Not to try and scare fellow gardeners but hey, its not far off till March – the biggest sowing month of the year!
This is when my sowing indoors becomes nuts, but because of the frosts there is little you can sow directly outdoors at this time of year still.
What you can sow are the hardy things like Broad Beans, winter Salad – Lettuce, Meteor Peas … but they all need to be sown under horticultural fleece and, ideally, a cold frame.
But do you know what is a good idea to sow directly outdoors first thing in the season, that has to remain under the cover of fleece the whole year round thanks to pesky flies? Carrots.
Carrots don’t like to be transplanted, they need a lot of time to develop, and need covering from carrot flies anyway so why not make a little bed and sow some seeds?
To make you want to grow your own carrots, here is a recipe to get you enthusiastic. Do you know what carrots go great in? Bolognese.
*To make it vegetarian, omit the meat. You can put pre-soaked or canned kidney beans in instead, but you don’t need to add more protein if you are serving it with grated cheese.*
-Olive oil, for frying -1 large onion, finely sliced -4-6 giant carrots, or the equivalent as small ones -2 garlic cloves, finely diced -x2 450g cans of tinned tomatoes -500g beef mince (optional) -Dash of soy sauce -Dash of Lea and Perrins Worcester sauce -Pinch of salt -Pinch of pepper -Spaghetti, to serve (about 500g) -Peas, runner beans or broccoli, to serve -400g grated cheddar cheese, to serve
Warm the olive oil in a large frying pan. Fry the onion and the grated carrot together, stirring the contents. You want the carrot to lose some of its orange colour, to cook, but you don’t want it all to burn.
Once the carrot is cooked, add the tinned tomatoes and the diced garlic. Mix in well.
In a separate frying pan, fry the mince meat if using. Once cooked, add to the sauce, or if using kidney beans, drain if from a can and add to the sauce straight away instead. Mix well.
Add the flavourings and stir. Leave it to come to the boil and then turn the flame down and allow it to simmer.
Meanwhile, cook the spaghetti in boiling hot water until cooked through. Bring another pan to the boil and cook the greens.
Serve with a helping of spaghetti and greens, the bolognese on top, and a good helping of grated cheddar.
Left overs can be used for chilli con carne (just add diced chilli) or for lasagne.
I will admit it – I used to hate carrot cake. The idea of a vegetable in a cake, an orange vegetable at that, was just crazy. But, now I can literally eat my own words. I’ve had at least three different types of really good carrot cake recently, but the best so far has been a recipe my mum made from the River Cottage Veg Patch handbook.
Now, she adjusted the recipe a bit. She added more dried fruit, salted butter instead of oil and any extra salt, instead of apple sauce she grated a whole apple and a pear (in a food processor) because our trees have been so generous this year, she ground the walnuts up (because that’s our trick ingredient to a good homemade cake) and she made the mistake of adding the syrup that is meant to go over the top at the end into the actual cake, but it was so much better. It wasn’t sickly sweet or sticky then, it made the cake instead moister and more delicious.
It is a darling of a recipe and very good for you too!
River Cottage Carrot Walnut Cake
– 150g sultanas, raisins, currants -220g self-raising flour -1 tsp baking powder -1 tsp ground cinnamon -1 tsp ground ginger -Pinch of ground cloves -220g light brown sugar, plus an extra 3 tbsp for the syrup -116g salted butter -Finely grated zest and juice of 1 orange -2 eggs, lightly beaten -225g apple and pear, coarsely grated -270g carrots, peeled and coarsely grated -80g walnuts, ground -1 tbsp lemon juice
Preheat the oven to 170°C. Line a 20–22cm square cake tin, about 8cm deep, with baking paper.
Sift together the flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and ground cloves.
In a large bowl, whisk together the 220g sugar, butter and orange zest until well combined, then whisk in the eggs until the mixture is creamy. Fold in the apple and pear, followed by the flour mixture until just combined. Next fold in the grated carrots and ground walnuts.
While the cake is in the oven, make the syrup. Put the orange juice into a small saucepan with the 3 tbsp light muscovado sugar and 1 tbsp lemon juice. Warm over a low heat, stirring until the sugar dissolves. Fold into the cake with the sultanas.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared tin and smooth the surface with a spatula. Bake for about 1 1/4 hours, until a fine skewer inserted into the centre comes out clean. If the cake appears to be overbrowning before it is done, cover the top loosely with foil.
Stand the cake tin on a wire rack and leave to cool. Serve hot or cold. Store in an air-tight tin.
What to think of growing for next winter’s hungry gap?
