29/09/2016

Caught on the Hop

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You can sow hops seeds now. This was brought to my attention by a recent post on What to sow in October by The Unconventional Gardener. Sown now and planted in a favourable spot, a hop plant could be giving a harvest of hop shoots in 2018.

The young shoots of the hop plant (Humulus lupulus) are a prized spring vegetable gathered, ideally, shortly after they emerge from the ground and before the leaves unfurl. They are boiled in salted, acidulated water or cooked in butter in a covered pan until tender and served as they are or in a hollandaise or tomato sauce or with eggs, mushrooms etc.

young hop leaves

We have a Golden Tassels hop growing in our backyard which has really taken off this year. This golden dwarf hop suits the limited space we have in the garden but it has been bred as an ornamental variety. Its shoots will probably taste fine but with plenty of growing space it would be worth exploring the rich and varied world of hop varieties especially if one has brewing in mind. Growing hop shoots is an extra source of income for hop growers (sometimes they take the roots of older plants and bury them in soil on a heated floor to produce blanched shoots) - I couldn't discover any variety that has been especially selected for shoot production.

Golden Tassels hop

I missed the boat for hop shoots this year. Our plant could probably have been harvested for a few shoots in spring but I decided to hold off for one more year.

Apart from beer and hop shoots and its attractiveness in the garden there are many other reasons to plant hops. (I found suggested uses of tea, medicine, sleep pillows, paper, string, garlands, dye, baking powder substitute and as a secondary host plant for the comma, red admiral and peacock butterflies). Looking out of the kitchen window at the hop vines festooning the wall of the backyard made me wonder if I could eat the flowers.

Hop flowers

I hope you can because I just did! I had bruschetta with hops for lunch following Ian Knauer's recipe here.

Ingredients for hop bruschetta

Hop bruschetta

Wow, hop bruschetta is indescribable - hop to it and try it yourself!


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

26/09/2016

Scorzonera and Skirret in September

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It occurred to me the other day that as I'm growing some root crops (such as scorzonera and skirret) perennially, there isn't really any need to wait until the end of their annual growing season to dig some up. In harvest terms I'd been thinking of them as annual root crops but there should be good root development at any time of year on any of the older plants.



So fork in hand and a stew in mind I went to investigate.

I headed for the herb garden where most of the scorzonera grows now. It's been relegated there as we only eat a small amount of the roots (because they are quite inulin rich and we find them a bit indigestible - although not as tricky as Jerusalem artichokes! If you have no problems eating it, it is very worthwhile as it is a super easy vegetable to grow.) But we do find that the leaves are a useful vegetable - and the succulent young flower buds are also said to be delicious - and it is a great beneficial insect attractor too.

I found a plant that had finished flowering and had some new leaves growing at its base. It was growing in some hard clay soil in the corner of the herb garden and yielded a somewhat knotted clump of roots (the roots are long and straight in ideal growing conditions). But it snapped apart into short lengths of fat and tender roots. I replanted the remaining base of the plant and watered it in.

Scorzonera roots

The skirret harvest was less satisfying. The roots were on the thin side and quite twisty. But I managed to dig a bunch of roots that, despite not being as pleasingly fat as last year's, were food nonetheless!

Skirret roots

Skirret prefers a light, moist soil. Despite trying to improve our clay with sand, gravel, compost and mulch, I think the skirret has still suffered during the dry summer - even in the 'bog' garden where I'd put a few plants. There may be some better roots to dig next month. But more work on the soil is needed before we're rewarded with a skirret patch that yields well every year. It will be worthwhile because skirret is a wonderfully sweet and nourishing root vegetable.

A look around the plot yielded plenty of other greens and herbs for the stew; sea beet, horseradish leaves, sorrel, Good King Henry, thyme, French tarragon and winter savoury (all perennial edibles that have virtually looked after themselves since being planted).

Sea beet
Sea beet

Horseradish
Horseradish

Bay, parsley and mitsuba (Japanese parsley) from the garden and some rosemary and sage that I had drying in the house plus some fresh tomatoes, onions, garlic, a small courgette, lentils, soy sauce, salt and pepper combined with the allotment produce to give the ingredients for a very well-flavoured stew.

Bowl of edible leaves and herbsTomatoes and herbs


Bowl of stew and pasta

It is close to the time when I would have been harvesting anyway but I'm encouraged that harvesting perennial roots year round is probably what a perennial vegetable gardener should be doing. Although the skirret roots were less sweet than when they are dug in colder weather they were still tasty. And actually the plants I had dug up were replanted crowns, from which the best roots were harvested last year, (or one year plants), rather than older plants which had been left to grow in peace. Better results can be expected once I manage to establish skirret and scorzonera 'colonies' of many plants and harvest just the largest clumps on a sort of root vegetable coppice system.


