.  I have eaten the jewel-coloured stems at every stage of their maturity, from when they are as young and fragile as mustard-and-cress right through to the point at which the stems are so old and thick that they need to be cooked separately from their leaves, less the latter fall apart. " ~ Nigel Slater

Try a chard gratin or a soup of lentils, bacon and chard; chard with olive oil and lemon; potato cakes  with chard and Taleggio; chard and cheese tart or chard with black pepper and cream.  My favourite way of using it is shredded in fish pie or with smoked haddock and mashed potato with a poached egg on top - delicious!

Tuesday, 5 April 2016

Purple Sprouting Broccoli ... Simply the Best

No kitchen garden should be without it.  One of my favourite vegetables.  So expensive to buy at the supermarket - £2.00 for five spears.  Pictured above is a colander full, that is about £10.00's worth by supermarket prices. And yet it is a wonderful brassica that keeps on giving and giving and so easy to grow.  Admittedly it stays in the ground for nine months or so before you can actually pick anything - but when it starts producing stems it just goes on and on.  We have had countless meals from just three plants - that can't be bad, and still there are more to come - what's not to like!  I did say in my last post that I wouldn't be planting any brassicas this year - but maybe I could find space for one or two of these somewhere - it would be a shame not to - they are still going strong when everything else has finished and fill in that hungry gap in the garden.  So if you are wondering what veg to grow this year I would definitely recommend putting purple sprouting broc on your list - it's a no-brainer.

"The whole lightly trimmed stems can be dropped into boiling water, steamed, or pampered like asparagus with the tips slightly out of the water, so that the buds steam whilst the stems boil.  Whichever way you go, the stems are ready when a knifepoint inserted into their thickest part goes in without pressure. [...] I must put in a word for the leaves.  I never discard them.  Slender, quietly flavoured, elegantly fringed, they cook in seconds.  It would break my heart to see them sent to the compost." ~ Nigel Slater

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