Huh? Gardening Terminology

I thought I should add some further information on certain words I use that might be lost to some. Therefore, I introduce the beginning of ‘Garden Terminology’.

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Mulch – material, such as decayed leaves or tree bark, that is spread around a plant or over a seed bed to both enrich and insulate the soil/plant. Mulching provides the plants with nutrients, helps to retain the water for the plant in the soil and visibly improves the garden soil in general. Wherever we mulched last year, the soil in that area is a hundred times better in comparison to a place we did not mulch. For gardeners working on sandy soil, this is a very good way of improving the condition of your soil.

We dig up our mulch from underneath the pine trees in our woodland area next door to the vegetable patch or in the woodland that the pigs roam in. It is good, brown, broken down materials, mostly leaves, bark and pine needles, occasionally some bracken too. We dig it up, remove any unwanted insects or roots and carry it in our wheelbarrows, distributing it generously over the garden. It is time-consuming work but worth the effort. We use mulch to cover paths as a form of weed control. The mulch is very good and suppressing the growth of weeds in both plant beds and on the paths. Plus, it looks actually very pretty as the colour is so rich and dark.

Catch-crop – a crop grown in the space between two main crops at a time. For example, I have sown this year radishes between my latest planting of purple sprouting broccoli. I have planted spinach between peas in one trench and chervil in another. Lettuce has been squeezed in between cabbages and asparagus, more radishes and spinach between brussels sprouts and brukale etc.

Using the catch-crop technique gives on a chance to squeeze in more varieties of vegetables in their patch, especially if they are short of space. The idea is to sow things that are small and temporary, making radishes ideal as well as lettuce and spinach as they bolt quickly. Be wary of the term companion planting before trying this technique.

Companion planting – the close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests. For example, poached egg plants sown near courgettes encourage beneficial insects to the pollinate the flowers. Summer savory attracts beneficial insects to eat the aphids that love broad beans. Garlic is supposed to deter carrot fly (as well as spring onions, leeks and sage) and the flea beetle that will put holes in your brassicas. French marigolds deter white fly from tomatoes. Nasturtium flowers are supposed to be a magnet for cabbage whites to draw them away from cabbages.

The term companion plating can also be applied for growing vegetables alongside each other. For example, the ‘Three Sisters’: pumpkins, corn and climbing beans are an example of companion planting, sowing them close together in the same patch. Beans provide shade for crops, like spinach, who in turn provide magnesium when their leaves break down into the soil. Tomatoes are said to protect asparagus from asparagus beetle (if you can grow them successfully outside without harboring blight). However, one needs to be wary of what plants dislike about each other. For example, cucumbers grow poorly around potatoes and sage (if grown outdoors), beetroot will compete with runner beans for growth too much and will struggle, the same with pumpkins and potatoes, both heavy feeders. Tomatoes attract pests to corn rather than repel them and dill and cilantro cross-pollinate when grown together. Read up carefully about ‘what-likes-what’ when companion planting.

The great thing about companion planting both flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables is that it means you can fit in more types of plants in your vegetable garden than if you restrict your beds to one type of seed. It might look more tidily organised if you do this but the production will be far more impressive if you adopt the ‘mix and match’ approach.

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Manure – animal dung used for fertilizing the land. Horse manure is the most popular form of manure as it is rich in nitrogen. People generally use manure from animals that have a grass-fed diet, meaning horses, cattle and sheep, rather than poultry, cats or pigs, unless they are grazers. As a homegrower, it is up to you what you use but if you ever consider selling commercially, be careful what you choose to use as some get obsessed by the hygiene and risks of illnesses from using other manure from non-grass fed livestock. There has always been debates about using manure but almost any gardener will tell you that it is a good idea. The first time I used horse manure from a friend to feed the crops I was terrified that it was not rotted enough and would kill the plants. Instead, they flourished and I have used it generously ever since. I even dig some in to the patches where I plant root crops, like carrots and beetroot that are said to dislike it but it really does make all the difference and improves the germination, growth, size and flavor of the vegetables. Vegetables that feed us need as much feeding themselves to grow up big and strong. John Collis, ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ writer describes manure at its best: ‘I take large spadefuls of the stuff, like great slabs of chocolate cake, and throw them into the cart’.

‘It starts with the grass and the roots and the corn upon which stock feed. These things are burned in the furnaces of their stomachs.’

It is then treated by ‘whole empires of creatures visible only under the microscope, called bacteria’. They break down complex substances. ‘Farmyard manure consists of excreta, urine, and the litter of the stable. The first movement in the bacterial symphony is the destruction of the litter and its conversion into a dark brown moist substance, hummus.’ Manure contains a great number of carbon compounds. The bacteria ‘splits the ammonia from the protein’ in nitrogen before converting it into nitrate and then changing it into a soluble form of calcium nitrate. A pile of manure should be left to rot for at least 6 months before being used. Once can increase the speed of rotting by turning it over with a fork (like one does to compost) and covering it with a tarpaulin to increase the heat for the bacteria to work in and to keep extra rain out that will slow it down. You will be able to tell when the manure has rotted enough for use as it will no longer smell strongly and will have broken down into a crumbly substance instead of being sticky.

