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…

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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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