Mary's Charente Carrots and Butternut Squash
The following sections describe some of the more commonly grown allotment fruits and vegetables but you may be surprised at this short list of more adventurous (exotic?) crops that can be successfully grown in the UK.
Chickpeas - a relatively new crop to the UK, chickpeas need a well-drained soil and sunlight. Chickpeas don’t need a very rich soil and appear to grow best on a roughly cultivated soil. Their pods are small, typically containing two peas. They are best eaten when cooked for a short time in salted water, ideally soon after they have been harvested.
Cucamelon - a grape sized green melon that tastes like cucumber and lime. A climbing plant that likes warmth and shelter. The cucamelon is a climbing plant with a long fruiting season - providing crops almost daily from mid summer into autumn. It can be eaten as a fruit or chopped and added to salads.
Quinoa - a stunning plant to grow: tall (up t 6 feet!) with silver-green leaves and the quinoa seeds turn flame red as they ripen in the autumn. Quinoa is quick to germinate and can be directly sown or transplanted as seedlings after planting under cover.
Scorzonera and Salsify - unusual root vegetables that are part of the lettuce family. Scorzonera is black and Salsify is white (although it discolours quickly, turning rusty brown, when exposed to oxygen). Salsify is also known as Oyster Plant because it has a slight salty flavour not unlike the sea - some people think that scorzonera has a similar, but stronger taste. Both plants can be directly sown and, when fully grown, produce spectacular flowers and self-seed.
Tomatillo - the fruit looks like an under-ripe tomato but has a crunchy texture and citrus flavour. It is used in Mexican cooking and can be used raw (e.g. chopped finely and added to a salsa) or cooked in spicy stews. They produce large yellow flowers during summer and fruit prolifically from early autumn until there are prolonged frosty spells.
There are only two or three types of apple depending on how they are classified as: eating/dessert or cooking; or early, mid-season or late; dwarf, semi-dwarf or standard. Apples cross-pollinate so trees need to grow close to other apple trees of a similar group.
Trees should be planted (and subsequently hard pruned) between November and February in well-drained, fertile soil at a location with full sun. They will need summer pruning (to maintain shape and remove unwanted spurs) between July and August, and harvested from late August through autumn. Apples are ripe when they come away from the branch easily.
Apples can be stored in a cool, dark place over winter by wrapping them in paper to prevent any disease spreading. Eating apples are eaten raw (and are good when added to some savoury dishes, such as potato salad), while cooking apples can be used in baked desserts and cakes, or to thicken and flavour savoury dishes, chutneys and sauces.
Asparagus is one of the first crops of the year to emerge, helping to fill the shortage of crops that can be harvested between winter and April. Although takes a while to establish an asparagus bed it requires little maintenance and can produce delicious spears for more than twenty years. Freshly cut asparagus is much sweeter, tenderer and generally superior to that bought in a supermarket.
To plant asparagus, dug a trench 20cm (8”) deep with a slight ridge in the middle. Lay asparagus crowns over the mound, at a distance of 45cm (18”) with the roots laying over the side. Then cover the crowns with a layer of soil to a depth of 5-10cm (2-4”), and then backfill the trench adding plenty of compost and/or manure – this will act as a mulch, keeping the roots moist and helping to control weeds.
The asparagus tips should begin to emerge quite quickly but resist the urge to pick them for the first two years which would weaken the plant and reduce future crops. In the first autumn cut the ferns back to a height of 5cm (2”) the ferns when they turn yellow-brown, and cover with a good layer of mulch.
In the meantime keep the ground weed free but do not hoe (this can damage the tender roots just below the surface). Also remove and destroy any asparagus beetles from the plants – these tend to emerge in warm weather.
Repeat this the following autumn and begin harvest the following spring. To harvest cut the asparagus spears below the surface when they are no more than 20cm (8”) tall.
Broad beans can be planted from October through to February, but the earlier they go in the better the crop is likely to be, but spring sown crops will produce only a few weeks later than overwintered plants – so if you haven’t planted yet there is still plenty of time. Their early flowers attract insects so they will help to pollinate other crops.
Plant in well-drained soil with plenty of organic matter dug in.
Seeds should be planted 50mm (2”) deep, 20cm (8”) apart in rows that are 60cm (2’) apart to allow air to circulate around the established plants (road beans are susceptible to chocolate spot in cool, damp weather. Water every two weeks during dry weather. Beware of slug/snail damage when the plants begin to emerge. If your plot is exposed then the compact shape of dwarf varieties will protect them from the wind.
‘Pinching out’ the tops of plants regularly has two benefits: it encourages pod growth (rather than foliage); and it encourages fewer blackfly which are attracted to younger, sappier leaves.
The beans should be picked (from around May) by pulling the pods sharply downwards and are ripe when the beans within are about the size of the top joint of a finger. The flowers are also edible and can be added to salads.
