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…

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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!

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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… 

 

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February Sowings

List of edibles you could start sowing indoors in February:

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Cucumbers: Passandra, Marketmore, Crystal Lemon.  For more information on planting cucumbers, visit my cucumber page: Cucumbers

Calabrese Broccoli – Ironman F1 – Calabrese Broccoli

Cauliflower – All Year Round

Spinach – Emilia and Barbados Salad – Spinach

Peppers – Californian Wonder

Aubergine – Black Beauty Aubergine

Rocket – Salad – Rocket

Onions – bulbs (outdoors under cover) and seeds

Shallots – seeds

Brussels Sprouts and Brukale – Maximus and Petite Posy Brussels Sprouts

Lettuce Salad – Lettuce

Tomatoes – Shirley, Gardner’s Delight, Sungold, Losetto…

Radishes – Salad – Radish

First early potatoes (outdoors under cover)- e.g. Swift, Red Duke of York, Epicure, Rocket The MIGHTY Potato

Garlic (outdoors) Garlic

Herbs indoors

Beetroot – Bolthardy

Spring Onions

Cabbages – Caserta

Oriental greens – e.g. komatsuna, pak choi, mizuna, mitzuna)

Okra

Cape Gooseberries

Rhubarb (forcing time) Rhubarb

Broadbeans – Masterpiece Green Long Pod, Aquadulce Broad Beans

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I’m bound to have missed lots – anyone got any ideas to share??

 

Aubergine

January is the month to keenly get ahead and start sowing your aubergine seeds indoors!

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Aubergine (Eggplant, American and Australian or brinjal, Asian and African), Solanum melongena, is a member of the nightshade family, grown for its edible fruit. A Solanum, it is related to the tomato, pepper and potato. Like its cousin, the Tomato, the Aubergine’s popularity was stifled in Europe and North America until relatively recent years due to its association to nightshade. Where as the Tomato was believed to be poisonous, the Aubergine was believed by superstitious Europeans to induce insanity and was unaffectionately known as the “Mad Apple” until only a few centuries ago.

It is a delicate, tropical plant that is only half-hardy – meaning it stays put indoors in rainy England. The stem is often spiny, the flower whitens to a pretty light purple. Botanically classified as a berry, the fruit contains numerous small, soft seeds that, though edible, taste bitter because they contain nicotinoid alkaloids like the related tobacco.

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Aubergines have been cultivated in southern and eastern Asia since prehistory. The Aubergine’s scientific name “Melongena” is an ancient name for Aubergine in Sanskrit. About 500 B.C. Aubergine spread into neighbouring China and became a culinary favourite to generations of Chinese emperors. The Chinese saw the Aubergine differently than the Indians did and soon developed their own unique varieties. In particular, they preferred smaller fruited Aubergine, as well as differing shapes and colours. The first known written record of the plant is found in Qimin Yaoshu, an ancient Chinese agricultural treatise completed in 544.

From India and Pakistan, the Aubergine soon spread West into the Middle East and the far west as Egypt and northward into Turkey. The Turks alone are believed to have over 1000 native recipes calling for the use of Aubergine in many different ways. The Moors introduced the Aubergine to Spain were it received its Catalonian name “Alberginia”. The numerous Arabic and North African names for it, along with the lack of the ancient Greek and Roman names, indicate it was introduced throughout the Mediterranean area by Arabs in the early Middle Ages. The vegetable soon spread throughout Europe. The 16th century Spaniards had great respect for the Aubergine and believed its fruit to be a powerful aphrodisiac, an “Apple of Love”. The Italians too, held the Aubergine in very regard and called them “Melanzana”. The English were responsible for coining the name “Eggplant” in regards to a variety with egg shaped, white fruit that they became familiar with, yet strangely, they refer to them today by the French name of Aubergine, which is a corruption of the Catalonian name “Alberginia”. A book on agriculture published in 12th century Arabic Spain described how to grow aubergines. There are records from later medieval Catalan and Spanish. The aubergine is unrecorded in England until the 16th century.

