Chard or Leaf Beet

Chard or Swiss Chard, Beta vulgaris Cicla, is a member of the Chenopodiaceae family of plants. Known as poirée, bette or blette in France, it is a popular kitchen garden vegetable, although less known in the UK.  Chard is an excellent leafy vegetable; an all-rounder, tough, reliable and productive throughout the year, making it an excellent choice for any kitchen garden. The leaves can be used like spinach and the ribs are a delicious vegetable in their own right, particularly the varieties with thick ribs.

Biennial Hardy Edible Leafy plant

Chard, Verte a Carde Blanche, April 2007

History  The cultivation of chard dates back to classic antiquity. The Greeks and Romans used it widely but it did not become popular in Europe until the middle ages.

Site & Soil  Swiss Chard is tough, tolerant of poor soils, shade, heat and temperatures down to –14c. It will grow best in a sunny site at  10-25c °C

Propagation  Chard will produce all year from a single sowing, it can be succession sown through the year or my preference is to make 2 sowings per year one in late winter/early spring and one in late summer/early autumn. Improve germination by soaking seeds for 24hrs before sowing to break down the hard seed shell.  Germinates 7-10days.

Sow (Feb) March-June and August-Sept (Oct) Crops Spring 60days Summer 45days

Spread 25cm x 45cm

Method

1. Sow in situ in drills 1-3cm deep, in rows 30cm apart. Thin, when the seedlings have 4-5 leaves, to 22cm apart
2. Sow undercover in cells and transplant after 4-6weeks
3. Sow 3-4 seeds in stations 20-25cm apart in rows 45cm apart
4. Broadcast sow in 10cm wide drills and treat as a CCA.

Harvest (April-May) May-Nov and Dec-April

It is in season for most of the year from early summer until mid to late spring the following year from an early spring sowing.Cut outer leaves just above ground level from several plants rather than completely stripping one. Continual cutting of outer leaves through the season ensures the production of new young tender leaves. Chard can be harvested at the baby leaf  stage for use in salad or as a cooked vegetable either use the thinnings or treat as a cut and come again by cutting the small plants down to just above the soil surface.

Storage Pick as required or harvest and store leaves in a fridge for up to 1 week.

Botany and Seed Saving  Retains 50% germination for 6 years. In mild winter climates the seed-to-seed method is used to produce seed in colder climates with frost killing winter the seed-to-root-to-seed method should be used. Thresh dried seed stalks and winnow to remove plant debris.  Beet seeds have an unusual structure in that each seed is a group of flowers held together by their petals. These clusters usually contains 2-5 seeds. An outbreeding, wind-pollinated plant with pollen travel up to 5 miles. Minimum of 6 plants required for seed production.

Companion Swiss chard is said to grow well with carrots, cabbage, beans, radish and turnip/swede. I find it grows particularly well next to aubergines.

Use as you would spinach; young leaves raw in salads and older leaves and ribs as a pot herb or leafy green.

Nutrition Swiss Chard is rich in Iron and Vitamin A as well as a useful amounts of Vitamin B & C.

Varieties

Verte a Carde Blanche Classic French variety with thick white succulent midribs and tasty dark green leaves. Really delicious this is my all time favourite chard variety.

Bright Lights A swiss chard with a mix bright colourful stems and a mild, sweet flavour. It will overwinter to provide leaves during milder weather in winter and into spring.

Lucullus A swiss chard with thinner 2-3cm wide pale green to white ribs and light green crinkle edged leaves.

Zilver thick white ribs and green leaves i found it disappointing (i grew an organic variety from unwins).

Perpetual Spinach A long-standing easy to grow spinach like green, it is actually a slim stalked, smooth leaf swiss chard or leaf beet. It is quite hardy and prolific supplying a “perpetual” harvest of leaves throughout the year. It is much slower to bolt during the hot weather and long days of summer than true spinach. Maturity from fifty days onward.

Further Reading

Seed to Seed: Suzanne Ashworth, p71

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Asparagus

Asparagus, Asparagus Officinalis, a hardy perennial from the Liliaceae family. Asparagus is an ancient vegetable highly prized for its wonderful flavour as well as its nutritional and medicinal values, it produces tasty edible spears in mid spring. Asparagus may seem like a lot of work and a long wait to get started but once the plants have settled in and the asparagus bed has started producing it can’t be beaten, it really is worth taking the time and making the space for it.

History
Asparagus is believed to be a native of the Mediterranean lands but it has been found “wild” in so many places that there is some confusion as to where it actually originated. There are references to asparagus in ancient Egypt, Greece, Syria and Spain. It is known to have been cultivated by the Romans since at least 200 B.C. but it was not until the 16th century that it became popular in France and England. From there the early colonists took it to America.

