Occasionally you come across a variety that you know you will grow year after year. For me I now have the perfect early dwarf french bean in Emperor of Russia and now I have a climbing purple French bean Kew blue. Both are from the Heritage Seed library which is a member organisation that keeps 800 rare landrace or heirloom seeds alive by growing them and distributing to members who receive 6 packets a year for their membership.
Very few vegetables can claim to be an internet sensation but there is one, a mixture of heritage corn bred by Oklahoma based, part Cherokee farmer Carl Barnes. Carl, who died in 2016, was a collector of traditional corn varieties and crossed coloured corns again and again to make a spectacular multi coloured flint (pop) corn.
Those of you who read my blog will know that I am a little fussy about my French/Pole beans. I like them tender, straight and slim. I am also a sucker for an unusually coloured vegetable and have tried purple beans like blauhild or yellow like Golden Gate with a lot of success.
f you were to ask an allotmenteer what their favourite potatoes are then you might see a few stapels, Pink Fir apple perhaps for its flavour, Cara for its reliability. If you talk to someone in a supermarket it might be the Jersey Royal for new season flavour, Maris Piper, a good allrounder or King Edward for its roasties. Probably the one which might be on both peoples lists however is Charlotte.
It has taken me a long time to get sufficient strawberries on the plot to start to wonder what I could do with all the excess. This year with a combination of another 30 strawberry plants and some bird protection I finally had enough to make a couple of kilos of jam and could start using up my strawberry glut.
In my last post I had a bit of a grumble about a variety of bean Sprite that I just didn’t feel lived up to the RHS award of garden merit it had been given. The second early salad/waxy potato Jazzy however is the complete opposite. I rarely get blown away by a new variety but Jazzy knocked my socks off.
Unfortunately for me my sowing of the dwarf French bean Sprite have been disappointing. The yield is average, plants suffered from slug damage and the beans did not always grow straight like promised. All this however could be forgiven if they had good flavour…..unfortunately this is also only mediocre and nothing compared to Emperor of Russia or even purple teepee which I had been a bit sniffy about earlier.
If you grow garlic you will notice that some varieties will try to flower. In most cases what eventually forms in garlic are not true flowers but little tiny garlic bulbils as garlic has to all intents and purposes lost the ability to sexually reproduce centuries if not millennium ago. There have been some…
There are two potatoes that vie for the earliest which is Rocket and Swift. For growing in pots under cover for potatoes in June they are the ones to try, producing smallish salad potatoes. However they both seriously loose out in the speed versus flavour competition so for that reason you might want to sow…
For those who can’t wait for their first broad beans you have two choices to either risk sowing a hardy variety in Autumn and risk heavy loses or plant a quick maturing spring variety like Express. In the Kitchen Express has a good flavour for an early bean but is not exceptional compared to some…
Children being introduced to gardening for the first time are often given radish to grow, being one of the fastest and simplest vegetables to grow and therefore thought to encourage them, however rarely have I ever seen a child tuck in to a radish with enthusiasm and it always struct me that it would be…
Concador was my first really successful green bean. I had grown Purple and Golden teepee before but found they got chunky quite early, were often misshapen and their promised ability to hold the beans above the foliage was only true until the beans got to a certain size, then their weight dropped them down again.
For anyone with an interest in food and gardening the increased reliance of world wide food crops to a few varieties is a concern. Local “landrace” varieties are vanishing, along with their genetic diversity and suitability to local ecosystems in favour of a handful of varieties which can be wiped out if a pathogen mutates…
Hands up I didn’t think I was going to like this bean. I’m used to French/Pole beans being shaped like a pencil and runner beans to be flat and looking at this it was a French bean pretending to be a runner. Not only that but it is wiggly, which means it does not fit in to my runner bean slicer
I tried growing a new vegetable last year which is the Andean native Oca, also called New Zealand Yam although its origins are South American not antipodean. It was first introduced to Europe in the 1830’s but didn’t take off. I suspect that we have James Wong to thank for re-introducing it to UK growers who found that actually, it does taste really good!
