It would be hard to summarise what we have been up to in the vegetable garden lately, so I took my crappy phone over with me to take some photos to show what we have been up to…
The broadbeans are doing really well. These I sowed as seed last autumn and we have already harvested a large amount, some small pods, some big that have been shelled.
This week we have harvested: broadbeans, parsley, Swiss chard (or perpetual leaf spinach), rocket, lettuce, radishes, cucumber, garlic, tree cabbage and wild strawberries.
After trying sooooo many times to grow spinach and carrots this year, I have started again with fresh seeds – fingers crossed it will work!
I also planted out my pumpkins today, the last crop to go outside. Now I just have to get a serious move on with my sweet potatoes and some of my tomatoes need larger pots too…
Potatoes are looking as lovely as ever. I think I should just stick to potatoes. They seem to be all I can manage!
We have had really bad slug and snail damage this year – even the onions have suffered, which is very unusual. Protection has been put in place to save our babies at the cost of bug life 😦 There are only so many crops you can lose before you have to take action.
Our lovely runner beans are growing every day. The ones in the front row of this picture are the ones that we planted two years ago and left the roots in the ground. We covered them up to protect them from the frost over winter and now they have grown beautifully yet again. There are another two trenches of beans in the background, and another couple in the garden. Got to love beans.
Other than that, it has been weeding and feeding non-stop here. Working on clay soil at another garden has made me realise how hungry our plants must be on sandy soil. Compared to the other garden, ours need constant watering and manuring to keep them fit and strong.
Fenugreek – damped off, need to sow some more indoors
Cucumbers – Cucumbers – sown indoors, doing best at moment, please stay that way!
Tomatoes – germinated very well indoors
Potatoes – time to think about planting them outdoors under a lot of earth and some cover
Turnips – just sown some
Purple Sprouting Broccoli – just sown some (as well as some more Calabrese Broccoli) indoors AND just harvested first batch of last year’s crop the other night to have with some of the last dug up potatoes from last season with baked beans, cheese and frozen homegrown runner beans – yum!
Sweet Corn – on my list but I know from experience that I can still get away with sowing it in May, indoors
Rhubarb – Rhubarb – time to feed and start forcing
Fruit Trees/Bushes – time to feed!
There are bound to be plenty more veggies to sow/plant out as we plough on through the first month of spring. Temperatures are finally warming up but hang onto some fleece – the fruit trees might be lured into a false spring, deadly for blossom and fruit production… Make sure anything you sow outside/ plant out is wrapped up under cover, nice and snuggly. It will be a shock to the system if they are exposed to Britain’s ‘spring time’ too early!
FLOWERS TO SOW INDOORS:
Sweet Peas – they are ready to plant out under cover
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.
It can be a little frustrating to turn your back for a minute and that whole patch of lettuce you had is now bolted.
Bolted is when the plant literally ‘bolts’ upwards, going to seed.
For lettuce, this makes them pretty inedible unless you like a very bitter taste. The problem is when it all happens at once – what do you do with a dozen bolted lettuces? Here are a couple of tips for not letting the greens go to waste.
One option is to compost them. Pull them up and leave them to rot down on your compost heap. Green leaves are well known to rot down well and to make a lovely fertile mush. Use your composted bolted lettuce to feed the ground for your next batch of salad, thereby continuing the circle of life and not wasting anything. Please never feel tempted to bonfire or bin something as innocent as a bolted lettuce, it would be such a waste!
Feed the birds
Not the garden birds but any feathered poultry you, friends, family or a neighbour might have. Unlike us humans, poultry are not too fussy about how bitter their lettuce leaves are. It is very good for them too. A green-based diet does wonderful things to their eggs, making their yolks a rich, yellow colour. My poultry basically rule me – well, I think all my animals believe they are royalty. You should see the way I am summoned by the cats to feed them. Even one of our pigs asks me to hand feed her every night. But the poultry believe it is their right to have boring chicken food first thing and a special snack in the evening. They stand by the fence and wait all afternoon. It has been a lot cheaper and a lot healthier for them, I am sure, to give them the unwanted excess of our garden produce. They love old cabbage or cauliflower leaves, any chickweed weeds growing in the patch and the bolted lettuce. If you don’t have any feathered pets of your own, see if anyone you know does and would appreciate the greens. You never know, you might be able to exchange bolted lettuce for half a dozen eggs every now and then. It is the sweet farm-community-business I think we are missing around here – I will give you something you want that I don’t want, in exchange for what I want that you don’t want.