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

30/08/2016

Cut-and-come-again Perennial Vegetables.

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The familiar sowing, planting, thinning, weeding and harvesting routines of the annual vegetable garden don't all apply with perennial vegetables - but I'm discovering new routines that do! One of these is chopping the plants down to give a fresh harvest of tasty leaves. It's very useful with plants such as Good King Henry, Turkish rocket and sea beet; herbaceous perennials that give a wonderful flush of bright, tender leaves in spring but by mid-summer have gone onto produce flower stalks and smaller, sometimes less mildly-flavoured leaves.

Turkish rocket in flower
Turkish rocket in flower

I'm not quite into the routine yet so I started chopping this year a little later than I could have done but it still worked well for the Turkish rocket....(second photo taken a few weeks after the first).

Turkish rocket chopped down
Turkish rocket chopped...
Turkish rocket resprouted
and resprouted

and for the Good King Henry...

Good King Henry chopped down
Good King Henry chopped...
Good King Henry resprouted
and resprouted

Chopping back the Good King Henry gave decent sized tender leaves to harvest alongside a few new flowers. With the bladder campion however I think I missed the boat as the plant immediately threw up purely tough flowering stalks again.

Bladder campion chopped down
Bladder campion chopped...
Bladder campion resprouted
and resprouted

The technique worked well with the sea beet and wild rocket. I haven't tried it with the patience dock yet but judging by the broad-leaved dock that has been reappearing in the lawn for years I'm sure it will be fine! How often can one do it? Well so far I've only chopped mine once, but I cut comfrey and nettles down repeatedly through the summer, mainly for making plant feeds. They don't seem to mind, but the vigour of the species and the richness of the soil needs to be taken into account. If a plant was slow to come back into growth I would mulch it well with compost and leave it alone.

It's an easy job accomplished in minutes - but isn't necessary at all with the non-flowering form of garden sorrel that I grow. It stays succulent and leafy all year. (I usually avoid picking the slightly older leaves with red marks though. I haven't discovered what those marks are yet - places where a mollusc has had a nibble perhaps?)

Non-flowering garden sorrel
Non-flowering garden sorrel - no chopping required!

For the sake of even easier perennial vegetable gardening it would be cool to find non-flowering forms of more perennial vegetables. There are sure to be some out there - do get in touch if you know of one!


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

25/08/2016

Everlasting Cabbage

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The plant in this photo came to me as 'Ewiger kohl'. This is not exactly a variety name. It is German for 'everlasting cabbage' and was probably used in the past in the same way as 'perennial kale' is used now. Ewiger kohl, true to at least the spirit of its name, is a reliably long-lived perennial. Mine has never flowered and I propagate it by means of soft stem cuttings which take very easily.

Now that perennial kales with variety names such as 'Daubenton' and 'Taunton Deane' are being more widely shared, it seems that 'Ewiger kohl' may have become, by default, a name for the variety in the photo which does not seem to be any of the others! Searching for the name on Google will bring up photos of plants which look very much like this one. Googling 'everlasting cabbage' will do the same.

I get the impression that everlasting cabbage cuttings have been passed around from gardener to gardener in England, Ireland and Germany for many years. If you grow a plant that goes by these names it would be interesting to learn how you came by it and compare notes and photos. Do email me!

Compare my 'Ewiger kohl' and Daubenton kale in the photos below.

Ewiger kohl
Ewiger kohl
Daubenton kale
Daubenton kale

They are both obviously kale types but Ewiger kohl has smoother leaf margins, a rather more pointed leaf shape with a faint touch of purple about the stems and veins and the leaves are slightly thinner. In my experience they tend not to grow to the large size that Daubenton leaves can attain in a very fertile and moist position but they are more shade tolerant. Mine has been lower-growing than Daubenton but I have seen photos of taller plants. I suspect in time its floppy branches will root where they touch the ground although I don't think they have done so yet.

I don't know how they compare for hardiness - perhaps a hard winter of the future will answer that one!

In terms of flavour I would say Ewiger kohl is more cabbagey than Daubenton - but quite acceptable.

Also, although I regard Daubenton as a robust plant, I think Ewiger kohl is even tougher. Both types were hit really hard by mealy cabbage aphids in the spring and I eventually resorted to pruning them quite hard until they were more stalk than leaf.