Because of the plant’s relationship with other nightshades, the fruit was at one time believed to be extremely poisonous. The flowers and leaves can be poisonous if consumed in large quantities. It has a special place in folklore. In 13th century Italian traditional folklore, the Aubergine can cause insanity. In 19th century Egypt it was said that insanity was “more common and more violent” when the Aubergine is in season during the summer months.

In 2013, global production of Aubergines was 49.4 million tonnes. More than 1,600,000 hectares (4,000,000 acres) are devoted to the cultivation of Aubergines in the world. 57% of output comes from China alone, followed by India, Iran, Egypt and Turkey as the following top producers.

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Aubergines require a little attention when grown at home. They like sun and are easily knocked off their steady course to maturity so they should be grown under cover.

I start mine off under cover in January otherwise they never seem to grow/develop fruit during the year. February-March is kind of the final deadline.  I start them off in compost in old tall yoghurt containers with holes punctured in the bottom to release water. I place them in a seed tray in the warmest room in our house (my dad’s bedroom is my propagator) and when they have germinated, I put them on the windowsill to get lots lot light during the day before putting them on the floor by the radiator again at night to keep them warm. Once they are big enough and the weather has improved, I pot them on in very large pots of compost in our greenhouse. As the plant grows, it must be supported by sturdy canes. Fortnightly comfrey or seaweed feeds will help to encourage the flowers to fruit. Mr Fothergills recommends spraying the flowers to encourage fruit to set. Be careful- those pretty purple petals are easily damaged.

I have tried growing ‘Black Beauty’, a popular breed. I was given some long, thin, purple-marbled styled ones (that I don’t know the name of) by a friend to grow last year. They unfortunately were not very delicious – they just would not ripen or swell properly. Other recommendations by research suggests: Moneymaker, Rosa Bianca and Slim Jim (especially if you live in the chillier North).

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You will hopefully be able to harvest from August-October. Don’t wait for the aubergines to reach supermarket size, just like courgettes or cucumbers. Snip them off whenever they reach 8cm in length and up to 18cm or so. Mark Diacono, Otters Farm, suggests salting aubergine slices for half an hour, rinsing them, patting them dry, before using as this can get rid of bitterness.

It will mostly be the weather/growing conditions that injure your crop. Otherwise known pests are aphids and red spider mites. Companion planting with basil is one human approach or parasitic controls.

Aubergines are an excellent source of dietary fibre. They are also a good source of vitamins B1, B6 and potassium. It is high in minerals copper, magnesium and manganese. Aubergines are rich in antioxidants, specifically nasunin found in aubergine skin – which gives it its purple colour. A potent antioxidant and free radical scavenger, nasunin has been found to protect the lipids (fats) in brain cell membranes. Cell membranes are almost entirely composed of lipids and are responsible for protecting the cell and helping it to function. The lipid layer is crucial for letting nutrients in, wastes out and receiving instructions from messenger molecules that tell the cell what to do. Research indicates that phenolic-enriched extracts of Aubergines may help in controlling glucose absorption, beneficial for managing type 2 diabetes and reducing associated high blood pressure (hypertension). Aubergines may also help to lower LDL cholesterol levels, likely to due to nasunin and other phytochemical in the fruit.

Aubergines come in a wide array of shapes, sizes and colours. The varieties range from dark purple to pale mauve and from yellow to white. The longer purple variety is the most commonly eaten. Aubergines have a very neutral taste, which allows them to be combined with many other ingredients. They are especially good when prepared with garlic (think Baba Ganoush dip) and herbs such as marjoram and basil.

A fresh aubergine is firm and has a smooth, very glossy, dark purple skin and white, spongy flesh. A ripe aubergine has a matte gloss and yields slightly under finger pressure. Its weight must be in proportion to its size: excessively light aubergines can be limp and dehydrated.