It will start to flourish in the most ‘hungriest’ gap of all, around February when all of your stores have dwindled. Boil, steam, fry or add to stews, curries, soups, pizza toppings, lasagnes, bologneses, casseroles, etc and it will wilt down to nothing but is so good for you!
Huge plants that should last for two-three years once sown. They are frost resistant and produce huge green leaves that you harvest like kale. Pull them off, cut them up, and cook like cabbage/kale. They taste just like them.
Purple Sprouting Broccoli
This one will not be ready until just before spring each year, but it will give you an early green before the calabrese broccoli has even been planted out into the ground. Snip off the little flowers as the grow and boil or steam for some homegrown goodness before the rest of the veg is ready for harvesting. The plants are frost hardy during the winter months.
Giant spinach that lasts all year round and self-seeds magnificently. Plant a few and they will die back when they get worn out but will regrown pretty quickly. You will want to cook these leaves as they are a bit strong – avoid the stalks, they are not very tasty. I like putting mine on top of homemade pizzas or chucking them in a stir fry.
Plant lots of potatoes, store some and cover the rest in the ground with tonnes of soil and some horticultural fleece to prevent frost damage. They might suffer a little from slug damage but I promise that they will still be completely edible and wonderful! They last a lot longer in the ground than they do in storage.
These should be ready to harvest after the frosty time, during December and throughout the winter months. They can be roasted, boiled, mashed, made into soups, added to stocks etc. for a nourishing root vegetable.
I was surprised when our watercress flourished in the cooler months than it did throughout spring or summer. Grow it in pots and cover with fleece and it will be a salad leaf that will see you through winter.
It won’t last as long as watercress in the cold months but it will see you through a majority of it as long as you keep it fleeced.
Grow these on your windowsill indoors. These can include speedy cress, sunflower seeds, beansprouts, alfalfa, pea shoots, and lots more sprouting seeds are available in the shops.
Do you have any winter veggies to grow through the ‘hungry gap’?
This is a nutritious soup, warming dish. The actual soup recipe itself is very quick, it is only the stock that takes time so make it in advance if you would like. You could always double the batch of stock and freeze some for a later date. Serve with prawn crackers, if you would like, or add some soy sauce or sesame seed oil over the top for a little extra flavour. Minus the noodles (and perhaps egg or butter), everything can be homegrown – making us feel proud!
For the vegetable stock: – 1 large onion – Butter, to sauté – 2 medium sized carrots – 1 garlic clove – A few sprigs of parsley – 1 litre of boiling water
For the soup: – 400g wholewheat noodles – 1 egg – 100g peas – 100g sweetcorn
Either grate by hand or food process the onion, carrot, garlic and parsley.
In a large frying pan, place the vegetables in the butter. Sauté, stirring from time to time for about 5 minutes until the vegetables have softened.
Add the boiling water and bring the mixture back to the boil before allowing to simmer, uncovered for about ten minutes. Take off the heat. Push the vegetables through a sieve to strain. Use the liquid or freeze straight away.
To make the soup: put the stock into a large pan and bring to the boil along with the noodles, peas and sweetcorn. Turn the flame down to a low heat and allow to simmer for about 10 minutes or until cooked. Add the egg and stir in. Leave to continue simmering for about five minutes.
Serve hot ladled into bowls. I like to top mine with boiled kale too.
I am currently finding ways of eating courgettes that are new and exciting. That means boiling, frying and grilling them for different meals. Last night we had them fried with a gloop and spaghetti – recipe coming soon. Today though because it is so hot and sunny, I offer a lovely summer salad made special with that salty feta cheese that goes so well with courgettes. Enjoy.
Grilled courgette salad with feta cheese
– 1 medium sized courgette, sliced into circles – 1/2 cucumber, sliced into circles – 1 medium sized carrot, peeled and cut into matchsticks – x2 handfuls lettuce, torn – x2 handfuls of spinach, torn – x2 handfuls watercress – x2 handfuls of feta cheese, cut into cubes
Turn the grill onto high. Place the sliced courgettes on a lightly oiled baking tray and place under the grill for a few minutes. When they have browned, flip them over and cook the other side. Turn off the grill when the courgettes are brown on both sides.
Prepare the other salad ingredients and cut the feta cheese into cubes.
Put the salad onto serving plates, mixed in with the hot courgettes. Scatter the feta cheese over the top and mix in. Serve.
