Never has a vegetable caused so much delight and such pain as the humble potato. Its introduction to Europe enabled massive population increases being a fairly easy to grow, balanced and cheap source of nutrition, especially in Ireland which became almost completely reliant on the potato as a staple crop. Therefore when blight (a fungus) hit Europe in 1845, decimating crops and rotting them in the fields and spread rapidly towards Ireland, it had one deadly outcome….famine.
Occasionally you find a variety of vegetable that in one mouthful reminds you exactly why, despite the graft and occasional disappointments you started growing your own in the first place, This vegetable for me last year was Foremost. First earlies can sometimes be a little lacking in flavour but Foremost taste exactly like you would hope that a potato would taste.
The blue banana or Guatemalan blue banana squash as it is often known is an heirloom variety with roots in South America. Their large vines can reach over 6 meters and blue banana, as well as its pink cousins, were very popular up to the last century when they gradually started to be replaced by the ubiquitous but tasteless butternut.
If any vegetable could be compared to an Instagram influencer it would probably be the Kalette. A happy crossing beween Kale and sprout they were originally called Flowersprouts but it was though that the word sprout was putting people off so it was renamed Kalettes and relaunched with lots of branding, they even have their own website.
If there is one plant on the allotment that almost impossible to get wrong it is Kale. These hardy stalwarts of the winter allotment provide food from summer all the way through to the hungry gap the following spring. Often kale can be quite a large plant getting upwards of a metre. If you are on a windy site or can only provide netting to a certain hight then dwarf green curled could be an option, growing to a slightly more lower 40-60cm.
I waited a long time to grow Burgess buttercup squash. There is only one main supplier in the UK which is the Real Seed Company and they always sell out early, added to that we then had covid and everyone decided to become preppers and start growing their own so everywhere sold out of everything. However I had managed to get my order in early enough so 2021 was the year.
I’ve never had much luck with plants in the cabbage family other than sprouts and kale. The biggest cauliflower I have managed to grow was smaller than a tangerine. I always live in hope however and I planted a few unsuccessful (again) cauliflowers this year but the one success was my green spouting broccoli.
Kale used to be one of the only fresh green vegetables that could be grown in the UK over winter and tough little numbers like Hungry Gap would brave out the winter frosts, snow and wind. The trouble is that toughness to survive a winter storm lead to toughness on the plate and once supermarkets started flying in vegetables from around the world people turned away from their less palatable staples. Kale was gradually abandoned and started to sink out of peoples memory.
It took The River Cafe which opened in the late 1908’s to bring kale back in to the spotlight but not any kale……..This was a kale of which we’d never seen in the UK before or if we had it had long gone out of production. The kale was Cavolo Nero
The origins of this pink hardneck garlic are from Kazakstan and it would have made its way East eventually ending up in the French village of Lautrec where it has been popular since the Middle Ages. Stories are told of a wandering salesman who was unable to pay for his meal at a local tavern; he settled his bill with a mysterious pink garlic. The surprised tavern owner decided to plant it and the pink garlic has been common to the area ever since.
If you are used to thinking of squash as the ubiquitous butternut squash you can buy in supermarkets then this one will knock you over with it’s intense chestnut flavour. It is one of my favourite squashes and I grow it every year.
Looking at the Oxheart carrot I did wonder if this was a carrot even Bugs Bunny would have difficulty getting his teeth into. Oxheart is an heirloom French variety, also known as Guerandes and is from the famous carrot growing region of Nantes, dating back to 1884. It is an unusual, large, almost heart shaped carrot which is why it got its name. Oxheart are quite short (up to 15cm) but also wide (up to 12cm) and can weigh up to 500g each. The blunt shape means it is good for shallow or heavy soils and it stores well.
Crown prince is rightly named. A regular favourite amongst allotmenteers it’s delightful duck egg blue colour stands out and it is often regarded as on of the best squash in the kitchen.
We are currently enjoying one of those crisp November mornings, bright sunshine, fairly mild and no frost on the ground yet. This makes it an ideal last chance to get garlic in to the ground if you haven’t already done so. If you haven’t already bought your varieties then I would seriously recommend Carcassonne which…
Occasionally you will see what can only be described as a super model vegetable, the sort that makes you look twice in your instagram feed or at a seed packet. Kalibos cabbage is one of those vegetables.
I nearly cried when I saw a neighbour displaying these in their front garden for Halloween, probably to be discarded once the frost had turned them to mush. What a waste of one of the best tasting squashes you can grow. It is a little bundle of chestnutty goodness.
British summertime, the clocks have gone back and there are only a few things still on the plot; carrots, leaks, brassica, parsnips and beetroot. In the autumn you can lift beetroot to store in sand to see you over the winter but as our winters are getting milder and milder I generally take the risk and let them stand, only taking what I can eat in a week at a time.
Size isn’t everything they say but when it comes to garlic cloves I am generally of the opinion that bigger is always better. There is nothing more frustrating and lets face it, a little wiffy, than fiddling round with tiny cloves.
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.
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.
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.
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.
If you visit the Bakers Creek website you will understand why I chose to grow this tomato last year. First developed by Wildboar farms in 2017, where it gained best in show from the Heirloom Tomato Expo ,this is potentially an heirloom variety of the future. My photographs don’t really do the colours justice, starting off a lime green purple and gradually ripening to an olive and red, possibly with a little purple still. An amazing coloured tomato but was it going to be all show and no flavour?
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.