Getting to know you

This is the first year I’ve grown turnips.

At first glance they seem rather unglamorous.

But I’ve been making an effort to get to know them.

That’s still an ongoing process but I’m very pleased with the initial results.

The first attempt at a quick turnip pickle was a bit of a disaster – too much salt.

But second time around it worked a treat – the underlying sweetness of the turnip coming to the fore while retaining the bite.

I got the idea from “Japanese Farm Food” by Nancy Singleton Hachisu.

You could use purple topped Milano turnips – as I did. Or daikon radish aka mooli would work equally well. My turnips are still quite small – slightly larger than a golf ball.

The recipe calls for 675g of the topped and tailed vegetable sliced into 3mm rounds or half moons – I used less – but I’ve left the quantities as per the original recipe except for the salt which originally called for 27g!

Save a couple of handfuls of the young greener shoots and leaves in the middle and slice them roughly.

Sprinkle on a little salt (the recipe was too salty for me). I literally took several pinches and then rubbed it into the turnip greens and slices.

Then zest a lemon and slice it into very thin strips. Do the same to some peeled ginger (about a teaspoons worth). Add it to the turnip along with two small dried or fresh chillies.

Mix and leave for ten minutes. Eat alongside your main meal. It keeps well in the fridge for up to a week.

Kabu no shiozuke

To grow turnips, I sow four or five seeds per module and then transplant outside into a vegetable bed that’s been mulched well with about an inch of compost.

They do well in a clump of four or five – a bit like radish and beetroot which I grow the same way.

They’re a good early catch crop – and I may sow some for an autumn harvest or try daikon instead – sowing after the longest day.

When I harvest I take the biggest of the clump near the stem and twist and pull gently – holding the remainder in place with my other hand. They will carry on growing – repeat until you’ve used them all or they’ve gone to seed!

Pigeons like the young tops but I didn’t mind that too much so didn’t bother protecting them.

The greens are nice (as are radish) to eat. They’re slightly peppery and go well in a stir fry or blanched and then cooked with chilli and garlic.

I used this superb recipe.

 

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Spring Clean

What a fantastic day!

Blue skies. Quiet neighbours. Time to spread compost made this winter on the vegetable beds and remake the heap for more.

Also a brilliant opportunity to tidy up.

We removed the fleece for the day and found claytonia/miners lettuce, chinese mustard leaves, lettuce, red chicory, and rather small chard. All the leaves are really taking off with the warm weather.

The self sown forget-me-nots have not flowered yet – perfect time to hoe them out and include them on the new heap along with duckweed from the pond and other unwanteds like dead nettle and wild mustards and a couple of thistles and groundsel.

It was hard physical work emptying the compost heap and remaking it – layering the weeds with half made compost from my two black dalek bins.

 

This was moved to the main heap

 

 

There were lots of tiger worms in evidence – a good sign.

The heap has also had some wood ash and urine sprinkled through it as well as half rotted leaves.

Some of that was very wet and slimy so I included a few layers of ripped up cardboard and old newspaper.

 

 

 

A bit further down in the garden towards the orchard and other compost heaps there are plenty of good things to eat.

This took about two or three weeks to force. I’ll pick it tomorrow to stew and eat fresh. Some of the other crowns are still almost dormant – but when they get going I’ll make rhubarb and lemon chutney.

These garlic chive seed heads should naturally self sow and will come back elsewhere nearby – you can also propagate clumps by division.

The ruby chard is still glowing along along with nearby clumps of snowdrops that light up this shady area of the garden.

I harvested the purple sprouting broccoli and some winter salad leaves – I shared some with Rebekah who helped me this morning.

I was pleasantly exhausted after five hours in the garden – so much so I had a cheeky pint of homemade cider to refresh myself when I’d finished!

Seeds update:

I’ll do a proper post next time – but so far radish in modules are germinating well.

Calabrese also reaching for the light and the first Greyhound Cabbage is through.

But no sign of the spinach.

The lettuce looks as if it’s “damping off” – I think I overwatered it and it’s going mouldy on the surface of the compost. I might have to sow some more!

You win some – you lose some!

Mustard Leaves – good stir fried or pickled in salty brine

 

 

 

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Sowing seed

February always surprises me – it’s technically still winter but light levels have increased a lot since the winter solstice.

Sunrise is at 7 am and and it doesn’t get dark until five in the afternoon.

And the temperatures at the moment are double the average – up to 16 celsius!

Now is the time to start sowing seeds.

French Breakfast Radish seed has been multi sown four or five to a module

I’ve multi-sowed beetroot, radish, spinach, onion (varieties are Bedfordshire Champion and Kyoto Market Garden).