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Blood, Fish and Bone – a slow release fertilizer. It feeds and strengthens the plant as well as improving the soil. When I ‘update’ my plants, I first of all weed around them, then I sprinkle a small layer of BFB (Blood, Fish and Bone)  around them, put a layer of manure on top followed by mulch to hold the nutrients for the plants for longer and to suppress the weed growth. Unfortunately, feeding the soil around the plants does increase the production of weeds as you are ultimately feeding them at the same time, hence why weeding before feeding is so important. BFB is strong-smelling stuff that comes mostly in grain form when purchased from your local garden centre. It does attract animals, cats and slugs alike, so do not be tempted to leave it on top of the ground without covering it with manure and/or mulch to deter the pests. Cats have dug up places where I BFB before but seem to not be interested wherever I lay down manure. Slugs will be more attracted to manure so set up the slug defenses after feeding immediately.

Liquid feeds – solutions that contain a combination of required major nutrients to boost the growth and health of a plant. Homemade liquid feeds include comfrey feed and nettle feed, as a couple of examples. Tomorite is probably the most popular shop bough feed used to feed tomatoes including an extract of seaweed. We have started making and using our own liquid feeds this year, comfrey and nettle. I will be discussing the process of making these homemade feeds in another post.

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Garden 2015 – Wheelbarrow of mulch ready for spreading
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Weekly Update: 29th May 2016

We’ve had surprisingly good weather this week – other than the freezing night-time temperature that came out of nowhere one night and I had to quickly fleece everything up in layers and layers of protection. Thankfully, the courgettes, squashes and sweetcorn lived!

This week I have:

  • Planted out all of the sweetcorn.
  • Planted out hamburg parsley I grew indoors (outdoors did poorly this year), sorrel, pak choi, cosmos flowers, some lupin flowers, some orach
  • I weeded and fed a cabbage, brussels sprouts and brukale bed.
  • Weeded and fed the courgettes and squashes and set up umbrellas to protect them from the irrigation sprinklers (the sprinklers last year worsened powdery mildew).
  • Planted out more aubergines, cucumbers and peppers in the greenhouse.
  • Weeded and mulched the quinoa and amaranth beds.
  • Sowed more turnips and swede because some bird has been pecking them out of the ground.
  • I found a toad hiding under one of my cabbages! I moved him to the compost heaps out-of-the-way.
  • Planted out all of our runner beans.

Mum, while stuck in the throes of awful hay fever and more bee work has done:

  • Completed weeding and mulching the big carrot patch.
  • Did the poles for the runner beans.
  • Fed all of the potatoes with liquid fertiliser.
  • Sprayed the cucurbits and plants that can harbour blight or powdery mildew with our milk spray (more on that another time).
  • Potted on more tomatoes.
  • Weeded the broad beans.
  • Weeded and netter my broccoli and cauliflowers.
  • Weeded and cleared an old celery patch she is leaving to flower and create seeds this year.
  • Weeded the immense amount of mustard and goosegrass wrapping itself around our Japanese wine berry and boysenberry.
  • Created a support for the collapsing bed of the tree cabbages.

We also finally harvested our first batch of rhubarb for the year after putting it off for so long. More on that another time…

Salad – Lettuce

With the (partly) sunny weather and hopefully a good approaching summer, it is time to write about the salad to be harvested from the plot. Currently, I have lettuce, rocket, spinach and radishes ready for picking. We will be starting with lettuce.

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Lettuce

We planted some lettuce under the cover of fleece and in our falling apart cold frames last autumn, mostly ‘Vailan’, a light green winter gem that is hardy and currently thriving right now. It looks beautiful and tastes delicious. It can be sown from January until March and then again from September to December, germinating in the cooler months and then growing steadily for the next season. We planted some in November last year and I started again in February this year, starting these off indoors before planting them out under the cover of fleece. I have been harvesting them all month and they are delicious.

I still have so many lettuces sown indoors that need planting out and I am avoiding looking at the windowsills they are sitting on because they make me feel guilty. The problem with sowing lettuce seeds is that they are tiny and grow close together, making planting out a nightmare with delicate roots snapping in all places. It is more than likely I will have a good sob when planting them out. I planted some out the other day between my cabbages (that are netted so I will probably never be bothered to harvest them) and mum has been planting some out in our baby asparagus bed that we just started this year.

Since March, I have sown the following types of lettuces that are all looking pretty good, they just need planting out to give them some room and nutrition.

