Friday, 29 July 2011

Passion for growing cucurbits

Every year I fall in love with my cucurbits all over again.  I've been growing 
them every year for the past 7 years.
I was living in Brixton in a shared house when my next door neighbour gave me 
some spare courgette seedlings.  She had noticed that I was out in the garden at 
every opportunity and that I was starting to grow vegetables.  She told me she 
knew they were going to a good home!
At first I tried growing them in a large pot but their leaves started to look a 
little sad so I planted it in the flower border.  It grew these big luscious 
leaves and lots of courgettes and contributed to my very first home grown hangover 
In my second year as a courgette grower I grew one fruit that was over half a metre 
long - I know, I know, that's not really a courgette anymore!  It looked very impressive 
but didn't really taste great!!
Last year I started experimenting with other cucurbits.  I tried a crook neck squash 
which I sourced from Real Seeds.  They had bigger leaves than the courgette and the 
bright yellow fruit looked amazing.  They also cooked very nicely too.  I fried them 
and roasted them with very tasty results.  I grew them in grow bags and neighbours 
did ask how they were growing in such a small amount of soil but they did.  I think 
I'm quite attentive with lots of watering and feeding which makes them look all the 
more lush!
This year I'm growing 7 cucurbits in the 2 containers in the picture above. I am often
asked how they can grow healthily in such small containers and so close to each other.
But they wouldn't show off their big velvety leaves if they weren't happy.  I keep them
well watered and well fed.  I have a wormery so they have been top dressed with 
vermicompost and get a regular feed of worm tea.  They seem quite happy on this diet! 
I've also heard of them being grown right on top of a compost heap as they are well 
known to be heavy feeders. 
Here's what I am growing this year:
1 courgette (this one's a heavy cropper so I shall surely be saving seed from this one), 
2 French heirloom pattypans, 
2 gem squash (inspired to try by my South African friends) 
and 2 squash Zapallito de Toscana from the Heritage Seed Library
All are cropping nicely, although the courgettes are slightly more in the lead.  All 
showing off their huge, luscious velvety big leaves.  And the gem squash have started 
to clamber over my landlords perennial shrubs - ever the opportunists!  How could 
you not love such a gutsy vegetable?
Last weekend, for my Master Gardener in service training, the theme was exotic 
vegetables and they were quite a few new cucurbits to find out about.  That sparked 
some future experimentation like trying shark fin melon, dudi and especialliy the
mouse melon looked very interesting to grow. 
But I fear that it is not a large garden or an allotment I need.... It's a very large field 
with lots of room for all the cucurbits I want to grow!!

Here's some recipe ideas for the squash glut:
Squash Flower Salad
Courgette Humus 
A Good Summer Roast  

Thursday, 21 July 2011

Seeds to sow in the summer

Over the last fortnight, I've been asked to produce lists of what can be sown now. 

These questions have originated from the community gardens I support and Twitter.  Its a good question to ask just as we are on the brink of the glut season.  Times will be good for the next 6 weeks or so, but if we don't plan now there won't be much to eat from the garden come early autumn. 

I've also heard it mentioned that we Brits are very good at sowing seeds in spring but don't tend to keep the habit up through out the year!

So here are my suggestions:

Pak Choi
Kohl Rabi
Red Russian Kale
Turnips (for autumn crop)
Winter Radish

All types of salad can still be sown, especially with the wet weather we've been experiencing
Corn Salad (for winter crop)
Pea shoots (for summer salad crop) - in a week or two you will start to get shoots big enough to add to your salad

Spuds - quite like the idea of eating some home grown spuds with my Christmas dinner.  Home grown roasties...yumm!


Carrots (there are many more colours than the orange variety we find in the shops - I'm trying Pennard Plants rainbow carrots this year)

Real Seeds have also prepared a selection for summer sowing.  Here's their Summer Sowing Ideas

Happy sowing!

Friday, 8 July 2011

My turnips have gone to seed - Post 2!

On 24th of June I wrote a post about my turnips going to seed.  I had two options, eat the flowers a la broccoli style (or in a raw salad style) but partly through laziness and partly through curiosity I allowed them to go fully to seed.  I knew from last year that radishes make wonderful seed pods.

