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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Growing your own has certain advantages, the sweetness of sweetcorn taken straight from the plant and plunged in to boiling water, peas eaten straight from the pod. A third is choosing plant varieties, many of which have superior eating qualities but do not store well so are not stocked by supermarkets. Arran pilot is one of those. First developed in the 1930’s it was never commercially a success but is a favourite among allotmenteers. It is a first early potato so one of the earliest to be harvested, from about mid June but starts to deteriorate in flavour and texture within about 2 weeks of harvesting so the only way you will try it is if you grow your own.
There is something very satisfying about scraping back the soil to reveal your first potato harvest. If you just can’t wait to try your homegrown potatoes then a small sowing of Rocket may be for you. Rocket is a first early and is one of the earliest potato crops in the UK. It probably just pips Swift to the crown of earliest potatoes. Rock can be lifted, in warmer parts of the UK where frost protection has been given as early as late May, for most it will be about 10-12 weeks after planting.
One of the joys of this time of year is finding the little maroon gems of Tayberry Buckingham hiding in a secluded part of my garden. A cross between a raspberry and blackberry the Tayberry was developed in 1979 by Derek Jennings of the famous Scottish Research Institute and is named after the Scottish River Tay. Buckingham is the thornless variety. Tayberries get the colour and a lot of the flavour from raspberry but the size and bite from the blackberry. You will not often see them in supermarkets due to their softness which makes them difficult to pick and store commercially so if you want to try them you will need to grow your own.
It’s not often that you would call a daisy ugly but Scorzonera, a member of the daisy family is a vegetable with a root that only a mother could love. Very popular in Victorian times when it was prized for its delicate flavour it has all but been replaced by the sweeter and more attractive…