Little gems: ‘Amaze’ (March-June sowing), Winter gem ‘Vailan’

Cos lettuce: ‘Romaine Ballon’ (March-July)

‘Grandpa Admire’s Butterhead Lettuce’ (from ‘Real Seeds Company’, March-August sowing)

‘Reine  des Glaces Toothed Crisphead Lettuce’ (“)

‘Red Iceburg Lettuce’ (“)

‘Really Red Lettuce’ (“)

Other recommended varieties are:

Hardy hearting lettuce, ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’ (February-April and August-September), ‘Black seeded Simpson’ (February-September) and the most popular loose leaf variety out there, ‘Lollo Rossa’ (March-August) which I have tried, tested and liked and have some around right now from last year’s planting. The other two I could not buy this year but they are a popular and reliable variety recommended to me and I will be looking out for them.

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Lettuces are not too fussy but do love nutritious soil. Plant them into a patch that has been weeded and fed with Blood, Fish and Bone and well-rotted manure before applying a good layer of mulch on top to hold those nutrients in. They can be grown as catch-crops between other larger vegetables that need a lot of spacing out, such as cabbages, sweetcorn, cucurbits etc. They do not mind shade or sun but many often plant them in the shadiest patches because they will still thrive there. Most of mine are in full sun and they are still great so it really does not matter. Lettuce go wherever you can fit them!

The worst thing about lettuces is that they can bolt very quickly when you turn a blind eye for five seconds. Bolting is when the lettuce goes to seed and flowers when it is too hot, the watering conditions are unstable and the sun is offering too much light (unbelievable in England, yes?). The problem with bolting lettuce is that it tastes, well, vile. The only use people can find for bolting lettuce I am afraid is perhaps lettuce soup or perhaps cooking it in some other way, perhaps as an oriental vegetable in a stir fry or a stew? Chickens love some bolted lettuce though so don’t be afraid to share if you own livestock. Waste not, want not.

The other major problem with growing lettuce is that a patch of it is the garden of Eden for slugs and snails. I think salad is their favourite, as well as perhaps peas? If you can deter the slugs with any means you can and manage to successfully grow and harvest the lettuce for yourself, it is worth the time and trouble. Everyone likes lettuce and it goes so well with everything and it is so good for you!  The aim this year is to successfully sow and grow crops like lettuce so that we have a steady supply all year round for ourselves and our neighbors. This means sowing some every few months throughout the year during the sowing times.

The nutrition of lettuce varies in each variety. The most beneficial nutrients are vitamin A and potassium. The vitamin A comes from the beta-carotene in the leaves (the yellowing orange colour is hidden in lettuce by the green chlorophyll pigments in the lettuce). Our bodies convert the beta-carotene into vitamin A. The darker the green colouring of the lettuce, the more beta-carotene there will be. The stems and spines of the lettuce leaves provide us with dietary fiber while the minerals and vitamins are concentrated in the leaves themselves. Most lettuces, excluding iceberg varieties, included moderate levels of vitamin C, calcium, iron and copper, too.

Lettuce is one of the oldest vegetables around and a statement in the patch. It is a member of the daisy and thistle family, Asteraceae. Lettuce was first cultivated in Egypt for the production of oil from its seeds. Evidence of its cultivation has been dated back as early as 2680BC. Ancient Greeks believed it contained sleep inducing properties and served it at the end of a meal. 12,500 hectares in the UK are used to grow salad crops and lettuce accounts for 50% of it. Apparently, half of all UK households eat lettuce three times a fortnight. Growing your own in your own veg patch and you can beat this figure hands down: it is so prolific and easy to grow and eat that it will become an everyday green staple in your diet.

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This is the Quiche recipe that my mum taught me to make, with bacon, cheese and cream in it. Serve with a freshly picked salad from the garden, whatever is in season. Right now, that could mean lettuce, spinach, rocket and radishes. Later on try pairing it with some crisp carrots, cucumber, watercress, beetroot, anything that you have growing to make a light summer supper.

Quiche

(Serves 10, 20cm tart case required)

Pastry: – 170g/ 6oz plain flour – 110g/ 4oz salted butter – A little cold water to mix in

Filling: – 2 eggs and 1 yolk – 2-4 strips of pre-fried or grilled bacon – 60-100ml double cream – 100g grated cheddar cheese – 1 small onion, finely sliced – A little butter or olive oil, for frying – Salt and pepper for seasoning

  1. Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
  2. To make the pastry, put the flour into a large bowl with the butter. Using your fingertips, rub the ingredients together until the mixture resembles breadcrumbs. Make a well in the centre and add cold water, a little at a time and mix in to form a dough. Knead lightly until smooth and set to one side or if you are making it in advance, wrap it in cling-film and store it in the fridge.
  3. To make the filling, melt the butter or oil in a frying pan and fry the onions until golden brown. In a new bowl, beat the whole eggs and yolk with 80g of the grated cheddar cheese. Beat in enough double cream so that the mixture thickens and looks creamy. Break the pre-cooked bacon into tiny pieces and stir them in along with the fried onions, followed by the salt and pepper for seasoning.
  4. Press the pastry into a 20cm tart case. Scrape the filling on top of the pastry and smooth it over the base evenly. Scatter the remaining grated cheese over the top.
  5. Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the Quiche is firm and golden brown. Serve hot or cold with salad.