We all of taste food in slightly different ways because of the number and composition of our taste buds. Those with the most taste buds are more sensitive to the taste of food, and these are called supertasters. This sensitivity can be both an advantage and a disadvantage.
Supertasters are highly sensitive to a particular chemical found in Brussels sprouts which is called 6-n-propylthiouracil, abbreviated to “PROP”, which they find disgusting. In general, Children can taste PROP more than adults which is why a higher proportion of children dislike (hate?!) sprouts.
It is thought that this sensitivity is an evolutionary device from mankind’s heritage as foragers to prevent children from eating potentially toxic foods. The reducing sensitivity to PROP as children grow might be explained by a reduced need for such protection as they gain knowledge of safe foods over time.
For more information about PROP and supertasters see the following link.
Chard is a member of the beetroot family but with chard it is the leaves that are harvested and not the root.
There are several varieties of chard available which can bring spectacular colour to your plot: ruby chard,
yellow chard, Swiss chard being the most common. Chard brings further benefits by attracting hoverflies which prey on greenfly.
Chard is simple to grow and can be started in seed trays or planted directly into prepared beds between March and May. Young plants should not be allowed to dry out and once they are established they are very resilient and will continue to crop into winter, although the leaves suffer damage in freezing conditions.
Young chard can be eaten raw in salad, while established crops are slightly bitter and best steamed/boiled or sautéed (which reduces the bitterness).
Crops should be eaten as soon as possible after harvesting – chard can be kept in sealed bags in a refrigerator but generally does not store well. This is why it is not commonly available in supermarkets, so allotment holders are part of a very select group with access to fresh chard.
Autumn is the time to think about planting garlic.
We all know (but might not all like!) the flavour provided by their cloves which cluster to form the bulb but what about other parts of the plant?
Garlic bulbils are like tiny cloves: I grew them by accident and found they can are a versatile ingredient and a cheap way of growing future crops.
They grow from the flower (‘scape’) of the plant. If you chop the flowers off when you dry the garlic it will helps the bulbs to develop. If you don’t the flower will develop into small bulbs. These taste like garlic and are delicious when added raw to salads (if you don’t mind the taste of raw garlic!) or sprinkled over meat are vegetables during frying.
Alternatively the bulbils can be planted. It takes one year for each bulbil to develop into a full size garlic clove. This can then be planted and will grow into a bulb the following year. As each scape can produce 100 or more bulbils, it is an economical way of propagating plants, and some believe that garlic grown from scape is more hardy than those grown from bulbs.
Garlic in Medicine
Hippocrates (300BC) recommended garlic for infections, wounds, cancer, leprosy, and digestive disorders. Today, garlic is used by herbalists for a wide variety of illnesses including high cholesterol, colds, flu, coughs, bronchitis, fever, ringworm and intestinal worms, and liver, gallbladder, and digestive problems.
Salad crops develop quickly, and there are a wide variety – sorrel, lettuce, endive, kale, radicchio and mustard leaves - to suit various conditions.
They can be grown in seed drills, broadcast over an area of ground or grown in containers. Either way, they offer a fresh and tasty alternative to bags of supermarket salads.
As salad crops can outgrow weeds, watering and pests are the main concerns for salad growers. Watering every two days may be necessary during long dry spells if salad crops are grown in compost rich beds (daily watering may be necessary if they are frown in small pots).
Slugs are the main pest, and can be treated with pellets, nematodes, or regular picking off. Ants and aphids can also be a problem – ants can be kept in check if the surrounding soil is kept moist. Aphids can be squashed by hand if they are not tackled by ladybirds or beetles.
Regular collect leaves when they are ready to harvest. If leaves start to sag after harvesting they can be recovered by soaking in cold water.
Peas are a nutritious and sweet legume, which are easy to grow. Delicious both cooked and eaten raw (as I prefer them), they are a versatile accompaniment to most traditional meals and if, there is a glut, freeze well and taste as good as eaten fresh.
Unlike many other crops, peas can be planted and harvested at several times throughout the year: hardy varieties can be overwintered; undercover spring sowings can be made as early as February; and they can be planted directly outdoors as late as July.
As for climbing beans, the young plants need supporting – either using netting, wires, canes, or hazel branches (often known as ‘pea sticks’).
Outdoor seeds should be protected from pests, particularly during the spring ‘hungry gap’ when there are few crops that are available to harvest. Frustratingly, birds and mice are able to locate the seeds just as they begin to sprout.
But peas are most vulnerable to the maggots of the Pea Moth. The moth lays its eggs in mild weather when the plants are in flower. Overwintered peas and early plantings tend to be less prone as they flower before the moths are prevalent. For later plantings the damage caused by the maggots can be minimised by spraying the pea plants when they are in flower.
As for other legumes, the roots of pea plants have nitrogen fixing properties and can be dug into the soil at the end of the season.
Potatoes are a versatile vegetable, and the process of preparing the ground and growing potatoes helps to break up the soil. By now, seed potatoes should be well chitted – with several short, plump roots sprouting from their ‘eyes’.
