VEGETABLES FOR VALENTINES DAY

Give me a basket of freshly dug home grown vegetables any time, rather than a bunch of imported hothouse flowers!

Although I must confess to a pang of regret at pulling up the last of my precious charges, leaving only the kale and cavolo nero which will rapidly start going to seed as soon as the weather turns warmer. Much better to eat them in their prime rather than allow them to deteriorate in quality. Alongside the leeks, spring greens and parsnips, I do have also some jerusalem artichokes.

This is the yield from just one plant, and I had a dozen plants to get through! What a lot of nourishment from such a small area. Of course, jerusalem artichoke soup is always loved, despite the rather gaseous side effects. So easy to make with just a softened onion in butter or olive oil, and the best homemade stock you have, preferably chicken or pheasant stock as I used here. Peel the artichokes, and chop into chunks, then simmer for around 20 minutes or until they are quite soft. Blitz it all up using a hand blender or liquidiser,and add a little double cream for a more luscious concoction, although I rarely bother.

Make sure you only grow the fuseau variety, which is much easier to deal with when peeling. If you dont want to have a major weed problem next year, you must dig up absolutely every last tuber, or fragments thereof. Make sure you keep back a dozen good tubers for replanting ,one foot apart ,a new row in March in a different spot ; and with some added rotted manure or compost, you can leave them absolutely alone until next November, when they have stopped growing and are fully mature. All you will need to do in the autumn is cut down the stems after they have flowered, but leave around a foot of growth so that you dont forget where they are, and as a useful handle when digging them up.

Thoughts will now turn to planning the Vegetable Garden for next year. I have been a bit late in ordering my seed potatoes, so that will be my first job today. They won’t be planted until March, but the new potatoes will benefit hugely from chitting in a cool light spot.

One of the major successes last year were my carrots.

There is still a huge bin bag of them in my old outside fridge, although they are starting to sprout a little and wont keep for more than another month. My carrot cage will need replacing as it has now got rather a lot of holes in it, and some carrot fly has got in and marked a few of the carrots as you can see from the photo above. Not so much as to cause any real problem in the kitchen though. I use a double layer of polypropylene affixed to a homemade frame giving a cage of at least 3 ft height.

This was it last spring. I am staggered how an area just 12′ by 4′ could produce quite such a large crop! I havent had to buy a carrot since June, and won’t need to again until mid March , probably.

One of my first posts on this blog was titled March, the Hungry Gap. How true that is. Aside from the abovementioned vegetables, and if I was not going to be buying anything from a shop, all we would be surviving on would be those, and some hazelnuts , apples, squashes and pumpkins still in store. Not much more than a months worth of food though. There are still some bottled pears and chutneys in the larder, and a few broad beans and borlotti beans in the freezer. If I could get the rest of the family to join in, it might be fun to see how long one could survive on only homegrown produce, just like our forebears. Might even be good to do a bit of fasting!

The next vegetable to come will be the eagerly awaited asparagus. On our light soil, and with an early variety called Franklim or Gynliim (I can never remember which one I have) the first spears are ALWAYS ready by the end of April. That seems quite a long time away. Then not until June really, is very much ready outside. I may try a few salads in the unheated Greenhouse this year. Best get ordering new seed now!

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