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.

22/06/2016

Artichoke ABC

Comments very welcome!

Are your globe artichokes in bud? Have one for lunch!

Globe artichoke bud

Cut off enough stalk so that it will fit in a steamer.

Globe artichoke in steamer

Steam until a scale detaches effortlessly from the bud when you pull it. (This 10cm diameter artichoke took about 25 minutes.)

Globe artichoke with melted butter

Starting near the stem (and discarding the first round or two of scales), start detaching and dipping each scale in melted butter and then by putting the scale between your teeth scrape off the succulent base - and eat! They are quite tasty without any butter too. 

I ploughed right in and forgot to take a photo of the individual scales. But I found these ones later in the debris on the plate - small unscraped scales left (probably from the discarded outer layer) and larger scraped scales right.

Scraped and unscraped scales

Below is the hairy 'choke'. Don't eat this bit, it's hairy. Scrape it out with a spoon.

Globe artichoke choke

This is the 'heart' - the tastiest part. Enjoy! 

Globe artichoke heart

I kept going - the centre of the stalk is good too.

Plate of globe artichoke scales

Easy!


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

31/05/2016

How fast can a climbing spinach climb?

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In July 2015 I had a bit of fun seeing how fast Hablitzia tamnoides, the Caucasian climbing spinach, was scrambling up the trellis on the garden wall. I posted the results on Stephen Barstow's Friends of Hablitzia tamnoides Facebook group. 40cm in 3 days - more than 0.5cm an hour!

I've just repeated the experiment and the photos are below. The first shot shows the whole plant - well most of it anyway (the one with large, light green, heart-shaped leaves). Its top shoot can be seen above the trellis in front of the ivy. There are more shoots in the vegetation below, held back from climbing the wall by our harvesting. The stumps of harvested shoots take a little while to recover but after a few weeks will sprout from multiple places along their length. A mature Hablitzia plant can be very bushy and produce plentiful harvests over the season.

Hablizia tamnoides - Caucasian climbing spinach

The following photos show the growth over the last seven days of a lesser shoot which is scrambling up to the left of the tall one. (The head of the screw on the second bar of the trellis is a useful reference point for comparing the shoot length).

Hablitzia 1

Hablitzia 2

Hablitzia 3

Hablitzia 4

Hablitzia 5

The growth rate of this shoot over these seven days has been 40cm in 166 hours. A mere 0.24cm an hour! (but then this wasn't the leading shoot and we are in May and not July).

If you have one, how fast does your Hablitzia grow?


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