March – sowing and growing

There are too many plants that can be started off indoors/outdoors in March to name! But here are a few to get you started…

IMG_2746

IMG_1330

Carrots – Carrots – sown one trench outside under fleece

Spinach – Salad – Spinach – planted out ‘Turaco’ spinach sown last autumn in a cold frame with fleece and started off indoors ‘Barbados’ and ‘Emelia’, onto ‘Samish’ soon…

Lettuce- Salad – Lettuce – planted out lettuce sown last winter in the cold frame with the spinach and sown some seeds indoors

Radishes – Salad – Radish – sown outdoors under fleece between other crops

Celery – Celery – batch sown indoors

Celeriac – Celeriac – ”

Courgettes – Courgettes – sown indoors

Squashes – have yet to plant ‘Honey Bear’ and ‘Sunburst’

Quinoa – Quinoa – batch sown indoors

Chickpeas – Sown indoors, first time trying them this year!

Broad beans – Broad Beans – ready to plant out under fleece

Peas – started off indoors but can be sown directly now – post hopefully coming soon…

Okra – Okra – couple damped off so planted some more indoors

Rocket – Salad – Rocket – sown indoors, not doing so well…

Watercress – sown indoors

Herbs – sown the parsley and coriander so far

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!

Leeks – Leeks – indoors

Spring Onions – indoors

Beetroot – indoors, on my list

Cabbages – Cabbages – ‘Red Rodeo’, ‘Advantage’, ‘Caserta’ – sown indoors

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale – Brussels Sprouts – quickly sow before it gets too late

Kale – The last of the Kale

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!

IMG_2324

FLOWERS TO SOW INDOORS:

French Marigolds

Cosmos

Viola

Lavender

Geraniums

Calendulas

Lupins

Sweet Peas – they are ready to plant out under cover

There are BILLIONS more… 

 

Storing your pickings

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 leavesLettuce, 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).

IMG_2711.JPG
Pod and eat peas and broad beans boiled straight away or freeze after boiling and cooling briefly

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.

IMG_1595.JPG
Dry onions out on newspaper before hanging up

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.

IMG_1286.JPG
Courgettes are best eaten straight away or stored in a fridge – do not freeze them or cucumbers (below)

IMG_1273.JPG

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).

IMG_2706.JPG
Romanesco cauliflower prepared for boiling

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.

 

That is it for now. More coming soon…

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.

IMG_2237.jpg

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.

IMG_2235.jpg

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.

IMG_2303.JPG