I tried a new corn variety last year called Damaum. This is a fairly recent breeding from Europe which is open pollinated and therefore any seed that you saved would breed true. Cobs will be ready about 95 days after sowing which means a Mid April sowing will be ready from the beginning of August and successional sowings can take you to the first frosts in October.
I spent several months this winter living at my parents second home in Dorset to get a bit of fresh air from lockdown life. They were rather surprised when I rocked up with my chilli plants taking up most of the space in my car and filling every available window space. There were good reasons for that though.
Golden beetroot have been around from the early 1800’s when Golden Detroit became available but did not become popular until the 1940’s when Burpees Golden became the golden beet of choice.
UK suppliers describe the cream sausage tomato as a heritage or heirloom tomato, however in the USA there is a very similar looking tomato, bush variety, yellow, paste developed by the master of tomatoes Tom Wagner in 2004. I am assuming they are the same, however it makes it as heirloom as my old Nokia 8210 mobile phone.
Love them or loath them? The marmite of the vegetable world, the Brussels sprout. I am an unashamed lover of a well cooked (and by that I mean not boiled within and inch of its life) sprout.
The one vegetable other than cauliflower that has evaded my attempts to grow successfully has been carrots. My allotment is on fairly heavy and damp clay, slugs and carrot fly are rife and carrots that have survived the slugs have ended up being eaten by carrot fly or generally feeling a bit sorry for themselves in the cold damp clay.
Celery is a vegetable that people seem to love or hate. I will admit that it probably isn’t my favourite so until recently I had never grown it on the plot as it wasn’t a priority, however a serious allotmenteer must grow it or be marked down in the annual competitions!
It’s frosty outside but there is still one stalwart of the kitchen garden producing and that is the cabbage January King. The king of winter cabbages is actually a French variety called “chou de Milan de Pontoise” and has been grown since 1865 in the UK. However the name January King really suits this variety. Whilst most cabbages grown now are F1 hybrids, this one survives as nothing can outlast it in a bad winter.
For the local allotment show my onion of choice was the Bedfordshire champion….after all with a name like that how could I fail. The Bedfordshire champion has been around since 1869, when it was first sold by Sutton’s . It has a golden brown skin with a white centre and is reliable in the UK and has remained popular which is why it is still grown 200 years later.
The oldest variety of broad bean widely grown is Green Windsor introduced in 1809. Windsors have shorter pods, less yield and are a bit less hardy than the long pods so are best for spring sowings. However some, like Green Windsor have a fantastic flavour, much better than some of the autumn sown long pods, so are still grown today.
One broad bean has clawed its way back from extinction. First mentioned in 1778 and later discussed in a London Horticultural Society report in 1831 was the “red blossomed” broad bean.
I have a New Years day tradition and that is to sow my chillies and peppers for the year ahead. Currently we are sitting under a blanket of frost and light levels are low which are less than ideal for our tropical friends so to keep them happy I use a heated propagator and LED grow lights. The reason I start them so early is that many chillies take 80-120 days from sowing to fruiting in ideal conditions but I find in the UK that the superhots will not start fruiting properly until July/August even when sown in January.
It was a toss up for the Christmas Eve post. Brussel sprouts? Potatoes? Carrots? Brussel sprouts divide the nation, I’m not great at growing carrots yet and growing a decent non salad potato that isn’t eaten by slugs still evades me so today it will be parsnips. As tomorrow will be celebrating the birth of the King of Kings this parsnip also one with a vaguely royal theme. Happy Christmas everyone and lets pray for a better 2021!
I had a bit of a surprise as the squash plants started to die back this year. A giant blue squash hiding behind the greenery. How I had managed to miss such a walloping great thing I have no idea and although it is not one of the giant carving pumpkins, at 5kg it was certainly the biggest squash I had ever grown.
Bramley are the quintessential British cooking apple. If you want a more controllable tree then Bramley 20 is the better choice. It is a sport of Bramley which means that was a part of a cutting from the Bramley tree which for some reason is slightly different. In this case it is slightly slower growing and about 25% smaller but the fruit is the same.