Courgettes or zucchini are small, immature marrows, also known as summer squashes from the Cucurbita pepo family. Most have dark green, shiny skins but they can also be yellow or lime green, depending on the variety sown. The flowers are edible and can be thrown on top of a salad, soup or shredded into corn fritters. In a culinary context, courgettes are described as a vegetable but botanically speaking they are fruits, a type of botanical berry, being the swollen ovary of a courgette flower. Courgettes are known as zucchini in the US, Australia and Germany. ‘Courgette’ is a French loan word commonly used in Belgium, UK, Ireland, New Zealand, the Netherlands and South Africa. A huge courgette is called a marrow in the UK and small harvested courgettes are referred to as ‘baby marrows’ in South Africa.
The courgettes ancestors originated from the Americas, perhaps Mexico, about 7000 years ago. Archaeologists traced the development of this fruit from the giant pumpkin between 7000 to 5500 BCE. It is also believed to have been a part of the ancient pre-Columbian food trio: beans, maize and squat – the ‘Three Sisters’. It is believed that it was brought to Europe by Christopher Columbus about 500 years ago. The variety of squash that became the courgette we know today was developed in Italy during perhaps the 19th century near Milan (early varieties included the names of nearby cities in their titles). The first records of zucchini in the United States date to the early 1920s. It was brought over by Italian immigrants and probably first cultivated in California. A 1928 report on vegetables grown in New York State treats ‘Zucchini’ as one among 60 cultivated varieties of cucurbits. Today, the courgette is a recognisable crop across the world, appearing in salads, pasta dishes, a secret ingredient for cakes and bread and plenty more.
Courgettes are the perfect summer crop to feed a hungry family. The fruit grows quickly and abundantly. You can harvest them as babies or leave them to make huge marrows (I prefer to harvest them small as they are less tough and the encourages production and reduces the risk of rotting). It is very trendy to pick them with the flowers still intact and to eat those too. I must admit, I have not tried that. Apparently they have a peppery taste.
Last year I grew ‘Best of British’. It was a lovely dark green, small and delicate, produced well and most importantly was delicious. This year I have tried out ‘Defender’, highly recommended in the gardening world, mostly because I did struggle with powdery mildew towards the end of the harvest season and it ruined the last of them. So far ‘Defender’ has lived up to all expectations. It has produced very well, even better than last year’s harvest, and I have not had a bitter skin yet. They are delicious and look gorgeous and I am very proud of them, even if I have a few too many to stand.
To get ahead of the season, I like to start my courgettes off under cover in March in tall yoghurt pots filled with potting compost indoors in a warm bedroom (averaging around 20C). Plant the seed 1.5cm (1/2 inch) in the compost. Keep it well watered and when germination begins, make sure it gets plenty of light during the day. Once the third leaves have grown, I move them onto a slightly cooler room to start hardening them off. It is best to wait until the frosts are over before attempting to plant them out. It was very difficult for me this year as the courgettes were desperate to go in the ground and we were still getting frost attacks in May. I therefore started to plant them out under double fleece. Even if you plant them out and there are no more frosts, I would still recommend investing in some fleece to use as shade from the sun and protection from the wind – courgette plants may thrive later on but they are delicate to change like all cucurbits. Plant them out about 60cm apart in soil that has been fed with Blood, Fish and Bone, well-rotted manure and mulch. Courgettes are very hungry plants. I update my feeding and mulch every couple of weeks if I can manage it to give them a boost. A fortnightly comfrey feed is the alternative. Make sure they are well-watered to prevent a bitter skin developing on the fruit but try not to soak the leaves, go straight for the stem and roots. Sprinkling the leaves with water increases the likelihood of powdery mildew. Courgettes can be harvested from perhaps late June or early July through to October if you keep picking, survive disease and the frosts keep away. As far as storing is concerned, unfortunately if you have a glut you can’t freeze them due to the high water content. Giving excess away and looking out for recipes that use a lot of courgettes in them is your only saviour, as well as perhaps a chutney recipe?
There are not many pests that should attack courgette plants. If you start them off indoors and them protect them when they are first planted out them slugs and snails should be kept off them – they will not be interested in them or the fruit once they have grown to a good, large size. The most problematic thing with courgettes is the variety of viruses and mildews that can strike them, the same as any cucurbit plant. My gran’s courgettes always seem to get Cucumber Mosaic Virus which is pretty nasty. It is a common plant virus that causes a wide range of symptoms, especially yellow mottling, distortion and stunting. Apart from cucumbers and other cucurbits, it also attacks spinach, lettuce and celery and many flowers, especially lilies, delphiniums, primulas and daphnes. You may see the following symptoms: yellowish patches or green and yellow mottling on leaves, leaves curl downwards and are distorted and reduced in size, plants become stunted due to a shortening of the internodes (lengths of stem between leaves), there is a reduction in yields and distorted fruit and in the flowers white streaks known as ‘breaks’ appear.