Yesterday, I tasted some seed pods and they taste like fresh baby turnips - I will definitely be adding these to my fresh salads. However, don't leave them on the plant too long or they can go a bit bitter.

Thursday, 7 July 2011

A visit to Hampton Court Flower Show

I went to the Hampton Court Flower Show yesterday and was sauntering through the show gardens and it struck me... I find gardens with no edibles boring, like there's something serious missing!  Surely gardens should have something to offer all 5 senses and not deny the sense of taste?  Ornamentals are fine providing they have a few edibles for company.

And the great thing about this year's show is that there are so many edibles in the displays.  I particularly enjoyed the 5 A Day garden and the Dig for Victory garden but there were many more with edible fruit, vegetables and flowers in their displays.  On reflection, I think the Dig for Victory garden is my favourite as it had a slightly more natural and evolved look about it.  The 5 A Day garden just looked a little too new, but was great to show examples of beautiful food growing in a garden with limited space.  Also, at the stand they had free food growing planners showing what you could sow in which month and when it would crop.  I love these types of charts!

I find edibles really exciting.  They are full of possibility.  Ornamentals with no culinary or medicinal uses have only one purpose, but edibles have beautiful vegetables, fruit or herbs growing on them with endless possibilities.  The flowers on edibles have promise of more to come.  Although I have to admit that ornamentals are probably so much more if you are a honey bee.

It got even more exciting when I got to the huge edible area and talked enthusiastically with the exhibitors in the edible tent.  Found my favourite stand - Pennard Plants with their wonderful heirloom variety seeds, bought loads of Franchi seeds and my next year's garlic bulbs from The Garlic Farm.  I also bought a bunch of seeds from Jekka's Herb Farm stand.  Interestingly though I did buy a few packets of poppy seeds as I do think they are beautiful and I also like to grow cosmos as ornamentals too.  I also bought copious amounts of different varieties of nasturtiums as I love to add the leaves to my salads.

The visit got me thinking... why do I have this huge enthusiasm for all things edible?

I grew up on a 4 acre small holding in north Wales where my parents were attempting to be self sufficient.  All the food I ate had been created from the vegetables and fruit grown on the farm.  Also we had a goat which I milked every day with my mother, hens for providing us with eggs and the animals reared would eventually make their way to our plates.

As a child, walking into the garden always started with grabbing a generous handful of chives to munch on and then going on my way.  In spring and summer this included a detour via the pea patch, strawberry patch, raspberry patch... And then my next stop would be to go and find my father.  He was always doing something exciting in the vegetable garden like sowing new seeds.

So from very early on, the garden means grazing.  I have now graduated to cooking and making teas, with lemon verbena being my absolute favourite garden tea.  I guess it is only natural that these passions for taste would follow through to adulthood.

Friday, 1 July 2011

Cape Gooseberries and Tomatillos

Last year I grew tomatillos with some success.  I do think they prefer a hotter climate like their native South America, but I had quite a few tomatillos for my salsa which I mixed with garden tomatoes.

This year, I decided to experiment with cape gooseberries (their sweet cousin) Physalis Peruviana.  My father has grown these on the border of North Wales with success so I thought I would try the same.  Also as my gardening is all container gardening I don't grow many fruit so that was another motivation for sowing some cape gooseberry seed.

My sowings were too successful and I had loads of seedlings.  So I gave some to the Wimbledon Food Group community gardens.  They haven't had so much success with theirs so I thought I would write a blog on the cape gooseberry's preferred conditions.

Situation:  They like a sunny position which is reasonably sheltered from the wind.

Soil:  They have a preference for well draining soil sandy or loam soil.  When putting them in a container put gravel or crocks in the soil.

Water:  They are relations of the tomato and the potato in the solanaceae family so like to be kept well watered, but don't like to go to bed with their feet wet.  Care needs to be taken to ensure their roots do not stand in water.

Fertilizer:  Do not need fertilizer and will grow more foliage than fruit if they get fed.

To summise: lots of water but don't feed!

They can take a while to get going, and placing them in a sunny spot should help kick start them.