30 Mar 2016

Lashings of tea, books and rain


As Bank Holiday Mondays go, this week's was fairly typical - lashing rain and lots of it.  Despite promises of a dry day, I woke up to the sound of wind whistling through the double glazing and rain being hurled against the window panes.  Just another stormy spring day in England.  Obviously the sensible course of action was to make a huge mug of tea, collect up my notebook and pencil, seed catalogues and gardening books and retire back to the sanctum of my bed to spend the morning in my pyjamas planning my seed order for this year.  Pretty much the perfect morning, actually.

For this pleasant interlude I pulled 'The Great Vegetable Plot', 'A Taste of the Unexpected' and 'Grow for Flavour' off the shelves and worked through them. I was particularly absorbed in reading The Great Veg Plot - a book I've had for many years but haven't read it for quite a while - shame on me because I found the author's reasoning for choosing what to grow quite illuminating. (Note: I would recommend this book for beginner growers; it's readable, inspirational and instructive.)

You'd think after growing food for quite a few years now that I'd pretty much have the seed list off pat, but I like to remain open to new possibilities.  I have limited space so it's essential to make sure that I'm using it well by growing the best tasting veg plus a few unusual new tastes. (And last year my tomatoes were a disaster so I'm grabbing the opportunity to try something different.)

By the end of my leisurely morning, I was well on the way to creating a (very long) list of seeds to buy. First, I considered the three categories of plants in The Great Veg Plot - Freshly Picked, Un-buyables and Desert Island picks. Interesting, huh?  The first two groups are surely the reason why anyone would want to grow their own, however small the available space. And the last group clarified my thinking quite effectively.

So what would you put into the freshly picked category?  I'd definitely put crunchy mange-tout, baby climbing beans, sun warmed tomatoes, salad leaves and young podded broad beans. These are all veg I love to snack on as I wander the garden in the summer.  Peas too when I remember to grow them. And Cape Gooseberries are so much nicer eaten straight from the bush - mine grows as a perennial.

With the storm still raging outside, I turned my thoughts to the 'Un-buyables'. What's interesting about these is that since the book's publication in 2005, a lot of the veg covered in this section are now available in selected supermarkets. So no longer un-buyable, but possibly hard to get. But shouldn't we also think about the days and miles between harvest and sale?  Veg such as globe artichokes, asparagus, edible flowers, pea tips and some of the more unusual squashes and beetroot are much nicer harvested at their freshest so perhaps these need moving to 'Better Grown than Bought' (I just made that up) rather than 'Un-Buyable'.

Karmazyn.
Un-buyables: Karmazyn beans sown earlier.
Superb flavour and seed readily available from Dobies, Chilterns, Suttons, Fothergills and More Veg
For my own un-buyables, my list would have to include rainbow chard, achocha, honeyberries (like blueberries), a rainbow of carrots, spaghetti squash, wild garlic and pink Karmazyn broad beans. (Incidentally, I came across a broad bean called 'Red Epicure' which stays red when steamed. Anyone tried these?)  I'm also growing Borlotti beans for the first time this year as my Cherokee Trail of Tears heritage beans of last summer were dismal. Each spring I hope for greater things!  I also checked into Mark Diacono's 'A Taste of the Unexpected' for inspiration here - and wished that my Chilean Guava of a couple of years ago had survived.

And lastly, Desert Island Plants - these are the must-haves, the plants that influence and enhance my cooking, that I take real pleasure in growing. Taking the name at face value, what would I absolutely have to have in my garden?  And if my choice was limited to just five plants, what would I choose?  Let's see - herbs, of course, such as parsley and thyme, raspberries, Cavolo kale and cape gooseberries. (That was hard - imagine life without chillies, pak choi, salad leaves and salad onions!)