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First Cabbage!

I just had to share with you some exciting news.

Last night I harvested my first ever homegrown cabbage!

Yup, I get very excited about things like this. I am like a proud mother.

We had it shredded and boiled with our harvested purple sprouting broccoli and the casserole I included in the previous quinoa post. It was delicious and just what we needed after getting caught in a rain shower.

Due to my unorganised methods, the tag I had marking what type of cabbage it was I sowed direct into the ground last year has gone astray so I have no idea what it is called. i am thinking it  was most likely a ‘Primo’ variety or a ‘Durham Early’.

I am just amazed that they managed to survive all those months and I thought there would be lots of slug damage and there wasn’t at all. The chickens and ducks loved the leaves from the outside I gave to them so everyone is happy all round. Enjoy your Sunday.

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Purple Sprouting Broccoli harvested along with the cabbage
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First cabbage for 2016

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Weekly update -21st May 2016

I haven’t been entirely up to date with posting on this site. My excuse is that I am having some trouble with my laptop, it is blocking this website (as well as Wikipedia and Facebook, I do not know why but it has chosen those few) so it makes posting difficult.

Well, this week in the garden I managed to get some jobs done…

  • I weeded a cabbage patch, fed and mulched it as well as gave it a new netting to protect the vegetables from those pesky cabbage whites. They are savoy cabbages and are looking lovely and green and a couple are growing to a good, big size.
  • I netted my other cabbage trench that are planted with brussels sprouts and brukale (brussels sprout crossed with kale, will be interesting). Still need to weed and feed them…
  • I weeded, fed and mulched my tree cabbages (purchase from Real Seeds). These are looking pretty good and I can’t wait to harvest them. You pick off the leaves and use them like kale, apparently.
  • I planted out all of the celery, celeriac and leeks into the same long trench (leeks are apparently good companions plants for these crops). I’ve popped a fleece over the top of them to protect them from the wind which is quite  gusty at the moment and is drying everything out too quickly.
  • I planted out half of the sweetcorn, probably a little to recklessly after looking at the forecasted 7C next Tuesday night. I ran out of space in my block (they require 30cm apart from each other) so I need to make a new bed  for the remaining nine plants. I will try and start that today in the rain.
  • I potted on two aubergines from indoors and moved them inside  the greenhouse – finally, first vegetables inside the greenhouse! I also moved another strawberry inside there – useful hint, pot a couple of strawberries inside your greenhouse during the winter months and then they will fruit earlier and the birds might not get to the berries before you do.
  • We have been harvesting lots of lettuce, spinach, the last of my first sowing of radishes (tasted a little woody by now,  they were sown in February), rocket, purple sprouting broccoli, green sprouting broccoli, kale, parsley, coriander and some oriental vegetables, bok wong chinese cabbage (Real Seeds Company, again), komatsuna, mustard (a dominant weed in out patch which we really should eat more of but are too fussy) and it might have been mibuna or mispoona?
  • My fellow gardening partner, my mum, has been busy with her bees all week, feeding them and trying to prevent a swarm from taking off but she still managed to fit in some gardening jobs: weeding carrots and starting the shallots (horribly intricate jobs), planting out spring onions and nearly a whole seed tray of lettuces (again, very tricky and stressful with those little roots), potting on the sickly cucumbers and starting on the tomatoes.
  • We still have a lot to plant out from indoors which is the main priority despite the unstable weather for May. We will also be up to our necks in weeds if we don’t try and do some of that at any opportunity.

Happy gardening this week. I will be sharing some posts on salad next week with recipes, starting with lettuce, I think.

Quinoa

I was going to write about salad harvesting as the warm weather has brought on the tasty green leaf season however, I thought I had better dedicate an entry to quinoa as it is now May and the frosts are receding leaving anyone who wants to plant some protein-rich grain right now before the sowing season ends in June. If you are unsure about this crop, hopefully this will change your mind.

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A friend of my mum’s tried growing quinoa last year. He said, I think I quote correctly, that it was ‘a waste of time’, meaning they either did not germinate or died without giving him a single seed. After this I was skeptical about trying to grow something that sounded so exotic but my mum was encouragingly excited for us to try it.

We bought our seeds from a delightful online company caller ‘Read Seeds’ (http://www.realseeds.co.uk). We bought a lot of lovely packets from  them and all are (so far…) doing really well. It is a delightful company and I would recommend checking them out as they have excellent principles on the using and purchasing of seeds for your veg patch and are worth the pennies spent on their unusual offers (Tree Cabbage, Mibuna, Mispoona, Sutherland Kale are just a couple of examples of what we purchased this year).