Ours got powdery mildew last year which I understand is difficult to avoid completely. Just like potatoes and blight, it always seems to come around, you just want to put it off for as long as possible. Powdery mildew is a common disease of cucurbits under field and greenhouse conditions in most areas of the world. Although all cucurbits are susceptible, symptoms are less common on cucumber and melon because many commercial cultivars have resistance. Premature senescence of infected leaves can result in reduced quality because fruit become sunburnt or ripen prematurely or incompletely. White, powdery fungal growth develops on both leaf surfaces, petioles, and stems. This growth is primarily asexual spores called conidia that usually develops first on crown leaves, on shaded lower leaves and on leaf under surfaces. Yellow spots may form on upper leaf surfaces opposite powdery mildew colonies. The infected leaves usually wither and die and the fruit itself will eventually become deformed or production will cease completely.
Courgettes contain significant levels of potassium that control blood pressure and vitamin C to support the immune system. They are also rich in vitamin A and moderate levels of B vitamins and minerals, such as iron, zinc, magnesium and phosphorous. Courgette skins are high in soluble fibre. They are rich in poly-phenolic antioxidants like carotenes, lutein and zea-xanthin, reducing oxygen-derived free radicals.
You can boil, roast, grill, grate, turn into ‘courgettie’ instead of ‘spaghetti’ and use in breads and cakes as it has little flavour and a great texture for blending unnoticeably into dishes. I think that it goes marvellously boiled or grilled with cheddar or brie cheese, something strong and salty. I also think it pairs well with rice and potato dishes. It is also a great accompaniment to a curry with spicy flavours. I offer you a Dahl recipe to use at home. My mum first made it for me a couple of years ago because we had been given some by a neighbour that needed using up. I remembered it this week and tried it out again and loved it. It made my usual Dahl taste sweeter and lighter. When my mum first made it, she grated the vegetables by hand. This time I used my fancy food processor that sped things up but use whatever appliances you like. It is nice and simple and can be served alongside other curries, with just rice, naan, chapatis or on its own. See: cucumber raita with matte paneer curry (Cucumbers) and Curried Potatoes and Bread maker Naan Bread.
Red Lentil, Courgette and Carrot Dahl
– 1 large onion, finely sliced – Ghee or oil, for frying – 1 tbsp mustard seeds – 1 tbsp nigella seeds – 1/2 tbsp fenegreek seeds – 1 handful curry leaves (optional) – 1 tsp cumin – 1 tsp ground coriander – 1 tsp ground turmeric – 1 1/4 tsp ground garam masala – 4 medium sized courgettes, finely grated – 4 medium sized carrots, finely grated – 2 large garlic cloves, diced – 250g Red Split lentils – About 400 ml boiling water from the kettle – Rice, chapatti, popadom, naan, or a mixture, to serve (optional) – Freshly cut coriander and parsley, to serve (optional)
Oil a large frying pan. Peel and slice the onion into thin strips and place in the pan. Heat for a few minutes until the onion turns golden brown before turning down to simmer. Add the mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fenegreek seeds and curry leaves, stirring in the ingredients to combine. Allow the contents of the pan to simmer for a few minutes to absorb the flavours.
Add the other spices: cumin, ground coriander, turmeric and garam masala.
Grate or chop in a food processor the carrots and courgettes. Stir them into the mixture and turn the heat up to a medium heat, continuing to stir now and then until the courgettes are carrots have been slightly cooked. Add the diced garlic clove, stir in.
Meanwhile, boil a kettle of water, about 400 ml. Put the red lentils into a glass (or other microwaveable) dish, large enough to hold all of the contents of the Dahl. Scrape the contents of the frying pan into the dish along with the lentils, followed by the boiling water, enough so that it covers all of the ingredients. Stir to combine.
Place a lid or glass plate over the top of the Dahl and microwave for 10 minutes before checking and stirring. If the lentils are starting to absorb the water, place back int the microwave for another 5 minutes and check again. If it has dried up, add more boiling water and return to the microwave for another five minutes. Continue to heat in the microwave until the water has been absorbed by the lentils but the mixture is not dry and ‘flaky’ looking.
Serve hot on its own or with rice, an Indian bread, chutneys and freshly picked herbs from your garden, like parsley or coriander, torn and sprinkled over the top and other types of curries. Any left overs can be kept in a container in the fridge and eaten within 3 days or frozen.