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.
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I’ve just dug up the last of my first early potatoes and will soon be moving on to the second earlies. This year my most successful first earlies were Lady Christl. Slice Lady Christl open and you will see a buttery yellow interior. This butteriness is carried on in to the flavour. It’s reminiscent of the nations favourite Charlotte but not as sweet, instead there are slight parsley notes.
I remember watching a gardening program in the 80’s where the presenter was emphasising the speed at which you needed to cook sweetcorn from the moment it was picked as the sugars started to turn to starch. In those days the only way to taste good sweet corn was to grow your own. Sweetcorn breeding has come a long way since then with the development of the tender sweet and then super sweet varieties, both of which are much sweeter and also have a longer shelf life which means no more running from plot to plate!
For many the choice of cherry tomatoes is either Sungold or gardeners delight but now there are a few red varieties of tomato that are rivalling gardeners delight for its crown which has lost the RHS award of garden merit. One of the new kids on the block which has been awarded the hotly contested award is Sweet Aperitif.
It is starting to heat up now in the UK with temperatures in the 20’s for the first time. It’s still far too cold for chillies to go outside but if you are anything like me your windowsills will be groaning with chillies, peppers and tomatoes. I’m always on the look out for something a little unusual in the chilli department and I first picked up these lemon drop (or Aji Limon) chillies a few years ago after seeing them recommended by James Wong in his Grow for Flavour book so thought I would give it a go.
Cucamelons have got to be one of the oldest and oddest crops I’ve ever had on the allotment. Known in their native Mexico as Sandiitas de Raton which translates as mouse melon they’ve been cultivated since before Christopher Columbus set sail.
Love beetroot but fed up with you and your kitchen looking like a bloodbath after? If so then you could try giving yellow beetroots a try. There are two main yellow varieties, Burpees Golden which dates back to the 1970’s and Golden Detroit from the 1820’s.
I’m always a bit sceptical about novelty vegetables. So many times you might get an unusual colour or shape but insipid taste. There are a couple of novelty broad beans including the crimson flowered, dating back to the 1800’s and recently saved from extinction, there are some purple seeded beans too, all of which seem to be as good as the more normal green beans. Therefore when I saw Karmazyn and its unusual antique pink colour, I thought I would give it a go.
Here’s looking at you spud! Of all the allotments in all the world, you had to walk in to this one! Cook it Sam, if you can cook it for her, you can cook it for me!
I spent some time trying to find a little about this darling modern variety of potato including how it got its exotic name. Is it named in honour of the film, the city? Does it originate from Casablanca (unlikely)? If anyone finds out then do let me know.
If you’ve ever spent any time in southeast Asia or if not at least visited your local Thai or Vietnamese restaurant you would almost certainly have tasted the perfumed taste of lemongrass. You might not realised it but it is an actual grass, but one with a fragrant citrus and slightly coriander taste and scent.
Field beans are usually sown by farmers as a winter green manure crop to provide stability for the soil and be a source of nitrogen and organic matter for the year ahead. They aren’t normally thought of for their culinary ability but this little beans might surprise you. If left to mature, field bean Wizard…
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.
Kale was one of a very few fresh vegetables available in the winter months. Perhaps for this reason, alongside the fact that many kales can be pretty tough and bitter once vegetables could be imported it fell heavily out of fashion.
De Monica is advertised as one of the earliest spring down broad beans to harvest and should from a Feb planting it is claimed be ready to harvest in May.
Peas are not the sort of thing to grow unless you are a grow your own obsessive.