They offer the following varieties of quinoa:

‘Rainbow’ – if left long enough with patience, the seeds on the plant turn different colours. It is an ideal variety for growing in damp locations in soggy England.

‘Temuco’ – comes from South America and is a good choice for wet, windy parts of the UK as they have open seed heads that help to shed the rain without damaging the plant.

However, another very common weed looks exactly like quinoa. Fat hen is a native summer annual, common garden weed that thrives throughout England – and loves my garden soil. Fat hen was eaten as a vegetable from Neolithic times until the 16th century when it was replaced by spinach and cabbage. It is rich in vitamin C. The seeds were ground into flour and in Canada it was grown as food for pigs and sheep. Although it can contain potentially harmful levels of nitrates, cases of poisoning are rare. It is very efficient at extracting nutrients from the soil. Fat hen is an important constituent in the diet of farmland birds. The leaves are a source of ascaridole, an oil used to treat infestations of round worms and hook worms. It is one of the foragers’ perks yet is an invasive weed for the vegetable gardener, taking over the beds so if you do decide to keep it, try your best to keep it under control.

Unknown.jpeg Fat hen image from internet – looks identical to quinoa

The other grain that I have bought from ‘Real Seeds’ that is similar to quinoa is amaranth. ‘Real Seeds’ sell ‘Mixed Grain Amaranths’. They make up to 200,000 seed per plant, are very easy to thresh. The seeds don’t need grinding as they are so small the chef can just add them to anything. Very filling and nutritious, ‘Real Seeds’ say that they add it to rice as it adds both flavour and protein. Harvesting is much like quinoa and sowing times are the same. So far these are doing as well as the quinoa in the ground. More on this crop later to see how it is getting along.

They recommend sowing quinoa seeds from late April to early June so that you get a harvest from September to October. After trailing the internet and seeing that some people sowed their quinoa indoors or undercover as early as March, I keenly sowed my first batch at this time, indoors, in a hot room in a seed tray of compost. They did well – until a slug broke in and nibbled half of them before I found it and tossed it outside in disgrace.

I sowed another batch indoors last month, sometime in the middle of April. These germinated even more successfully than the previous lot. I planted out all of the quinoa last week in trenches that had been filled with rotted manure, compost and sand before being topped with a thick layer of mulch earlier this year. They are in a sunny spot so I am currently using fleece as shade and protection from any wind. Quinoa apparently likes sandy soil and a sunny site. So far, I am surprised to say, most look happy! Let us hope that I can keep them going a little longer and I might even harvest a couple of seeds later in the year.

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Quinoa is ready for harvest in 90-120 days. While you are waiting, you can pick some of the young leaves to add to your salad and steam them to use as greens.

When the leaves have fallen and only the dried seed heads remain on the stalks, quinoa is ready to harvest. As long as the weather is dry, the seeds will withstand a few light frosts. Allow the seeds to dry out naturally on the stalk if the weather is dry. If the weather is wet remove the stalks and lay them out to dry in an area that is sheltered from the rain. Dry the seeds until they are difficult to dent with your fingernail.

The dry quinoa seeds are easy to harvest. Using a gloved hand, seeds can be easily stripped upwards off the stalk. You can blow away small pieces of dirt or debris by pouring the grain from one container onto another in front of a gently blowing fan or use a screen to sift the grain. Thoroughly dry the quinoa grains before storing by spreading them out in the hot sun or in near an indirect heat source. Dried quinoa grains should be stored in air-tight containers in a cool, dark location. Quinoa will store in this way for up to six months.

An Andean plant that originated from Lake Titicaca, Peru and Bolivia, quinoa was cultivated and used by pre-Columbian civilisations and used as a local food staple. It was replaced by cereals on the arrival of the Spanish. At the time of Spanish arrival, quinoa was well-developed and widely distributed beyond Inca territory. The first Spaniard to record quinoa noted that the Native Indians planted crops around Concepción for food. Quinoa is then described as being one of the second grains cultivated on the face of the earth, somewhat resembling millet or short-grain rice. It is also recorded that the first shipment of seeds to Europe arrived dead and unable to germinate because of the high humidity of the sea voyage. In 1560, Cieza de León reported that quinoa was cultivated in the highlands of Pasto and Quito in abundance. Little maize was grown but the quinoa apparently thrived in this cooler climate. Throughout history, explorers have noted that quinoa is a staple food source for indigenous populations in South America in particular.