Site & Soil
Asparagus is best in full sun in an open site but not too exposed to wind. It requires rich, (low nitrogen) well-drained, sandy soil and prefers a PH of between 6.5 – 7.5. Asparagus grows best at 16-24c but needs cool winters during its dormant period to crop well in spring.  The natural habitat of Asparagus is maritime and it can be found growing wild in many seaside locations around the world.  It thrives in soils that are too saline for many other plants and is an ideal plant for a seaside garden.

Preparation (asparagus trench)
Incorporate a good amount of manure before planting. (preferably in autumn leaving the soil rough until March). In March dig a trench 20cm deep and 30cm wide. If soil was not prepared beforehand incorporate manure and leaf mould. Shape soil at the bottom of the trench into a ridge 10cm high running the entire length of the trench and sprinkle with bone meal. Trials have shown that adding sheep manure, bone or wool to the very bottom of the trench ensures a slow release of nutrients over a long period and will benefit asparagus. We happened to have all of the above from the late sheep that roamed the mountain so they went into my trenches.
Propagation

  • by division – divide roots in late winter or early spring when buds are just developing and before new root growth begins in earnest. Carefully lift crown with a fork. Shake off excess soil. Cut away any damaged or diseased growth from each section. Take great care not to damage or cut into any buds.  Pries apart the crown into sections each with at least one good bud. If necessary gently cut through the Crown. Place crowns 60cm (some say 30-45cm)  in a single bed or in beds with 2-3 rows 60-90cm apart. Lay crowns upon the prepared ridges spreading the roots down either side. Gently fill in the trench with sifted soil so that : only the buds are visible. Earth up as the asparagus grows to always keep the same amount of stem uncovered.  By autumn the trench should be filled In warmer climates cover the bud tips with 5cm of loose soil to stop them drying out.
  • by seed – Sow seeds in a seed bed 2.5cm deep and 8cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Transplant the largest as crowns to their permanent position the following spring (see above). Alternatively sow in modules in late winter – early spring (13-16c) and transplant in early summer ready to harvest after 2 years. TIP Soak seeds 2 days before sowing.

Planting Asparagus Crowns

Care
An asparagus bed will provide spears for 15-30 years if well maintained so it is worth taking care of your beds. The roots store the energy produced by ferny stems during the growing season. Once harvested Asparagus should be left to grow ferns and be kept weeded, watered and fed so that a fresh crop of spears can be produced next year. Keep asparagus beds weed free and moist. Do not let the beds dry out or get  water-logged. After spring harvesting apply a general fertiliser or seaweed based meal to nurture stem growth and build up plants for the following year. In autumn cut down the ferny stems once they have turned yellow (burn to avoid harbouring asparagus beetle eggs). Stumps should be left 3-4cm proud.  Apply a heavy top-dressing of well-rotted manure in Autumn to late winter or cover beds in seaweed. Remove in spring if the seaweed has not rotted down.  Feed again with fish meal, chicken dung, seaweed and add a sprinkling of salt in Spring.

Asparagus Ferns

Harvest 
It will normally take 3 years to crop from seed, but crowns can be bought at 1 or 2 years old which will crop in 1-2 years.  Asparagus is ready to harvest once the spears reach 10-17cm long. Cut them obliquely about 2.5-5cm below the surface with a sharp knife or serrated asparagus blade. Harvest period is 6- 8weeks but do not harvest after midsummer as this will result in weaker spears next year. Our Asparagus season starts with the first spears in the first week of April and continues through to mid May at which point I stop cutting the spears to allow the plants time to grow a last flush of spears that will turn into ferns. 

Storage & Culinary
Asparagus is such a delicious vegetable that when it arrives you just want to eat it as fresh as possible. It is said that the water should be put on to boil before cutting the asparagus, so that the fresh spears can be dropped straight into the boiling water. Asparagus is also delicious stir fried, grilled over hot coals, in salads or made into a light soup. In ancient times asparagus was dried to be eaten over the winter nowadays we can freeze it.

Nutrition 
Asparagus is a wonder plant nutritionally. It  is high in Folic Acid and is a good source of potassium, fiber, vitamin B6, vitamins A and C, and thiamin.  It is the best vegetable provider of folic acid, necessary for blood cell formation and growth, as well as liver disease prevention.  Asparagus has no Fat, contains no Cholesterol, is low in Sodium and is low in calorieseach spear contains less than 4.