Treat bolted lettuce like oriental greens that are slightly strong tasting. Add the torn up leaves into any stir fry and add some flavouring of chilli, ginger, soy sauce etc. as you wilt them down.
Try frying the bolted lettuce on its own and serve it as a green side dish, just like some pubs and restaurants serve wilted spinach as an optional side dish instead of salad or chips. Fry them in some butter or oil in a pan and serve alongside any meal that takes your fancy.
I haven’t made this before but I have heard that bolted lettuce tastes fine when it is blended into a soup. Here is a recipe I would use if I wanted to make it as I think it sounds pretty good. It is by Rose Prince from the Telegraph Magazine (search online). Let me know if you ever try it, I would love some feedback:
– 120g salted butter – 1 leek, sliced and then washed – 500ml boiling water – The outer leaves from 2 floppy ‘butterhead’ lettuces, or a romaine lettuce – 150ml Greek yogurt or crème fraîche
To serve: – 12 pink peppercorns – The leaves from 4 sprigs of dill – 2 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil – A little yogurt or crème fraîche
1.Melt the butter over a medium heat in a small pan and add the leek. Cook for two minutes until soft then add the water. Bring to the boil and simmer for four minutes. Add the lettuce leaves and simmer for one minute.
2. Put in a blender and process with the yogurt or crème fraîche until very smooth and velvety – you can pass the soup through a sieve after blending for an extra silky texture, if you wish. Taste and season with salt and a tiny amount of ground white pepper.
3. To make the pepper oil, put the pink peppercorns with the dill in a pestle and mortar. Add the oil and pound until the spice and herbs are bruised, releasing their flavour. Serve the soup either hot, soon after you have made it, or chilled, with the oil dripped on to the surface. Add a little more yogurt or crème fraîche.
Let them flower for the bees
Another option is to leave the bolted lettuces where they are, or some of them, for the bees. They do like bolted crop’s flowers, particularly brassicas I have noticed.
Save for seed
If you don’t leave the gone to seed lettuce for the bees needs, then you can always save it for yourself to take the seeds from your favourite variety. Pick or shake off the ready formed seeds into labelled envelopes and store in a dry place for sowing next season.
So there are plenty of fruits and vegetables in the world and only so many hours to talk about how to store them. Perhaps we should start with what is around right now and work from there?
Salad leaves – Lettuce, rocket, watercress and other cresses, like land cress or crinkle cress, (watercress wilts quickest) and spinach (wilts second quickest) are best eaten straight away once they have been picked and washed. To store it, I put mine in containers in the fridge mostly because I know I will be using it over the next few days. Other people keep theirs in plastic bags or between kitchen roll. If you have left the salad out for too long and it has wilted, leave it in a bowl of cold water to rejuvenate it before refrigerating it immediately. You can freeze green leaves, like spinach or lettuce but they will be incredibly soggy and are only useful for cooking. You might as well stick to fresh leaves rather than freezing them.
Carrots – If you are using them over a couple of days then they can be again kept in the fridge in a plastic bag or a container. Otherwise, the traditional way of storing them is in a cool, dark place in a box filled with dry sand. This can also be done to swedes, celeriac, sweet chestnuts, parsnips, celery and beetroot (celery will keep in the fridge for ages. Swedes and celeriac can be left in the ground for months at a time).
Peas – Best eaten as soon as they have been podded if consumed raw. If they are slightly too old to be delicate enough to eat raw, pop them into a pan of boiling water for 2 minutes, drain and serve. To freeze them, once you have boiled them, place them in freezing ice-cold water for a few minutes until cool. Place them in plastic bags ideal for the freezer, make sure no air has been caught inside. Freeze them and use over the next few months. This is the same technique for runner beans, broad beans or sweetcorn (by the way, sweetcorn loses its taste rapidly after being picked. It needs to be cooked and eaten or frozen asap).