Historical evidence indicates that its domestication may have occurred between 3,000 and 5,000 BCE. Archeological discoveries of quinoa in tombs in Chile and in different regions of Peru support this theory. Before domestication, wild quinoa was probably first used for its leaves and seeds. Early evidence of its morphology can be witnessed on pottery sourced from the Tiahuanaco culture depicting a quinoa plant with several panicles along its stem, which would suggest one of the more primitive strains of the plant. Quinoa has undergone a wide range of morphological changes during its domestication and as a result of human activity. These include a more compact inflorescence at the tip of the plant, an increase in size of stem and seed, loss of seed dispersal mechanisms and high levels of pigmentation. These changes that can be witnessed in almost any crop cultivated by humans most likely occurred for the purpose of tolerance for climates and the necessary need we have for them.

Quinoa has had a lot of press lately about being a health food. It is high in protein, uncommon for some grains, and is considered a source of essential amino acids. Many vitamin Es are sources in quinoa, difficult again to find in grains and it is a very good source of manganese, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, dietary fiber, folate and zinc. For the home growing vegetarian or vegan, quinoa is an excellent crop to try to grow.

Quinoa seeds are naturally protected from insects and birds by a yellow coating that tastes bitter. This is removed by soaking the seeds overnight and rinsing a few times in cold water before cooking for about ten minutes, or until the seeds have absorbed all of the water, just like rice would. Consider preparing quinoa like you would do for dried beans.

As far as eating quinoa is concerned, it is just like any other grain. You cook it and serve it like rice or couscous. However, I found that it does have a slightly nutty or, unsurprisingly, seedy taste and texture making it, well, gritty. Have no fear, if a fussy eater like me can get by that, then you are fine. I have eaten it along with salads and on its own in other ways but the best way I have found so far is to serve it with some sort of stew instead or along with rice. Therefore, I offer you my mum’s Chicken Casserole. We used to eat this with rice all the time but now we sometimes serve quinoa instead or alongside it for variation and added protein. For vegetarians or vegans, omit the chicken and if you like, serve it with some mushrooms or beans instead (butter beans are my favourite for this but it is equally delicious just plain). This is a ‘quick’ version, cooking the chicken before adding it to the dish rather than having to leave the meat to slowly cook in the casserole for hours.

Recipe:

(Serves 6)

Chicken Casserole with Quinoa

– 2 large chicken breasts, cut into pieces – Olive oil, for frying – 1 large onion, peeled and thinly sliced – 2 large garlic cloves, diced – x2 450g tinned tomatoes – 4 large carrots, peeled and sliced into thin circles – Dash of Lea and Perrin’s – Dash of dark soy sauce – 1/4tsp Miso paste – Salt and pepper, to flavour – 300g quinoa – Peas, broccoli, cabbage, kale or runner beans, to serve – Greek yoghurt, to serve (optional)

  1. Put the olive oil in a frying pan and gently fry the chicken until cooked. Take the frying pan off the heat and set aside.
  2. In a large, heavy-based pan or casserole dish, add a little more olive oil and the chopped onion. Fry on a high heat until the onion starts to brown and then turn the flame down to a simmer.
  3. Add the garlic and the tinned tomatoes, stirring the ingredients together. Turn the flame up to high and add the disc-shaped cut carrots. Once the dish is bubbling, add the chicken and turn the flame down to simmer again. If you are adding any mushrooms or cooked beans, add them now too.
  4. Add the flavourings: a dash of Lea and Perrin’s will give it some heat, a dash of soy sauce will give it some more salty flavouring, a 1/4tsp miso paste will give it some more taste but it is quite strong so use only a little. Add a grating of salt and pepper over the top, stir and put a lid over the top of the dish and leave it to simmer for at least ten minutes, longer if you have time to let the flavours combine and the carrots to cook.
  5. To cook the quinoa, place a small amount of water in a pan, just enough to cover the quinoa, and bring it to the boil. Add the quinoa and turn the heat down to a simmer. Once the quinoa has absorbed all of the water and has turned soft, remove from the heat. Put another pan of water onto boil and add the prepared green vegetables of choice. Drain once boiled.
  6. To serve, place a helping of quinoa on a plate, a helping of casserole over the top alongside the green vegetables and, if you like, try a spoonful of Greek yoghurt on the side.
  7. Left overs can be stored in the fridge or frozen.

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The last of the Kale

I am currently picking the last ‘burst’ of small kale leaves from the curly kale I sowed last summer as they flower.

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Kale has had a lot of publicity over the last few years as a member of the dreaded team ‘superfood’. I’m a little snobbish of the phrase ‘superfood’ as it is basically ‘trendy food’ or ‘fad food’, ‘faze food’. It is the in-group in the culinary world, when leggings and purple hair are the height of fashion before jeans and original colours return, a superfood, like coconut which I think is the latest addition to the group, joins the Mean Girl cliche before being cast aside for the next fad that everyone has to join in with – to be cool. Since when did food need to be cool? I suppose it was always the case. Nevertheless, kale needs to be adored for it’s usefulness for the vegetable grower instead of the publicity it gets in the press. I was surprised when I ate it as I was expecting it to, honestly, be vile. It certainly does not look pretty on its own but it tastes, well, great.