OK I will hands up admit it…I am a sucker for chillies. I recently moved house and transported 6 pots of chillies as they were still growing and my Christmas tree this year will be a red habanero. I especially love unusual chillis so when I saw this purple one, Buena Mulata, I just had to give it a go especially when I heard its history.
There is an English proverb, “If at first you don’t succeed, try try try again”. Never, it feels like, has it been more true that with the Trinidad perfume chilli. I first read about it in James Wongs RHS Grow for Flavour and wanted to give it a go. I love Habanero chillies, probably the finest flavour of all chillies but they are hot. Trinidad perfume is a hab type but with no heat.
Hamburg parsley, sometimes known as turnip rooted parsley or parsnip rooted parsley is a real novelty in the UK which you are unlikely to be able to try unless you grow your own although it is much more popular in (obviously) Germany but also other parts of Europe.
There isn’t much left on the allotment at this year other than some hardy brassicas, leeks and parsnips. Parsnips are sometimes shunned by allotmenteers as they have to be in the ground for a long time to form good roots and always taste best after the first frosts. Some varieties need a very deep fine sandy soil to cope with their long tapered roots and show growers will grow them in dustbins or drainpipe. If your soil is less than ideal, you want to find a slightly shorter variety. White Gem is a good one to consider growing in that case
Gooseberries have for some reason been a little out of fashion and quite hard to buy the fruit. For years you have only been able to buy them in most supermarkets in tins or yogurt. Thankfully things seem to be changing and when they are in season they do seem to more available fresh. Invicta is a good variety for beginners. Whilst it doesn’t top the flavour chart it is a good variety to grow as it is mildew resistant, has large berries and very high yields, it is almost bomb proof and has the RHS award of garden merit at the time of writing. Invicta is a variety for cooking as it is quite tart but there are other varieties which can be eaten fresh.
I’ve always been a bit wary of the phrase “a good all rounder”. At school I was described as such and it always seemed to say competent at most things, master of none. It’s a very unexciting phrase.
So I feel a little ungenerous describing the pear Williams Bon Cretein as a good all rounder but in this case it is a fair description. This English heritage pear, first found in 1765 and later sold by Richard Williams has a smooth buttery flesh and real pear flavour.
In vegetables there are very few varieties which are more than 100 years old. Plant breed programs have improved yields and disease resistance (often at the expense of flavour and nutritional value) beyond all recognition. Fruit trees, probably because of the time required to bring a new variety to the market are a different matter. If you would like to eat a piece of agricultural history then Doyenne Du Comice is a fine place to start. This pear was bred in France in 1849, just 30 or so years after the death of Napoleon and a year after the February revolution forced King Louis-Phillipe to abdicate and flee to England. It was introduced to England by Sir Francis Dyke Acland in 1858. It is still in commercial production in the continent.
For those of us hiding indoors this weekend as a large band of wet weather crosses the UK, next summer can seem like a lifetime away. However there are a few crops in the allotment which need to go in to the ground now for next year. Early cropping broad beans and sweet peas but also autumn sown garlic.
If you haven’t already got your garlic, then rose wight, from the famous Isle of Wight garlic farm stable is worth a second look. It really is an eye catcher and has a good flavour too.
Let’s have a conference about pears…..conference pears that is. Conference is the most widely grown pear in the UK, probably not because it is the finest tasting although it does have good flavour, but because it is easy to grow and easy to store. It is a true heritage pear though, being bred by one of the most famous Victoria fruit tree breeders, the Rivers nursery.
I have a confession to make. I am a bit of an apple traitor. Normally I would always say, buy local, buy British, support UK farmers. I should, as a Brit and the friend of an English apple farmer, be championing the cox or other apples grown here. However my favourite apple is Pink Lady an apple that is impossible to grow legally in the UK. The reason it is impossible is that it is still under plant breeders rights and the breeder will not allow it to be grown here as conditions are not ideal and they wish to maintain its premier image. So what to do?