Add excitement to your winter vegetable patch by growing the glamorous vegetable chicory. This winter vegetable is a must as it is incredibly hardy and looks terrific on your plate. It is not grown enough in the UK yet it is the perfect winter vegetable for you to grow alongside kale. A member of the dandelion family, Chicory is a perennial herbaceous plant, mostly used for salads or cooked where it tends to lose its bitterness.
It grows best in fertile soil and can grow happily in full sun or part shade. It is best to direct sow the seed about 1cm deep in late May – July for harvesting in the winter months later that year. You can also sow the seed in cells for planting out or in some cases you can actually force this vegetable inside. Another clever way to cultivate this vegetable is by sowing the seed in a half gutter pipe which you can then easily slide out and transplant into your vegetable bed. This is such a versatile vegetable that it can even be grown in plant containers or window boxes. The key is to keep chicory moist to prevent the bitterness of the vegetable developing. The flowers on the plants are also edible.
Chicory Salad Recipe
Ingredients: Pear, chicory and blue cheese.
Wash the chicory and discard the outer leaves. Slice up the chicory and pear into thin slices. Add lemon juice to prevent discolouration and lightly toss in a bowl. Add parsley and walnut halves to the mix. Prepare a walnut and lemon juice dressing which is drizzled over the salad. Then gently crumble blue cheese over the top and serve immediately.
Kale Cavolo Nero – this winter vegetable is perfect for our northern climate. The textured leaves become slightly sweeter in taste after the first frosts. This home grown vegetable can be used in all sorts of recipes – from soups to salads, kale crisps and to complement meat dishes. The crinkled leaves are an attractive addition to your vegetable plot during the winter months adding structural interest.
In the Garden
Sow the seeds in April – May ideally into 10cm pots using ordinary multi purpose compost. Once the seedlings have reached about 15-20cm in size you can then transplant them out into your vegetable pot or raised beds. Space them about 45cm apart, as they can grow up to 1m tall during the growing season. Cavolo Nero is a 1cut and come again1 variety meaning the leaves once cut for the kitchen will regrow. Evenly harvest from your plants to prevent exhausting just one plant. This vegetable is known for being generally pest and disease free – it also doesn’t require a huge amount of water to grow.
Recipe: Kale Crisps
1 baking tray with kale leaves 100g
Olive oil (50ml)
A sprinkling of sea salt ( you can also try paprika or ras el hanout spices)
- Wash the kale leaves with water.
- Shake the leaves dry.
- Lightly drizzle olive oil onto the leaves and gently mix to ensure the leaves are covered evenly.
- Then sprinkle the sea salt or spices over the leaves.
- Place the leaves onto a baking tray and cook at 200C in the oven for 10-15 minutes until the leaves are crisp.
- Serve in a dish and enjoy eating as a healthy alternative to potato crisps.
Fancy growing your own grapes?
There is one key factor to remember when you want to grow grapes…this is sunlight. This ensures the juicy grapes ripen properly. Their climbing habitat makes them easy grow up walls, trellis or over arches.
There are basically two types of grape – wine and dessert. Dessert grapes require a conservatory or greenhouse to ensure plenty warmth for the sweet grapes to ripen. In some situations dessert vines can be planted outside but with their branches trained inside a greenhouse window. The benefit of this method is the vine will not require as much water compared to one growing inside.
Ensure that you water the vines frequently particularly during the growing season. Feed them with a high potash fertiliser. Dessert grapes should be thinned out to promote larger bunches which allows sunlight and air circulation into the vine. Dessert grapes need a period of dormancy to promote fruiting meaning the greenhouse or conservatory should be kept unheated over winter, then benefit from extra heat supplied in early spring of 16C.
Powdery mildew can be an issue with grapes but resistant varieties are now available. Remove flowers from young vines each year to prevent the young vine over producing before it has matured. Some grapes can also provide beautiful fall colour. Their large attractive leaves can turn crimson, purple, bronze and pink this adds additional interest to your garden wall or fence.
Grapes are ready to harvest when they are soft to touch and taste sugary. Best eaten fresh but if you cut off the branches they can be stored in a fridge for two weeks.
Wine grapes are suitable for cultivation outdoors – these tend to be less sweet and produce small clusters of acidic aromatic grapes. Plant your vine in a sheltered position that receives plenty of sunlight. A south or south west facing fence or wall is ideal. However, they can also be grown in rows which can be on a slope angled to the sun. Avoid planting in frost pockets as new growth can be easily damaged in a frost. Grapes can grow on a wide range of soils as seen from the famous wine regions of the world but drainage is critical. Also avoid soils that are too nutrient rich which might promote lush growth and prevent fruiting.