Kale is high in iron, beta-carotene and folic acid. It is a source of vitamins A, C (more than in carrots, apparently) and K, manganese and copper. 80g contains 120mg of calcium, great for dairy-free dieters over the world. It is rich in lutein, an anti-oxidant that keeps our eyes healthy, 76mg lutein per kg while broccoli only contains 17mg. So far, so good.

It is thought to have descended from the ‘wild cabbage’, like broccoli, cauliflowers and other brassicas that came to Europe around 600BC by Celtic wanderers, being cultivated for over 2,000 years. Apparently it was a significant crop during the Roman times (but they are famous for not being very fussy eaters) and it was a crop for peasants in the Middle Ages until the popular cabbage found its way to our hearts. Kale is known for being grown in colder climates because of its resistance to frost – our garden was hit by severe frost earlier in January reaching a -3C  but I did not need to fleece them once, and they are still alive and pickable. It was so hardy, in the old days kitchens in Scotland used to have a special kale pot to cook the leafy green. Towards the end of the 20th century, kale was grown specifically as winter feed for livestock, such as sheep and cattle, on farms and consumed more by animals than humans. Now though, it has risen in our esteem more than ever as a nutritious vegetable and a valuable crop for the ‘hunger gap’ for home growers.

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Kale ‘Nero De Toscana’

Kale is a wonderful vegetable for the kitchen gardener. It is tough and prolific. Start sowing under cover or indoors from March, the last sowing being in October, and you will have enough kale to harvest over winter and then the following spring. They are a brassica so remember that they do need a lot of feeding and it is a good idea to net them in the dreaded cabbage white season as the caterpillars go nuts for them. I found that out last year but do not despair and rip the plants up, squash the caterpillars and leave the plants that will heal themselves and grow a new, fresh batch of leaves if given a little time. All of my ravaged kale grew lots of new leaves over the months. My favourite types are the green ‘Dwarf Curly Kale – Starbor’ and ‘Nero de Toscana’ kale with smoother leaves (more of a favourite with pests I have noticed and flowers quicker than curly kale). Another popular variety is ‘Red Russian kale’, a deep purple colour which tastes the exact same, think of it being like the purple version of green lettuce.

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Newly transplanted kale earlier this year in bottles for protection from wind and change in temperature
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Curly Kale baby

Over the last winter, kale was the one vegetable I could always rely on to pick in the ‘hungry gap’ when nothing else was growing. When my beloved spinach had ended or was too small to pick, when the last batch of frozen beans had gone and we had run out of peas and were on strike and refusing to go shopping, kale was the answer to our need for cooked greens. We harvest the leaves by picking them from the plant – one is supposed to pick the tallest ones further up the plants – before washing and stripping them off their slightly tough stalks and dumping them in boiling hot water to simmer for a few minutes until cooked. It is surprisingly yummy just plain boiled (I am not a fan for eating it raw but if you like it then that is brilliant as it is another way of enjoying this green). As well as eating it just boiled alongside the main dish, we also put the leaves in casseroles, Bolognese, lasagna, curries, stir fries etc. My brother doesn’t like kale on its own but is fine when it is mixed in a gloop as you can’t tell it is in there. I have tried making kale pesto – awful, I think only my mum and perhaps my sister liked it and I am sure they were just being polite, there are still two jars hidden at the back of the fridge. We also invented a kale version of Crispy Seaweed that you can get in Chinese restaurants or take aways and it is a very good version which I will share with you one day as well as a Kale Rice Bake which is delicious. However, today I thought it was a good idea to share with you one of the best dishes known to mankind where you can slip some kale in subtly: homemade pizza.

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Cooked homemade pizza

Making your own pizza is way better than ordering Dominos and it really is not that hard. In the winter add kale to the sauce, in the summer you could very between swiss chard or spinach or even some oriental komatsuna or pak choi. Feel free to add cut up ham, pineapple, pepperoni, olives or even some sweet peppers on top. We sometimes do half a pizza with these extra toppings and leave the other half just plain cheese for fussy me. The brilliant thin about making your own pizza is that you can play and add whatever you like. By the way, for those of you that have not heard of Italian passata, it is basically thickened tinned tomatoes, a sort of tomato puree but I would recommend splashing out on the passata rather than a puree from the bottle, it will taste far better. You can buy them in any normal supermarket or of course, try making some yourself if you get a glut of tomatoes in the summer?

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Pizza being assembled: the kale tomato paste is spread on top, followed by the cheese – the dark green in the topping is the sautéed kale
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Pizza just before cooking

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Unfortunately, for the most recent pizzas I have made lately,  I was out of mozzarella which I love on top of a pizza – it makes it so gooey and cheesy and I would recommend trying it. I often use a mixture of any cheese in the house, always chedder, mozzarella if I available, parmesan if any is grated already… This time I used a lot of cheddar cheese and some gruye, a cheese made from raw milk as well as some shavings of left-over parmesan from a previous meal. There are plenty of cheeses in the world, plenty of greens to try on top so get going and experiment.