Broad beans have been sown one seed per module.

All will then be planted out in a few weeks time.

The temperatures can fluctuate so wildly at this time of year that sowing direct is asking for trouble if we get hit by bad weather like last year’s Beast from the East.

Plants sown under cover first can also resist slugs and woodlice better as bigger plants – seedlings are much more vulnerable.

Three different kinds of lettuce surface sown on compost – they need lots of light so only cover with a little compost – if at all.

Lettuce has been sowed on damp compost in clumps which I will then prick out individually before planting out under fleece as single plants.

It’ll be interesting to see if some old lettuce seed I picked up from the Norwich Seed Swap last Sunday germinates.

I’ve sowed a mixture of begged, borrowed and saved seeds this year.

The varieties are bronze arrowhead lettuce, oak leaf, and red salad bowl.  I’ll sow Brun d’hiver later in the year.

One thing I won’t be doing is switching on the heating in the glasshouse if it does turn cold – last year we got hit by an extremely high electricity bill when I did that!

I have also sown early Greyhound cabbage and calabrese seeds I picked up at the swap – like the lettuce they’ve just been sowed randomly into a tray of compost and will be pricked out after they show the first true pair of leaves as single plants.

Coriander’s also gone in.

Still got to get Purple Milano turnips and kohlrabi underway.

The persimmon mash is bubbling away and is smelling more and more like vinegar.

I keep it covered with a tightly drawn muslin and an old tea towel and stir it with a big clean metal spoon every day.

Quinoa, avocado, blueberry, radish and rocket dressed with cider vinegar, salt and olive oil

I made a lovely salad last week and shock horror it was mostly veg I bought at Follands organic stall on Norwich market – where I also obtained my persimmons.

I just fancied a change.

But it has given me the idea to buy a couple of blueberry bushes.

Soon I maybe able to grow all the ingredients next year except for, maybe, the avocado.

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A New No Dig Bed

We had a very productive day on Saturday making a new “no dig” bed with old flattened out bike boxes covered with an inch or two (up to 5cm) very rough homemade compost.

It’s where the old asparagus bed was and the ground has been “rested” for about 3 years.

I’m going to put a new strawberry bed on part of it.

I was lucky to have help from Rebekah for the first part of the day.

We were fortunate the weather had warmed up again after a few days of hard frosts.

I pegged out one of my late father’s old lines and neatened the edges where the grass had started encroaching into the veg garden.

It was just the right length and I had visions of him using it years ago when he first laid it out.

I used a semi circular edger and composted the grass/weeds that I gathered.

The spade was not for digging – honest! It just helped me to edge the grass sward. In the foreground to the right you can see parsley which is self seeding and germinating like mad

I also laid compost around the rhubarb and the rest of the fruit bushes that were missed out last year when I ran out of homemade mulch.

I mixed in some potash from the wood ash from our fireplace to lay around the redcurrants – apparently they like it!

As do overwintering onions which will have to wait their turn until I’ve had a few more fires.

I have inverted an old metal dustbin over one of the rhubarb crowns to force a few pale pink spears for an earlier harvest like I did last year.

Rhubarb
Last year’s champagne pink rhubarb which was forced. Once the bin is removed it quickly reverts to a dark green and red. The hazel behind it has been coppiced and the soil around it has been covered in cardboard to stop weeds and mulched with compost

I’m also weeding the gravel path with a flat shovel/spade – using it almost like a hoe to sever the weeds off at the roots. But I’ll have to be careful to avoid the beautiful clumps of chives which thrive in the edges next to the rhubarb. They spring back year after year then die back to nothing in winter.

This what the chives will be like in three months time – just about to break into spiky round purple flowers

The brick edging is also getting the same treatment – it should look very smart in a couple of weeks time.

I guess you could say this time of year is about preparation – my Dad always said a garden’s made in winter!

This includes going through old seeds, discarding some and keeping others.

I have ordered some new ones including two varieties of beans, “Greek Gigantes” and “Czar”. The former is for drying and keeping as a giant butter bean and the latter can be eaten as a runner bean or also dried for storage for winter soups and stews.

I’m going for celeriac this year and a new variety of beetroot, “Sanguina”.

I would like to plant a persimmon tree but I’m not sure which variety yet.

One of the enduring images I’ve retained of the late autumn landscape in Japan is the orange globes hanging on the bare branches of a tree that had shed its leaves — against a piercing blue sky.