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Aubergine is used in plenty of cuisines worldwide. They are curried in India; they are also roasted, skinned, mashed, mixed with onions, tomatoes and spices and then slow cooked gives the South Asian dish gojju. Another version of the dish, begun-pora (charred or burnt), is very popular in Bangladesh where the pulp of the vegetable is mixed with raw chopped shallot, green chilies, salt, fresh coriander and mustard oil. Sometimes fried tomatoes and deep-fried potatoes are also added, creating a dish called begun bhorta. In a dish called bharli vangi, brinjal is stuffed with ground coconut, peanuts and masala and then cooked in oil. Aubergines are also deep fried as in the Italian parmigiana di melanzane, the Turkish karniyarik of the Turkish and Greek moussaka (yum).  It can be sliced and deep fried, then served with plain yoghurt (optionally topped with a tomato and garlic sauce), such as in the Turkish patlıcan kızartması (meaning fried aubergines), or without yoghurt, as in patlıcan şakşuka. Perhaps the best-known Turkish aubergine dishes are imam bayildi (vegetarian) and karniyarik (with minced meat). There are PLENTY of recipes from different cuisines worldwide to choose from, take a look on they internet to be inspired! One of my favourites of all time is the dip baba ganoush: roasted aubergine, blended in a food processor along with tahini paste, lemon juice, diced raw garlic, salt and pepper and served with raw parsley sprinkled on top, a mixture of your favourite salad leaves and Manneesh (sesame and thyme coated flatbread) for dipping – delicious with homegrown boiled potatoes or rice too. It is like another version of humous (which we all know I’m a fan of…).

Aubergines are also stewed in the classic French Ratatouille and here I offer my recipe that I used to cook the (few) Aubergine I managed to grow/harvest 2016 season. If you are lucky, you will be able to make the entire dish using homegrown produce!

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Ratatouille 

(Serves 2)

  • Olive oil, for frying in
  • 1/2 – 1 onion, sliced
  • 1 aubergine, sliced into small chunks
  • 1 courgette, sliced into discs
  • 1 red pepper, sliced into small chunks
  • 1-2 garlic cloves, diced
  • 200-400g fresh tomatoes, sliced in half
  • Salt and pepper, for seasoning
  1. Heat the oil in a large pan. Fry the sliced onion and aubergine, turning it down to simmer.
  2. Add the sliced courgette and pepper. Add the diced garlic and the tomatoes, stirring to combine.
  3. Leave to simmer for at least 15 minutes – 30 minutes, the longer the better, stirring now and then.
  4. Once the vegetables are tender and the tomatoes have broken down, releasing their juices to become a sauce, add salt and pepper for seasoning and remove from the heat and serve hot in dishes.

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Hungry Gap

What to think of growing for next winter’s hungry gap?

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Kale

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!

The last of the Kale

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Cabbage

Kept under only insect netting, cabbages can be grown for an early spring crop or throughout the autumnal and winter months for a warming cooked green due to their hardiness.

Cabbages

Spanish Tree Cabbage

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.

Swiss Chard

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.

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Potatoes 

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.

The MIGHTY Potato

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Swede

Swedes can be left in the ground, like potatoes, all winter long. You don’t need to fleece them but can if you like. They will be exhausted by mid-spring so aim to pull them all up then.

Turnips

Same as swedes.

Beetroot

Cover your beetroot with fleece and they will stay in the ground throughout the winter.

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Carrots

Again, keep covered with fleece and dig them up throughout the winter months. The green tops will die back but the roots themselves will stay fresh in the ground.

Carrots

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Brussels Sprouts and Brukale

These need a little frost to keep them tender. They should be pickable around Christmas time and thoughout the winter months. Boil or steam.

Brukale is a cross between a Brussels Sprout and Kale – I personally think it is even more delicious than either!

Brussels Sprouts

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Leeks

Will last longer than onions in the ground that will rot when the frost strikes.