I have included two versions: one uses a bread machine (the cheats way I use to ensure I get a good dough) but I have also added a hands-on method to try. Many chefs will advise you to use Italian 00 pasta flour or strong white bread flour. I use a majority of one of these, depending on what I have available, and I add about 10% of Khoresan flour, an old-fashioned flour you can buy from Doves in large supermarkets or online now (it is really good to use in homemade naan or pitta breads) and I add a little wholemeal bread flour into the mixture too. If you are a little daunted by the idea of mixing flours, then just stick to the safe strong white bread flour, it is more likely to rise, especially is using the hands-on method.

Enjoy!

Recipe:

Cheese and Kale Topped Pizza

(Serves 6, two or three slices per person)

Base: – 250g bread flour: I use mostly white flour, either ‘Strong White Bread Flour’, ’00 Pasta Flour’ with about 30g Khoresan flour with perhaps 50g-100g ‘Strong Wholemeal Bread Flour’. It is up to you, I would just advise using more white flour than any other to make sure the dough rises.

–  1 tsp (5g) fast-action dried yeast – 1tsp (5g) salt – 20 ml (2tbsp) olive oil – 160ml water

Topping: – 1 large onion, finely sliced – Olive oil, to fry in – 1-2 large garlic cloves – 500g packet of Italian Passata – About 200g kale, washed and de-stalked – A small handful of oregano leaves (I use anywhere from 8 – 14 small leaves), torn into fine pieces – A dash of maple syrup – Salt and pepper – 500g cheese of choice: I would advise about 300g cheddar cheese, one packet of mozzarella and the rest another cheese, like parmesan or gruye. Again, this is up to you – Any other additional toppings of your choice: e.g. ham and pineapple, olives, pepperoni etc.

  1. If you have a breadmaker, use this process for quickness and ease: Put the tsp of yeast into the bread pan followed by the flour, salt, olive oil and water. Put the bread pan inside the breadmaker and set it to your DOUGH setting, the timer should say 45 minutes. It is going to knead the ingredients together and help it rise.
  2. If you do not have a breadmaker: Put the yeast inside a large bowl followed by the flour and salt. Stir in the ingredients. Start to pour in the water, slowly as you mix to incorporate into a sticky dough, adding in the olive oil too. Once the mixture is completely combined, tip the dough out onto a floured surface and knead into a large ball so that it is not so sticky and more springy to the touch. Put inside a bowl or basket with a tea-towel and a plastic bag cover it and put it in a warm place, an airing cupboard is best, and leave to rise for about an hour.
  3. Meanwhile, pre-heat the oven to the highest temperature your oven can offer you, mine reaches 325C.
  4. Make the topping: in a large frying pan, fry the onion in the olive oil over a a medium flame until starting to brown. Add the passata and the diced garlic, turning the flame up to high and stirring – the aim is to boil off some of the passata liquid so it looks more like a thick gloop, not a runny paste that will slide off the pizza base in the cooking process. Add the kale and leave the mixture to boil for a couple of minutes, still stirring it occasionally. Add the torn oregano, a good dash of maple syrup and a grind of salt and then pepper. Stir in and leave to continue boiling off. Turn it down to simmer and grate the cheeses (cutting the mozzarella into thick pieces instead).
  5. Place a large silicone sheet on the floor, or baking paper, and dust with semolina. Dust the dough with semolina to prevent it from sticking to your hands and dump it on the sheet. Now, I cheat here for ease. I coat a rolling-pin in semolina and use to flatten out the dough, rolling it into a huge pizza shape to that it covers nearly all of the sheet (homemade pizzas are rarely a perfect circle, I call them ‘rustic’). Once it is large and flat, remove the topping from the low flame and scrape onto the pizza base. I like to use a spatula to do this. Spread the topping evenly all over the base.
  6. Put a layer of mozzarella cheese all over the base and then sprinkle the rest of the cheeses on top thickly. Add any other toppings now.
  7. Pull out a shelf in the oven and carefully lift and slide the large pizza onto it, be careful not to burn yourself. Cook in the oven for 10 minutes, keeping an eye on it towards the end to make sure it does not burn. Carefully remove from the oven and slide the sheet with the pizza still on top onto a large tray to carry. Cut using a large pair of scissors into slices and serve with a lovely salad picked straight from the garden. When we have a glut of runner-beans or peas, we serve these alongside it instead and it is as equally delicious. Any left-overs can be kept in a container in the fridge and eaten cold the next day or put inside a preheated oven to warm up.
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Serve with a fresh salad picked from the veg patch

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