Recently I bought some seed potatoes “Sarpo Mira” – a blight resistant variety from a lovely old fashioned ironmongers and DIY shop in Stalham. I might also plant red skinned “Mozart” as they were so good last year. They will need chitting on a windowsill before planting in April.

I’m planning go to the Norwich Seed Swap in a couple or three weeks time which yielded some great finds last year.

There’s a bit more compost to come  – this is maturing under the makeshift cardboard cover and should be ready in a month or so

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Spaghetti with chard

Ruby chard yields great harvests throughout most of the year – especially now when it’s still mild and hasn’t been clobbered by frost.

It’s nice washed and wilted with either garlic sliced and softly sauteed in olive oil or sultanas or raisins and toasted pine nuts.

I’m also picking sprouting white and purple broccoli, bulb fennel, red cabbage, kale, parsley, chrysanthemum greens and wonderful salad leaves.

The overwintering garlic and onions, planted in autumn, seem to be doing well – despite some of the new shoots being nibbled by something! They’ll be ready later in the year in early to mid summer.

I’ll also sow some Bedfordshire Champion onion seed under cover next month to supplement these.

They and some shallot sets will be planted out in spring.

In other allium news – the leeks are almost all gone.

I’ve been madly cooking with them over the past month before they go to seed or succumb to rust. Look back at my previous recent posts to find the original recipes for my leek, chestnut and apple pie and the leek, lemon and walnut pilaf.

I’ve made some good leek and potato soups. One I tried to jazz up with white wine and lemon juice – it was OK but I realised simple is best.

This one was made on a rocket stove at the allotment and took more than 2 hours to come to the boil!

It was comprised of a couple of finely chopped shallots, a medium onion also chopped, and about three large leeks well washed and sliced or chopped – greens included.

I threw in a couple of cloves of crushed garlic and about two large peeled potatoes diced maybe 1.5cm or half and inch square.

And covered that with veg stock.

I cooked it for twenty minutes or half and hour.

Then I blended half of it smooth and left the rest chunky. I think a good handful of finely minced parsley lifts the whole thing.

Add a dash of soya cream or milk  just before serving if you like.

Cider update

Well I’m almost ready to bottle – I’m hoping to inveigle friends into helping me.

Tony Davey – a good friend of mine gave me a dozen of his one and a half litre Grolsch bottles which he described as ‘gold dust’.

He also passed on some of his old pressure barrels to make wine.

Thanks Tony!

I should be able to bottle half my 25 litres of cider in these 1500ml bottles

The three barrels he’s given me will allow a little experimental wine making – most likely with the glut of currants and gooseberries that are in the freezer at the moment!

These are some of his demi johns in his amazing wine cellar!

Back to the garden and you can see the chard’s a more intense ruby red than ever.

I’ve given bags of it away to friends.

I learnt a couple of new ways to cook it from Steve who came to stay over New Year.

He made a wonderful tomato, chard, olive and caper pasta sauce with garlic and onion and a slug of red wine.

It was so tasty I had thirds.

The other recipe was a chard and ‘cream’  sauce with nutmeg – also for pasta.

You need to wash the chard well (at least three times in my opinion).

Separate the leaves from the stems and roll them up and slice into thin ribbons.

You fry the chopped stems and onion first in olive oil for about 10 minutes and then add the chard leaf ribbons – stir frying with two spatulas to keep it all in a large frying pan.

Then add and stir in soya cream (I use Provamel) and nutmeg and a little vegetable bouillon  and cook for a further couple of minutes – delicious.

The key is not to swamp the spaghetti.

Spaghetti with chard
Servings: 4
Author: Cath
Ingredients
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 400 g Swiss Chard or Ruby Chard stalks and leaves included
  • 250 ml soya cream or oat cream
  • 1/2 tsp vegetable bouillon powder
  • 1 level tsp ground nutmeg
Instructions
  1. Wash the chard well and separate the main bits of the stalks from the leaves. Cut off any ragged untidy ends of the stalk too.

  2. Chop the stalks into small dice the same size as or slightly larger than your chopped onion (no bigger than your finger nail) 

  3. Heat the oil in a large frying pan and saute the onion and chard stalks over a medium heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure they don't brown.

  4. Then add the chard leaves which you've stacked, rolled and sliced into fine ribbons and cook for another five minutes - keep the leaves moving until they wilt down.

  5. Add cream and the bouillon and the nutmeg and cook gently for another five minutes until the cream has started to thicken and is well incorporated into the chard and onion. Season with salt and black pepper to taste.

  6. Serve with spaghetti or tagliatelle ( about 370 g dry weight for 4 people). Don't be tempted to swamp the pasta just a couple or 3 tablespoons of the sauce per person should do.

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