Onions – Once pulled out of the ground, lay them out on newspaper to dry out, turning them over so that both sides are dealt with. Then, suspend them from the ceiling in a cool room or inside hessian/netted sacks. We use our utility room as it is very cool and is not too light.
Garlic – harvest the bulbs whole from the ground and place in a cool, dark place. We keep ours on a low-down shelf in out kitchen. When using, take one segment from the entire garlic bulb at a time, peel and use. From my experience, homegrown garlic tends not to keep as long as shop bought garlic so only pull them up from the ground a little at a time, don’t be tempted to harvest them all at once.
Potatoes – I worked out last year that potatoes can be left in the ground for a long time and you do not need to rush to dig them up unless you have a wire worm or slug problem. Even if they have blight, they will keep better in the ground rather than out of it. However, to store them once they have been harvested, copy the same technique used for drying onions, laying them out on newspaper and turning them over. Then put them inside hessian sacks in a dark place, like a cupboard under the stairs to prevent them from turning green and becoming unusable.
Berries – If you can’t eat them all fresh at once because you have a glut or want to spread them out for later in the year, freeze them in plastic bags or containers once they have been washed and slightly dried. To use them, defrost well and drain the excess liquids that will taste a little to fridgey. Some berries like raspberries, blueberries or grapes should taste fine uncooked once they have been frozen. Other berries, like strawberries, have such a high water content that they will taste strange once defrosted raw. I prefer to use my frozen fruit for jam or inside cooked puddings, like muffins, cakes, stewed fruit dishes, crumbles or pies. I save the fresh fruit for eating uncooked.
Summer squashes: Courgettes – You might have been starting to pick some already. These are best sliced from the plant, washed and cooked straight away but can be stored in the fridge for a couple of days, depending on the variety and the ripeness of the vegetable. Best stored in an air-tight container or a plastic bag. Boil, fry, grill or roast them. Courgettes cannot be frozen because of their high water content, much like strawberries. Winter squashes (e.g. Butternut squashes and pumpkins can be frozen once they have been roasted – Slice, into small pieces, lay out on a baking tray and drizzle generously in olive oil. Roast in a preheated oven of 180C for about 40 minutes or until they are browned. Allow to cool. Place in plastic bags and freeze straight away). Courgettes and cucumbers will only become sloppy mush when frozen so do store them only in the fridge or eat straight away.
Cabbages: Can be stored whole in the fridge for a few days. If the outer leaves start to brown, wilt too much or go mushy, peel them off and discard them and use the rest if unaffected. If cooked, cabbages can last in a container for about three days. This is the same for cauliflower and broccoli (broccoli seems to brown slightly quicker out of the two when stored in the fridge).
Spring Onions – Can be kept in the fridge for a couple of days. If the outside skin starts to dry up or the stem wilts too much, cut and peel the outside coating off and use what is underneath if it is unaffected.
Radishes – Likewise, they can be stored whole in the fridge or cut up and kept raw in a container for about two or three days before they will start to brown and become un-appetising.
Kale – Store in an air-tight container, raw, for up to a week maximum inside the fridge. Once cooked, store in a container for two or three days in the fridge.
Oriental greens – Think Pak Choi, Tatsoi, Komatsuna, Chinese Cabbage, Mibuna, Mitzuna, Mizpoona… Once cooked, they can be stored for about two days. Raw, they might be able to last a little longer in the fridge before they wilt or turn to liquid. Treat them more like spinach, liable to becoming soggy after some time being picked.
Tomatoes – It might be slightly early to write about tomatoes but it is getting close enough. I did not know until last year that tomatoes keep their looks and taste longer if stored outside the fridge. Gardner James Wong (‘Grow for Flavour’) suggests keeping them in a fruit bowl. We tried this last year and it does work well. It also allows some of the slightly under-developed ones to ripen. If freezing the tomatoes, dunk them briefly into a pan of boiling water to shed their skins before placing them into cold water, likewise for the beans and peas. Store in plastic bags in the freezer and use in dishes where you would use cooked/tinned tomatoes or make tomato chutney.
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.
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’
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.
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.
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.
(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
Pre-heat the oven to 190C.
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.
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.
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.
Bake in the oven for about 40 minutes until the Quiche is firm and golden brown. Serve hot or cold with salad.