February is time to prepare seed potatoes for planting by ‘chitting’ them – storing them in such a way that they start to sprout before being planted in the ground.
The potatoes should be spread out over a single layer in a cool, dry place which is free from the risk of frost. Large, unused egg boxes are ideal for this, allowing air circulation between each seed potato.
Ideally the storage area should be bright but the seed potatoes should be out of direct sunlight. After a few days the potatoes will then grow short stubby shoots which will help the potato plants to grow when they are planted out to get them off to a fast start when planted out. St Patrick’s Day is the traditional day of the year to plant potatoes.
There is some evidence that you can grow larger potatoes by breaking off the weaker shoots just before planting, leaving only the three or four stronger shoots to grow.
Preparing the Soil
Before planting them, ensure that some well-rotted compost or manure has been dug in. The potatoes should be planted in ‘V’ shaped trenches at least 12cm (5”) deep. Trenches should be at least 30cm (12”) apart for early varieties, 37cm (15”) for maincrop varieties.
When to plant and harvest:
Water the potatoes during dry weather and apply a liquid feed every few weeks to increase the yield and the quality of tubors. As soon as the green shoots start to appear, earth up to cover the stems with a ridge that is ~15cm (6”) high – this is stop light reaching the potatoes.
Lifting Maincrop Potatoes
Most potatoes, if not all, should be dug up by the end of September. They will continue to grow if left in the ground, but there is a greater chance of them rotting or suffering from pest damage.
Remove any damaged tubers and store in a cool dark place.
Why are Potatoes called "Spuds"?
A “spud” is a sharp, narrow spade which is used to dig up root crops. In the case of the potato, use of the word has expanded over time to refer to the crop being dug up.
Forced rhubarb, also known as ‘Champagne rhubarb’, is much sweeter and tenderer than ‘normal’ rhubarb and is easy grow. Encourage early growth by covering an established rhubarb plant with a few handfuls of straw over the rhubarb ‘crown’ and place an inverted bin (if you don’t have a rhubarb forcer) to encourage earlier growth.
The above method raises the temperature around the plant and the absence of light stimulates early growth.
The process is associated with an area in West Yorkshire known as the rhubarb triangle, and produces a paler crop, with thinner stems and a higher sugar concentration. The stems grow upwards within the cover and should be harvested when they are 200-300mm (8-12”) long.
And it’s all the better for being available at a time of year when there is precious little fresh fruit around.
Summer brings the real start of the fruit season: gooseberries and
strawberries are shortly followed by raspberries, cherries, currants,
plums and gages. Nothing tastes more like summer than summer
berries – either fresh with cream, raw or cooked in a dessert or
preserved. But what is a berry?
A berry is defined a fleshy fruit containing many seeds. So cherries
and plums are not berries. They are ‘drupes’ – a fleshy fruit
containing a single stone/pit. In fact, raspberries, blackberries and
strawberries ‘aggregated drupes’ and not berries – clusters of
drupes with each drupe contains a single seed.
So, of the above fruits, gooseberries and currants are the only true
berries. And, strange though it may seem, kiwi fruits, aubergine,
tomatoes, chilli peppers, cucumbers and bananas are all berries!
Squashes are nutritious, delicious and attractive. They also offer a wide variety to choose from.
Most of us grow our plants from seed – it can be a challenge but it’s the cheapest and most rewarding method. The following tips can give your plants a head start and valuable extra days’ growth.
Plant seeds during April in approximately 1cm deep in rich compost and allow to germinate in a warm place. Keeping them above 15⁰C should result in seedlings after 10-14 days which will be ready to harden off towards the end of May. Meanwhile prepare their beds by removing all weeds and large stones and fork in well-rotted manure/compost and a handful of slow release fertiliser – squashes are ‘hungry’ vegetables.
Plant during warm weather and place them at least 60cm apart (1m for trailing varieties). Water sparingly during the first few weeks as young plants are prone to rot. Gradually increase the amount of water as the plant grow.
Pinch out when the stems reach 60cm (usually around the height of summer) and, if there are more than 5-6 fruit on each plant pick off the excess to encourage growth. As the fruits grow raise them above the ground to prevent damage through mould and pests.
Unlike most crops, which are pollinated by insects or birds, sweetcorn is pollinated by the wind. For this reason, sweetcorn should not be planted in lines, but in blocks so that there is a chance of pollination regardless of wind direction.
Pollen is produced by the male "tassels" at the top of each plant. Below these are the female "silks" which catch fallen / wind-blown pollen.
Sweetcorn can be sown indoors from April but should not be planted out until there is no risk of frost - usually around early June. They should be planted 45-60cm (12 - 18") apart. As they grow during the height of summer They require regular watering, especially when the cobs are fattening up.
They are ready to harvest when the tassels turn brown when, if you peel back the husk the kernels produce a milky juice when squeezed. They lose sweetness from the moment they are picked so try and cook them as quickly as possible after harvesting,