But I still wasn't finished. Refreshing my mug of tea (and bringing a plate of toast back from the kitchen as well) I completed the indulgence by reading through my favourite seed catalogue, pen in hand, and circling all the seeds that appealed. Having noted these down in my book alongside the list of my perennial veg and the plan of the veg patch, I now have the onerous task of whittling down my list to fit the available space. Still, there's always pots and containers …

So, I'm intrigued - what would your top five Desert Island plants be - and do you grow any Un-Buyables that you'd recommend?  Tell all!  :o)



27 comments:

  1. The beans that stay red sound interesting. Have you harvested any honeyberries yet - we planted four plants about three years ago but so far have had no fruit..
    I'd put soft fruit in the unbuyables - spme are truly unbuyable like jostaberries and kiwi berries others you would need a mortgage to buy a decent quantity!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. My honeyberries were bought in spring 2013 and I had a trickle of fruit last year. The bushes were planted into very large pots; one was left on its own, the other surrounded by other plants to be a bit more showy. The solo plant has done so much better without the competition from other plants but neither bush is very large. This will be their third year and I'll be dosing them with comfrey tea to give them a helping hand towards fruitfulness! I think mine would be larger if planted in the ground but I don't have the space for it. I'll be interested to read how yours do this year, Sue.

      Delete
    2. PS. The beans are Red Epicure from Marshalls Seeds. I'll try and get some to trial this year.

      Delete
  2. Your deliberations remind me of the principle of "Value for Space Rating" (VSR)which I learned from Joy Larkcom. I vote for PSB, which is never much good when bought in a shop, but lovely when picked fresh from your own garden. Are you going to have a go with Oca, Mashua etc?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I looked for Oca when I bought my chitting spuds at the RHS show in February but they must have been sold out. It's something that I'd like to try so maybe next year!

      Delete
  3. Despite the rain it sounds as if you had lots of fun inside instead! My top Desert Island plants would be tomatoes,courgettes,mixed salad, carrots and broad beans. They all taste so much better straight out of the garden. On the Un Buyables we are growing Munchkin pumpkin and also the seeds you sent me! Sarah x

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, indeed! I love the laziness of a pyjama day - and there's something so good about being warm and cozy indoors with a storm raging outside. It's hard to narrow our choices down to five isn't it? That must be what it's like to have only a windowsill for growing. Munchkin pumpkins sound nice; I tried patty pan squash one year but it didn't do well, I think it needs sunshine and very rich soil. And tomatoes, yes, definitely if they ripen well - and in a world free of blight!

      Delete
  4. Borlotti beans would be one of my desert island plants, so I hope they are successful for you. Are you growing a climbing variety? Better yields by far than the dwarf versions in my experience. Unbuyables for me would include tomatillos, kailans (Chinese broccoli), Melon pears, and my Szechuan pepper bush, which produced five little pepper fruits last year much to my astonishment. And I must try acocha -

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, I've read that yields are better from the climbing variety so I'll have to find room for a trellis or frame. Preferably one that doesn't blow down (unlike last year). I like your selection of unbuyables; I have kailaan on my list for this year but haven't heard of melon pears - I'm intrigued. If you put 'achocha' into my search bar, you can read about my experience of growing it.
      PS. Have just popped over to your blog - absolutely love your header illustration!

      Delete
  5. Oh what a blissful morning. I'm at my happiest with a notebook and the rain lashing against the window. The Great Vegetable Plot is my bible, I've read it from cover to cover and I'm always referring to it. I try and grow sugar snaps as much as I can, they're so much nicer when just picked. And pea shoots are great as well. I know you can buy them, but they're all washed in chlorine and packed in plastic so I don't ever bother. I like to put an inch of soil in a seed tray, masses of peas (Sugar Ann is good for shoots) and a bit more compost. Sorrel is something else we love. It's perennial so even now there are a few new leaves coming through. I could do with sowing some new plants this year though. And mustards are really great, some of them are blow-your-head-off mustardy. Can't buy that! Also I love little broad beans, eaten raw. In the shops they are always massive, but when they're small they're absolutely divine. I've been growing borlotti beans lately too. I have bags of them in the freezer, really easy to add a handful to soups and stews, and I've also made a dip from them. One of the pleasures of growing your own is finding different varieties and more unusual things that you can't buy. I'm off down to the plot tomorrow to try and impose some sort of order on it. CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, CJ - I have Sugar Ann for growing, hadn't tried them for pea shoots. Sorrel has been on my "should I?" list for a few years but has somehow never been sown. I think I have some seeds so will give that a go this year. I'm the same as you over broad beans; I like them small and sweet not big and floury (too reminiscent of my school days!) - I like the sound of your bean dip too - I really should experiment a bit more in the kitchen. (In my dream life I have lots of time in the kitchen - and never put on an extra ounce!) Good luck with sorting out your allotment - if the weather holds, it will be perfect. Cxx