Allium ursinum carpets ancient woodlands in the UK each Spring. It makes a beautiful sight – but did you know it is also edible? Broad leaved wild garlic, or more commonly known as Ramsons grows up to 45cm in height in damp woodland. Both the leaves and flowers are edible. Leaves appear in March and taste delicious when picked young. The white flowers emerge in April to June. All parts of the plant have a potent garlic scent and can even be smelt in the woods whilst walking. It was used traditionally throughout European countries as a spring tonic due to its blood purifying properties which is also thought to lower cholesterol. In addition it was occasionally used as a disinfectant. Despite its strong smell it has a more mellow taste than conventional cooking garlic. It spreads by underground bulbs though take care where you plant it as it can spread easily. Why not whizz up olive oil, parmesan, pine nuts and young leaves to create your very own wild garlic pesto? You can find lots of other recipes on the BBC Good Food website.
There is nothing better than eating a homegrown rhubarb crumble! Rhubarb is an edible and attractive hardy perennial. It has attractive pinkish red leaf stalks that once cooked are great in pies and puddings. It will grow well in a open site that is free draining and has fertile soil. Organic matter can be added to improve crop yields. It does not always come true from seed which is why division is the best method of propagation. This can be carried out from the autumn to spring. Plant rhubarb crowns 7cm apart and keep free from weeds with a good mulch. In Autumn cut back the leaves and expose them to a period of cold during the winter. Rhubarb can be forced in early Spring but make sure to always leave 4 stems on the plant after mid summer. This allows the plant to recover this uses its energy to produce new stems the next year. Force using a clay forcing pot which will give you extra sweet tender stems to harvest. Once established rhubarb can be harvested from late spring until the end of June. After this it is not advised as the growth of the plant begins to slow down and will reserve its energy for next year’s yield.
Eating a home grown, sun-ripened peach or nectarine is heaven. However growing an espalier tree requires various requirements to get a bountiful harvest. It is best to prune the trees in November, removing all the leaves from stem during the process and selecting the three best growing tips to tie in. It is best to grow them in a frost free environment, but still experience low winter temperatures which are fundamental for fruit development. Whitewash your greenhouse walls every year and use flexi tie to tie the stems into the training wire on the wall. Irrigation is important for fruit development so a seep hose irrigation system works well. Rabbit tails or paint brushes can be used to hand pollinate the flowers during spring and leave the door open during the day to allow bees to visit for pollination. Make sure there are vents to allow good ventilation during the summer months. Mulch the trees each year with leaf mould and use bone meal or manure to feed. With fruiting plants it is essential to have a quick release feed to help aid fruit development. Some peach varieties to grow are Peregrine, Rochester, Hale’s Early and Dymond. Nectarine varieties are Early Rivers, Lord Napier and Pineapple.
Cavolo nero is a beautiful and tasty kale to grow in your vegetable patch. It is also referred to as black cabbage, Tuscan kale, or even nero de Toscana. In the brassica family it is popular in Italy where it is used in many main dishes and soups. The flavour is slightly sweet with a rich and intense flavour. It has a good source of vitamins K, A, B and C, as well as calcium, manganese, copper and iron. It makes a great winter vegetable due to its hardiness providing fresh garden produce when fresh greens are scarce. The flavour and texture improves on the plant once the first frosts occur. It can even be grown in containers and can tolerate poor soils. Harvest regularly as this is a cut and come again crop and the small leaves are great in salads. Sow in Feb- July in cells or sow direct into the ground.
Pumpkins range in colour and size from cute miniatures to record breaking giants. A pumpkin is a fruit in the genus Cucurbita. The word
pumpkin has French and Greek derivations meaning ‘ripened in the sun’. They are classified as a fruit not a vegetable, as the fruit forms from a single flower and has no stone or core like an apple. Pumpkins can be great fun for the whole family to grow especially young children. They need plenty space in a sunny position, plenty water and sheltered from strong winds. Sow outdoors in May or June after the risk of frost has passed. Space plants 1.8metres apart and feed the plant every week with a high potash fertiliser or use well-rotted manure and compost tea. It is also important to support the fruit off the soil using a straw mulch, glass or even a tile. Great fun carved and lit on the porch for Halloween, and attractive ripening in the garden. Once harvested use the produce in tasty soups, pies or simply just roast them.
Citrus plants are easy to grow and they are originally from humid Southeast Asia. The most commonly known are lemons, oranges, grapefruit and limes. As well as their fruits the leaves can be used for flavouring in rice, pasta and drinks. Citrus plants are typically non-hardy and in frost prone areas they need winter protection in a heated greenhouse or conservatory. There is nothing better than being able to pick your own lime for your gin and tonic fresh from the garden. If regularly fed, potted on and protected over winter they can reach a height of about 2 metres. They should be watered when the top of the soil becomes dry – however, never let the roots stand in water. They are hungry plants and need regular feeding during the growing season. A citrus will bloom in Spring but some species can bloom throughout the year. They are self-fertile and can produce fruit without fertilisation. You can grow them from seed but it can take many years to reach maturity and produce fruits. They are polyembryonic which means one seed can produce several seedlings. They require a soil type of low acid to neutral pH.