Companion
Asparagus grows well with Tomatoes, Parsley and Basil. I have found that growing New Zealand Spinach between the raised beds works well by allowing it to creep over the beds it helps retain moisture in the beds during the hot summer months. The light shade cast by asparagus ferns in the summer months could also be used to benefit other plants such as lettuces and spinach which struggle in the heat.

MDD Growing log

When we arrived at Mas du Diable in early winter I discovered a few straggly asparagus ferns growing in the orchard. I thought they were wild asparagus but it turned out these plants were the remains of an asparagus bed that had been planted around 15 years before.  After resuscitating the old crowns we still needed more so the plan is to grow the rest from seed and aim for a bed of at least 30 crowns. 

2004  In spring I dug the asparagus up just as the buds were emerging, dividing it carefully into 10 crowns and started our first asparagus bed in the veg patch. I left all the spears without cutting to turn into ferns. By autumn the ferns looked healthier than they had, abandoned in the orchard, but definitely needed beefing up. The beds were top dressed with seaweed meal and compost. 

2005 Each of the found crowns produced perhaps 5 or sow thin spears which we cut to eat until the beginning of June then left the plant to grow ferns. The ferns looked big and strong and an improvement on the previous year. 

2006 We sowed Jersey Knight Improved  (10 seeds from T&M) individually in pots in a heated propagator in January,  6 germinated. I set out the plants in a protected seed-bed, uncovered cold frame, in April where they grew well.  Meanwhile the found crowns provided a decent harvest and have produced huge ferns which I hope means a better still crop next year. 

2007 I have another more generous packed of Argenteuil  (350 seeds from Franchi) to try which i plan to sow 1/4 in January and then again in March as the seed packet recommends March to the end of June.

2008 The beds are now well established and produce a good crop sometimes as early as February and I always follow the rule of not cutting beyond the summer solstice.

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Achoca (Cyclanthera)

Cucurbitaceae (Cyclanthera pedata or brachystachya)

Tender annual

Sometimes referred to as a stuffing cucumber, Caigua, In the Andes (quencha) it is also widely called “caihua”. Elsewhere, it is known as pepino de rellenar (Colombia), pepino andino (Venezuela), and variations on “achoca” and “caihua.”[2]

A climbing cucurbit from Peru with thin vines producing an abundant harvest of edible, hollow, green, pods or ‘gourds’ 6-15cm long with a spongy interior containing a dozen or more hard black seeds. There are two achocha species; ‘Fat Baby’ (Cyclanthera brachystachya) producing single fruits which are fat and covered in soft, fleshy spines and ‘Lady’s slipper’ (Cyclanthera pedata) which sets smooth fruits in pairs that are more elongated and slightly curved like a Persian slipper.[1]

Origin Native to Central and South America – from Mexico south to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia now considered one of the ‘lost crops of the Incas’. ‘Caigua’ is currently cultivated as a food in the Carribean, Central and South America.

Site & Soil ‘The plant prefers light (sandy), medium (loamy) and heavy (clay) soils and requires well-drained soil. The plant prefers acid, neutral and basic (alkaline) soils..It can grow in semi-shade (light woodland).It requires moist soil’[3].

Propagation Grow in the same way as other tender cucurbits. Sow in pots 4 weeks before planting out after the last spring frost.

Care Provide protection until plants are established and provide a climbing frame, pergola, trellis or wigwam for the plants to scramble over.

Spread plants can grow 4.5metres and are best grown vertically though they can be left to scramble over the ground between larger plants.

Harvest Pick regularly to increase production. Immature fruits (before the seeds have formed) taste and look like tiny cucumbers. Pick when small and eat as green vegetables raw or cooked. As the pods grow they become hollow when they are best cooked with the seeds removed.

Storage The fruits keep well for a week or more in a cool place.

Botany and Seed Saving Achocha do not cross with other cucurbits and saving seed is straight forward simply pick or scrape the seeds out of the mature pods, dry and store. ‘The flowers are monoecious (individual flowers are either male or female, but both sexes can be found on the same plant) and are pollinated by Insects.’[4]

Use The immature fruits may be eaten raw or pickled. Unlike many cucurbitaceous fruits, the fruit are more like pods and become quite hollow as they mature, and the mature fruit is often eaten stuffed. In South America the fruits are used like peppers – either raw or cooked (after the seeds are removed). They are also stuffed with meat, fish or cheese and then baked.” In Ecuador a soup is made with the fruit. Like many cucurbits the leaves and tender young shoots are delicious cooked and used as greens.

Medicinal A tea can be made of the seeds is used for controlling high blood pressure. Caigua is traditionally taken to reduce blood cholesterol levels. It has various traditional medicinal usages, mainly to control cholesterol, reduce obesity, control high blood pressure, regulate the metabolism of lipids and sugar in the blood stream and decrease cholesterol.