      Delete
  6. Oh that sounds an idyllic way to start off what was a rather wild Bank Holiday Monday Caro. Now comes the difficult challenge of slimming that wish list down :) My desert island plants would be autumn fruiting raspberries, strawberries, apples, shallots, and pumpkins (large and small). I presume that the island would have a temperate rather than tropical climate.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It won't be too hard, Anna, as I have a full seed box already. It was a fun exercise to clarify my thoughts and fill any gaps in what I want to grow - and to keep a reference for next year. I wouldn't be without raspberries but I've cleared out a lot of my strawberries this year. From what I've read they do best in warm sunshine, with a plastic mulch to keep moisture in and plenty of space. I always forget to cut the runners off and mine were growing in part shade so not good. If I can remedy this, they'll go back on the list. Yes, haha, my island would have a wonderfully warm climate with overnight rain and mild sunshine all day long! (And no pests!)

      Delete
  7. Golly, that's a difficult one.. Straight off the top of my head: French beans, peas, sweet corn, salad leaves and kale. Hopefully the desert island would be free of slugs, mice and cabbage white butterflies!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Definitely no mice if we want peas! No squirrels, deer or pheasants either - at least near the veg garden. I would have opted for sweet corn but it never justifies the amount of space I have to give over to grow it. One day, when I have more space or an allotment, however ….

      Delete
  8. what a wonderful post! it's autumn here so I'm in the process of pulling out the summer crops - and reflecting on what worked, what didn't, and what I want to do differently next time. so your thoughts have come at a perfect time (and I've just reserved the sarah raven book from the library - thank you for the tip off!).
    my five tend to fall into the 'better grown than bought' category (a very important one!): heritage tomatoes, basil, beetroot (especially orange ones), lazy housewife green beans, and sugar snaps. they're not exotic, but they are my favourite summer crops and I do firmly believe are more delicious when homegrown.
    for pure fantasy, I'd love to grow vegies like sweet potato and fruit like bananas and rockmelon - but they don't do very well in Tassie's cooler climate.
    thank you for such a thought provoking post!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thank you - and you're welcome for the tip off. Excellent news that you've been able to get a copy from your library - although you probably won't want to give it back! :o) Glad you like my new category :), it's hard to justify the hours put into gardening when you can buy the same veg down the road but I enjoy growing stuff plus it definitely tastes better when homegrown! I wish I could get some lazy housewife beans. I grew some a few years ago but have no seed left, they're considered a heritage variety over here. I agree about bananas (I'd save so much money by growing them myself!) but they need hot sun - they grew in my yard when I lived in Florida as a child. Glad you enjoyed the post! Have fun planning your garden for next year!

      Delete
  9. My top favourites would be Climbing French beans, Borlotti beans, courgettes, squash, new potatoes plus mint of course, broadbeans, Swiss chard, Autumn Bliss rasps...

    I love an afternoon with the seed catalogues and my notebook especially when on the edge of the sowing season.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Pretty much my own favourites, Sue. I missed out on courgettes last year as I planted too late and had to do battle with slugs. Definitely going to remedy that this year though! I think it's good to make notes, even if they're not fulfilled, as it's something that you can come back to - and checking through the seed catalogues makes sure you haven't missed anything out.

