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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Sowing parsnips and carrots

Carrots and parsnips are the only veg I sow direct into the ground.

They don’t like having their roots disturbed whereas other seeds can be multi sown and then planted out when they’re bigger giving them a better chance against the birds and slugs.

Always sow parsnip from fresh seed. I picked up some Hollow Crown in the supermarket today – and fingers crossed they do better than last year when they completely failed to germinate.

I don’t have much success with carrots either – again dodgy germination seems to be the problem.

So despite the rain and the drop in temperature I’m giving them both another go, inter-sown between my rows of onions.

I’m hoping the smell of the onions and garlic will deter carrot fly.

Parsnip seed

I created four shallow drills by drawing the sharp end of my dibber across the veg bed, then watered them before sowing half with carrot seeds half with parsnip seed as evenly as I could.

I drew the earth back over them and tamped them down lightly with the back of the rake. No watering in needed as the drills are already moist.

I’ve also planted out some lettuce and kohlrabi seedlings.

Talking of carrots – I braised some shop bought ones with my indefatigable ruby chard. Just steamed in veg stock until almost all the liquid is gone.

The other vegetable that has overwintered despite everything is fennel. The bulbs are really quite small once I’ve peeled away the rough, frost-burnt outer leaves.

But they were delicious with crushed chopped garlic, olive oil and stock – again allowing the liquid to evaporate until there’s an unctuous sauce in the bottom of the pan which gets a hit of lemon juice stirred in right at the end as the pan comes off the stove.

So fresh and completely different from raw fennel which I know many people don’t like because of the strong aniseed taste.

The other thing I did was brine some oriental mustard leaves. It’s a key ingredient in several recipes I love including a silken tofu soup from cookery writer Fuschia Dunlop.

I’ve started growing them under fleece after I was given some plugs by the Escape Project at Swaffham.  They’re creating a therapeutic show garden at Chelsea this year!!

Previously I bought it ready made from a stall on Norwich market – imported from China.

Now I make it myself following this amazing recipe – although I only made a third of the quantity.

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Pumpkin and Herb Quinoa

I had a quarter of the last Uchiki Kuri pumpkin/onion squash left so I decided to roast it in chunks with a little olive oil rubbed into the skin.

Here are some Uchiki Kuri also known as Hokkaido Squash growing last year. They kept well over the winter in a cool dark place

I then cooked about a cup of quinoa. Rinse it first as it has natural saponins or soapy residue that cover the grains. I wash it in a sieve and massage it while running cold water over it.

I use the absorption method – rather like cooking basmati rice. I use 1 1/2 times the amount of boiling water to the amount of quinoa in the saucepan. Add a pinch of salt and simmer covered on a very low heat for 15 minutes or until tender and all the water’s been absorbed. I remove it from the heat and leave it for another ten minutes.

I then placed it in a serving dish and added a tablespoon each of chopped chives, basil and mint and the roasted chunks of pumpkin and folded it all in to the mixture.

 

I served it with freshly picked purple sprouting broccoli steamed until tender and then dressed with a few shakes of umeboshi vinegar (salty plum flavoured brine you can buy in most wholefood shops).

I made some crunchy croutons from some left over tofu (about 200 grammes) that I’d cubed and marinaded in a couple of tablespoons of shoyu (soya sauce or tamari), half that of mirin (sweet rice wine), an inch of grated ginger that was then squeezed for the juice, and a teaspoon or less of toasted sesame oil.

I then rolled the tofu in cornflour and gently shallow fried it in about a half an inch of very hot sunflower oil in a small frying pan – I did it in a couple of batches and then finished them off in the oven.

They were then served scattered over the PSB.

It was all served with a fresh homegrown multi leaved salad from overwintered lettuce, raddichio and claytonia (aka miner’s lettuce).

Herbed quinoa would be very nice with any vegetables tossed through it.

This served about four people.

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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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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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