Pruned Ewiger kohl

This photo was taken just after the pruning. It has been the first to return to almost-full health - photo at top of page - (although the Daubenton is not far behind). Everlasting I hope!


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

28/07/2016

Summer Harvest

Comments very welcome!

Harvested from the allotment today!

Summer harvest of perennial vegetables
Summer harvest of perennial vegetables

In the basket:

(Centre) Globe artichokes
Horseradish greens (large leaves, top left)
(moving clockwise) Welsh onions
Buck's horn plantain
Day lily buds (in front of plantain)
Garden sorrel
Variegated Daubenton kale
Wild cabbage
(in front of wild cabbage, centre outwards...)
Turkish rocket, bladder campion and grape vine leaves
Daubenton kale
Sea kale
Good King Henry
Chives



N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

23/07/2016

Weeding the Wintercress

Comments very welcome!

I've had to do some heavy weeding on a couple of my perennial vegetable beds - those beds which I've neglected to either plant with a weed-suppressing ground-cover or to mulch with sufficient grass cuttings or compost or the like!

Luckily things sometimes survive beneath the weeds and I was pleased to rescue some young variegated common wintercress plants, Barbarea vulgaris 'Variegata'.

Barbarea vulgaris 'Variegata'
Barbarea vulgaris 'Variegata'

I'd had common wintercress in my mind as a biennial plant but I bought some seeds for this plant earlier this year after reading in Stephen Barstow's book that it is sometimes a short-lived perennial. Or possibly a long-lived perennial - Stephen writes about a plant he has which is about 20 years old, although that one is sterile and may be a hybrid with B.vulgaris var. arcuata.

My wintercress should self-seed freely anyway, even if it doesn't last long. So now that it's been saved from the weeds I'll keep a patch going and look forward to enjoying its peppery flavour in winter salads.


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.

26/06/2016

Tofu Stir-fry with Horseradish Greens

Comments very welcome!

We had a tofu stir-fry for tea. It was made with several perennial vegetables including one I hadn't tried before - horseradish leaves. I had to hack back some weeds to find my horseradish plant but it seemed to have survived quite well.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana) is a vigorous long-lived plant and (as I have now found!) it is well worth growing for its leaves as well as its root (used in horseradish sauce). The leaves used raw give a fiery kick to salads but can also be cooked.

Horseradish (Armoracia rusticana)

I nibbled a leaf whilst harvesting. It was very mustardy. Once cooked the leaves were much milder with a good flavour - a sweetish taste I thought but there were so many different flavours in this dish that I'm not too sure! If you grow horseradish try some cooked leaves and see what you think.

Tofu Stir-fry with Horseradish Greens

Tofu Stir-fry with Horseradish Greens
Serves 4
Serve with boiled rice

Ingredients

block of tofu (mine was 396g)
For marinade:
4 tblsp light soy sauce
1 tblsp lemon juice
1 tblsp white wine vinegar
1 tblsp maple syrup
4 bulbs of green garlic, chopped finely
3 cm piece of fresh ginger, grated
For rest of dish:
the tops of 4 green garlic plants chopped
1 cup of chopped baby broad beans
a handful of daylily buds (optional)
1 cup of chopped horseradish leaves
1 cup of chopped Caucasian spinach leaves 
(Could substitute spinach. I included some Good King Henry leaves too.)
a handful of flaked almonds
Sesame oil

Method
  • Place the tofu on a board and press as much liquid out of it as you can (I just did this with my hand). 
  • Cut the block into 1-2 cm cubes and place in a dish. 
  • Mix the ingredients for the marinade together and pour over the tofu. 
  • Place in a refrigerator for at least 30 minutes turning the tofu in the marinade occasionally.
  • In a frying pan heat about 3 tblsp sesame oil over a medium high heat and fry the tofu for a few minutes, turning the cubes a few times, until they begin to turn golden brown, adding more oil if needed. Transfer to a dish and keep warm.
  • Add more oil to the pan and fry the chopped garlic stems for 3 minutes. 
  • Add the chopped broad beans and daylily buds and cook for 3 minutes. 
  • Add the chopped greens and cook for two minutes more.
  • Mix the tofu into the other ingredients in the pan, transfer to a serving dish and sprinkle with the flaked almonds. 
  • Serve with boiled rice.

I was a bit nervous of serving up this dish as I wasn't sure if a whole cup of chopped horseradish greens might be overpowering. But it was fine; everyone seemed to like the finished result and I'm looking forward to using horseradish leaves again.


N.B. I sell a range of perennial vegetable plants on my website.