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Celeriac 

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.

Watercress

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.

Rocket

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.

Micro-Greens

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’? 

 

Broad Beans

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Broad beans this year, 2016

Broad beans or Vicia faba, is a species of flowering plant in the vetch and pea family, Fabacea.

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It is considered that broad beans were cultivated in the Middle East for 8,000 years before spreading to Western Europe, along with the garden pea, lentil and chickpea. The earliest archeological findings of broad bean remains are from the Neolithic period (6800BC-6500BC) from Israel. After 3000BC, numerous archeological remains can be found in the Mediterranean and central Europe.

Broad beans were cultivated by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans. In Egypt, broad beans were considered as the food for poor man and shunned unfashionable by the upper classes. In ancient Rome, broad beans were used in funeral rites and Pythagoras forbade people to eat them, believing them to contain the souls of the dead. In ancient Greece, initiates of the Elusinian mysteries (cult initiations) would drink kykeon and visit the home of Kyamites, the Greek demigod of broad beans. In Italy, broad beans are traditionally sown on 2nd November, All Souls Day. Small cakes made in the shape of broad beans and are known as ‘fave dei morti’ or ‘beans of the dead’. The story is that Sicily once experienced a failure of all crops other than the beans. These beans kept the population from starvation and the people’s gratitude was given to Saint Joseph. Broad beans subsequently became a traditional feature on Saint Joseph’s Day altars in many Italian communities. Some people carry a broad bean for good luck as they believe that if one carries a broad bean, one will never be without the essentials of life.

Today, broad beans are cultivates in more than fifty different countries, China accounting for the largest fraction of world production. Broad beans are used as a cover crop to prevent erosion in parts of the world because they can overwinter and as a legume they fix nitrogen in the soil.

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Broad beans last year, 2015

Broad beans can be sown straight into the ground in October or November. This is supposed to give one a slightly earlier harvest however, after personal experience I would recommend waiting until the next sowing season, February. Sowing the seeds in autumn produces all sorts of pest and weather related problems – you have to keep them alive over the winter months under fleece or another cover without a pest eating them or the beans rotting off and they produce perhaps a week earlier than the plants sown the following year. I have grown ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ and ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ reliably.

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Baby broad beans, 2015

I grew mine this year by planting them in tall yoghurt pots (the type you buy Yeo Valley yoghurt or something similar), with a hole punched in at the bottom to allow water out, in February. After filling the pots with compost, I sowed one bean per pot, 5cm (2inches) deep and kept them in a warm room until they had germinated. I then put them on a sunny windowsill during the day time and took them down and kept them on the floor and night time when the temperatures dropped. Once they were big enough, I moved them to a cooler room to try and harden them off, making sure they had ample light. Once they were getting too big for their pots, I planted them outside, 23cm (9inches) apart and gave them small sticks for support. These eventually turned into canes and then string to hold them upright. I planted them on in soil that had been prepared with well-rotted manure, Blood, Fish and Bone and mulch. You want to grow the beans in a sunny spot with a rich, fertile soil, manured, and hopefully with protection from the wind. Keep well watered. Pinch out the growing tips after the first flowers have set pods to deter blackfly (aphids) and encourage further pods to set by directing the plant’s energy into the developing pods.

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Broad bean flowers

You should be able to harvest your broad beans from perhaps April, May or June, all the way to September if you stagger the sowings. The pods are ready for harvesting when they are well filled and the seed is still soft. It is recommended that you allow the beans to be around a third of the weight of the unopened pods before picking. You will then need to remove the beans from the pods before cooking. They can be frozen once podded and cooked in containers of plastic bags.

