Thursday, 21 March 2013

Spring Greens - Are They Worth It?

 Every summer, about the end of July/beginning of August  I sow the seeds of Spring Cabbage or Spring Greens, as they are more commonly called.  If you want to be able to harvest something from the veg plot in early  spring, when there is very little else to eat, then growing spring greens is a good plan.

The only downside to this is that you need to have space to grow quite a few plants as they are a loose-leaf cabbage that doesn’t form a tight heart.  So if you only have limited space then this plant isn’t for you.

Different varieties mature at different times – I grow Wheeler’s Imperial and Durham Early but you can also overwinter Hispi in a cold frame and plant it out in early spring for a succession of leaves.  If you leave them in the ground long enough they will eventually heart up, the idea is to leave one in three plants to develop,  using the others for the leaves.

Because they are a loose-leaf type it means the leaves are fully exposed to the light and so they are dark green, coarse and often tough, and more strongly flavoured than most people prefer.  It is considered to be closer to a wild cabbage in taste.

They stand up well to the ravages of winter, but I keep mine cloched as an extra protection as well as a deterrent to pigeons.

So – are they worth it?  Well, it is an expensive veg to buy in the supermarket, almost £2.00 for a pack of four cut plants, which only provides one meal.  So for me personally I say yes it is worth growing because I absolutely love the strength of flavour, lightly steamed with butter and nutmeg added – I  am almost addicted to it.  I could never grow enough to feed my addiction though – but when there is very little else to eat on the plot, I can always fall back on my favourite brassica of all – the lowly Spring Cabbage.

Do you ever grow it – or am I on my own here?

Friday, 15 March 2013

Thinking Vertically for Strawberry Growing

Nothing speaks of summer so eloquently as a dish of strawberries, eaten warm and richly glowing, straight from the garden.”  (Anna Pavord)

I don’t have much room for strawberries in the veg garden so I usually think vertically for planting.  Hanging baskets, plant pots on the greenhouse staging or troughs raised off the floor.  There are a few reasons for this – one is that it stops slugs and  birds attacking the precious berries and the other is that when they start fruiting they look decorative trailing over the sides of the containers, plus it makes them easier to harvest.  I have just transplanted my overwintering plants into larger pots in the greenhouse in the hope of getting an early crop.

July 2012

Once you have the main plants you need never buy any more as you increase your stock by potting up the strawberry runners, so they are perfect for frugal gardeners.  I am not into growing strawberries for huge crops – just enough for a few pots of jam a few desserts and plenty of freshly picked to eat raw with cream or ice cream.  The thought of picking punnet after punnet daily and then wondering what to do with them all until I get sick of them, is not the point.  I treasure each berry, maybe picking just a saucerful each day, but that is enough for me and my needs.

29th May 2012

Apparently there are more than 600 varieties of strawberry that differ in size, texture and flavour and cultivation has been taking place for over 300 years.  Wild strawberries are known to have existed for more than 2,000 years.  In the 18th c. a French engineer working in Chile found a native strawberry larger than those grown in Europe.  Cross-breeding occurred naturally between this and a N.American variety.  The result was a hybrid strawberry that was large, juicy and sweet and it grew in popularity, but was regarded as a luxury item until the 19th c.  It is now the most popular berry in the world.

Hanging basket - 23rd June 2012

“The modern strawberry is a tale of disappointment and delight.  I have learned to treat each punnet of really good berries I encounter as a box of fleeting, precious jewels, a treat to be enjoyed with unalloyed pleasure; no cream, no sugar or splash of Beaujolais, just the warm berry in all its scarlet glory.  That perfect fruit is a rare find, but once you chance upon it life seems, for an instant, to stand still.  Eyes closed, you are briefly lost in buttercup meadows, with bees buzzing on the heavy afternoon air.” (Nigel Slater)

Greenhouse strawberries 12th June 2012

Is the strawberry your favourite berry?

Thursday, 7 March 2013

The Frugal Veg Garden

This year I am on an economy drive - trying to be as frugal as I can in all aspects of my life - and this includes the vegetable garden.  The fact is that I usually get a bit carried away with spending money on the garden and growing veg is supposed to help save money. 

Some might say that it is a false economy to buy cheap seeds but I have never had a problem with them - admittedly you can't get exotic choices in the cheaper ranges, but they still germinate well and taste just as good when they are harvested.  The Kale packet holds 150 seeds and has a two year shelf life - and let's face it I am certainly not going to grow 150 Kale plants.  So the 40p that it cost seems to me to be a good deal.  I have only bought a few packets of seed including carrots and parsnip - which don't keep very well from one year to the next - the rest are leftover seeds from last year and seed that I have saved. 

Most years I get through several bags of potting compost, more than I care to admit too - I have noticed over the last couple of gardening seasons that even if you buy good brand names the quality is nowhere near as good as it used to be - so I have opted for the Homebase own brand this year - four bags for the price of three - saving £5.49 plus a bag of John Innes Seed Compost for £2.50 and that's it - I won't be buying any more.  Once it has gone it has gone.  I am hoping to make it stretch a bit further by adding my own compost into the mix.

The other economy I shall be making is not to sprinkle seed willy-nilly over a seed tray, but using modules instead, with only two or three seeds per module, so much gets wasted the other way and when you only have limited space to grow - it is pointless sowing masses of stuff and then throwing it away.

If anyone has any frugal veg gardening tips I should love to hear about them - anything to help make my money go a bit further.

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