      Delete
  10. A good way to spend a miserably wet and windy day, but I'm a bit surprised that you're only just sorting out your seed order.
    I'm with you on the raspberries as one of my five choices but not too sure what else I'd choose...perhaps sweetcorn. Flighty xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It's been an incredibly busy year so far, Flighty, and not helped by being unwell (colds) since February hence my relaxed attitude to seed ordering. Also I have a huge box of seeds so it was more an exercise in checking out new varieties and filling the gaps in what I have already. Raspberries is an excellent choice (my favourite garden snack) but you also write about potatoes so maybe that's another favourite?

      Delete
  11. This is a seed and plant porn post Caro! Your list of all of those incredible edibles are just mouth watering :) I like the idea of the three categories too but I'd add a fourth one too - 'Just for Fun'. Just for fun I'm going to be growing Cucamelons this year even though they have mixed reviews on taste.

    Also...Honeyberries. New to me!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'll be interested to read how you get with cucamelons, Tanya - I tried them a couple of years ago and didn't have good yields (in fact, I recall there was only one!) I like your fourth category - I'd put my rainbow of carrots into that one! And possibly pineapple sage… oh, yes, and purple potatoes (which I have grown, but not this year). Are you growing honeyberries? I think they're very worthwhile if you don't have the acid soil for blueberries. C x

      Delete
  12. My top ten would be purple sprouting broccoli (haven't seen this on sale this year yet), asparagus (eaten within an hour or two of being picked), broad beans (I grew red epicure last year but I can't remember if they stayed pink when cooked - possibly), freshly picked salad leaves, squashes that keep well through the winter such as Blue Kuri (I'm over Butternut), Autumn raspberries, freshly dug Charlotte and Nicola potatoes (I don't bother with first earlies or main crop anymore), baby beetroot (grated and eaten raw over a bed of rocket and baby beetroot leaves, garnished with crunchy radish), plums eaten straight from the tree, strawberries eaten straight from the plant. This year I am not growing: carrots (too much weeding and fly), parsnips or celeriac (don't like digging up winter root veg), tomatoes or chillies at the allotment (I'll probably grow them at home in pots) or sweetcorn which was disappointing last year. Not an exhaustive list as I haven't mentioned beans, peas, spinach, leeks, shallots, cucumbers, courgettes or basil, red gooseberry, rhubarb, apples and pears. Gosh aren't we lucky to be able to grow our own. Too cold and claggy to direct sow at the allotment and the mice have eaten my newly transplanted red epicure broad beans but yesterday I picked psb, rhubarb and and a dozen tulips and dug out four barrows of compost so I'm more than happy. Happy growing Caro.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Excellent list, Sarah - and yes, I think we're very lucky to be able to grow our own and to enjoy doing it! I've got hold of some Red Epicure to trial so will be writing about that in due course, providing the mice don't get mine either. Although I think the foxes tend to keep the rodent population under control here.

      Delete
  13. Oh Caro it suddenly came to me that I hadn't left a comment. I have a terrible habit of reading blogs while in work & I can't comment when in the office. Your morning sounded divine. I enjoy the odd Sunday morning like that myself, curled up in bed with a few good gardening books. Mmm river island veg - I have never bought from a shop broad or runner beans so I would certainly grow them. I also only like new potatoes if they have been freshly harvested. Raspberries would be the fruit of my choice. Mine are so prolific I hate having to buy a punnet. I hope you are keeping well. xx

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks Jo - I'm the same if I get distracted then don't comment but feel as though I have! I'm already getting to the stage of being annoyed at the price I pay for veg in the shops, only buying it because its out of season! Raspberries are so gorgeous fresh - and I'm currently trying to choose a good spot for a new blackberry bush! :o)) Cxx

      Delete

Comments on my posts are much appreciated and help to build an online community of blog friends. Everyone is welcome! I love to discover new blogs so please leave a comment to introduce yourself.
Caro x

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...