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Harvested broad beans before podding

Unfortunately, like potato blight, powdery mildew and cabbage whites roaming the brassica beds, it is pretty much impossible to prevent aphids from appearing on your broad bean plants. Aphids appear as small, soft-bodied insects on the underside of leaves and the stems of the plant. They are usually green or yellow in colour but may be pink, brown, red, or black depending on species and host plant. If aphid infestation is heavy, it may cause yellow, distorted leaves with spots and stunted shoots. Severe infestations can significantly reduce yields. Look out for ants climbing over them – they are looking for the aphids that secrete honeydew that the ants are detecting that creates mould on the plant. You can spray them chemically if you are into that sort of thing. Picking and squashing small infestations is possible or spraying them off with water. Nettles are supposed to be a sacrificial plant that draws aphids to them and away from the broad beans so leave any that grow nearby. The other brilliant plant to distract those aphids is summer savoury – if you can grow it. I managed to get some to germinate this year but the slugs ate them as soon as they were planted out among the beans. Aphids do have a few predators that can be introduced, such as ladybirds.

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Aphid (blackfly) infestation, 2015

Other than the aphids and usual slugs and snails who will always love a member of the pea family, broad beans can suffer from fungal diseases, such as powdery or downey mildew or root rots. Make sure your plants have good air circulation, so no weeds and lots of space between them, and keep them well watered through dry patches but do your best to not waterlog them, especially during the winter months.

Broad beans are high in protein (26.12g per 100g). They are a rich source of dietary fibre, phosphorous, copper, manganese and folate. They are high in phyto-nutrients such as isoflavone and plant-sterols and contain Levo-dopa, a precursor of neuro-chemicals in the brain such as dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine. They contain good amounts of vitamin B6 and B1, riboflavin and niacin. Accounting for 23% of our daily recommended intake of potassium, broad beans are one of the highest plant sources of this mineral.

To cook broad beans, pod them and place them in a pan of boiling water for a few minutes until just tender. Drain and serve as a side-dish as you would for any pea or bean or use them as the main protein for a meal. I like them with potato or rice. Chefs applaud their companionship with fresh herbs, lemon juice and salty cheeses, like feta or goat’s. River Cottage advertises an interesting houmous recipe as an alternative to chickpeas.

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Podded broad beans and young ones ready for cooking (on board, bowl contains harvested peas)

You can pick the pods when they are very small to begin with – no more than a few centimetres long and boil them in water like you would cook runner beans later on in the year. These go marvellously with some fried onion and tomatoes poured over some spaghetti. Being dull, I do like to eat my podded broad beans boiled and plain but they do go very well with this tomato risotto recipe…

Tomato Risotto with Broad Beans

When making this, I used left over pre-cooked rice we had from the previous night. It meant that the rice was quite soft and gooey and not particularly crisp and fried. Of course, you can cook the rice in the actual dish, just give it at least half an hour.

(Serves 6)

– 1 large onion, finely sliced – Butter, for frying – x 2 400g tinned tomatoes – 2 large garlic cloves, finely diced – 400g brown basmati rice – Dash of soy sauce – Dash of Lee and Perrins – Salt and Pepper – Grated parmesan or cheddar cheese, to serve (optional) – 100g broad beans, podded – Other greens to serve (peas, courgettes, kale etc.), optional

  1. In a large frying pan, melt the butter and add the sliced onion, frying until golden brown. Tip in the tomatoes and add the finely diced garlic, stirring to combine. Turn the heat down to simmer.
  2. Add the rice and stir in, allowing it to soak up the tomato mixture.
  3. Add a dash of soy sauce and Lee and Perrins for extra flavour, followed by a sprinkle of salt and pepper. Stir in.
  4. Leave to simmer for about ten minutes or until you are ready to serve. Give it a final stir – you want the rice to have absorbed most of the liquid and to be well combined with the gloop.
  5. In a small saucepan, bring some water to the boil and add the podded broad beans, turning it down to simmer for a few minutes until the beans are cooked and tender. Tip the cooked broad beans on top of the risotto.
  6. Serve alongside other greens and with a sprinkle of cheese on top, if desired.

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