[1] Emma Cooper – http://www.coopette.com/articles/growing-achocha

[2]Lost Crops of the Incas: Little-Known Plants of the Andes with Promise for Worldwide Cultivation (1989) Squashes and Their Relatives (202-209)

[3] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

[4] Plants for a Future http://www.pfaf.org/user/Plant.aspx?LatinName=Cyclanthera+pedata

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Growing Citrus Fruit in Pots

My dream would be to have an orange, lemon and lime grove stretching as far as the eye could see with a few Kaffir lime and other strange citrus dotted around. A dream inspired by a visit to Seville and walking through a magnificent orangery in nearby Cordoba, the dimension of the trees just tall enough to walk under, the colours of the fruit hanging against the shiny dark green leaves and the perfumes from the leaves, fruit and flowers was pure heaven and inspired me to grow citrus.

Further North, however the weather can be too cold and wet in winter to support citrus trees in the ground but just because we haven’t got an ideal climate, soil or conditions it is not going to stop me trying to grow citrus. I have found that we are able to grow some citrus fruit in pots and get a fairly decent harvest (for the size of the trees), these pots can be brought inside in winter bringing with them the scents and smells of an exotic orangery.

A few years ago my mum bought us our first Lemon tree (Citrus Limon) a small 2-3 year old dwarf variety called La Valette which produces pale yellow round aromatic fruit with a thin smooth skin. It bore 3 perfect fruit in its first year and so far fruits every year and sometimes twice, then my nieces, Ruby and Nelly, bought me a Kaffir Lime tree (Citrus Hystrix) for my birthday, a healthy looking brute which produces the wonderfully pungent leaves essential to Thai cooking as well as green gnarly fruit. Next i bought a lemon tree in Italy which is a standard form and produces long fruit with a thick skin (pictured above).

We are just at the beginning with our citrus adventure, not having grown any before, but our limited success so far is encouraging.

Care

Temperature Most citrus need heat which is fine in the summer but should not be subjected to temperatures below 0, although some are said to survive up to -5, (ours have survived -7 with protection outside) to be on the safe side make sure to protect against frost and bring them indoors if it’s not possible to put them in a light frost-free place outside.
Soil a slightly acidic soil that is light, well aerated, well-drained and rich.
Feed with a diluted seaweed folia spray, a special ‘agrumes’ fertiliser or the traditional feed of diluted urine during the growing season. Mulch with well-rotted compost in autumn.
Water Citrus need a good supply of water but should never be left soggy or water-logged. A good soaking every few days in the dry summer, once a week (or when soil has completely dried out) in spring and autumn and rarely in winter, only when the soil is really dried out. Citrus will benefit from a spray of water on the leaves at night in high summer.
Space Re-pot every 2-3 years in Spring.

Protection
By growing our citrus trees in pots we can give nature a helping hand and move the small trees around to find the best micro climate for our weather conditions during the year. By putting them beside a south-facing wall in spring and autumn they are outdoors to benefit from the sun and heat on warm days but get the radiated heat from the wall to protect them from temperature dips. In winter we put them in an open cave which gets full low winter sun during the day and keeps some heat during the night to keep frost at bay. In summer they go out into the garden to benefit from full sun, occasionally pulling them into the shade if it gets too hot for a rest. By growing in pots we can also ensure that they have soil specifically tailored to them and a watering regime to suit.

Varieties
Lemons Lisbon and Eureka and Villafranca are the most hardy and commonly grown. Mayer is recommended for conservatory growing and Citron de Nice is both hardy and resistant to cold. La Valette suitable for pots and fruits all year round, unripe lemons can be used as limes.

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Tarragon Stops Sneezing

Tarragon is not a herb that I use that much in the kitchen because not everyone likes it, but it really is a useful herb to grow even if you don’t cook with it. Rachel had been sneezing for several hours, after clearing the attic, when we went round to visit our friends, Geoff and Doug. She was still sneezing so they told her  to eat some Tarragon and all would be well. After some face pulling, she doesn’t like the taste of tarragon, the sneezing just stopped, absolutely miraculous!

If you are suffering from sneezing caused by an allergic reaction to dust or pollen (it works on hayfever too) chew on a little piece of the fresh tarragon leaves and the sneezing will just stop.

Pine pollen sets me off sneezing and Rachel is allergic to all kinds of pollen, dust, cats you name it, so I had better make sure I take better care of my tarragon plant now that I’ve found out how useful it actually is.

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Garden Records

One of the most important things I’ve learned is how useful it is and how much more you learn by keeping good records of what you grow and how you grow it. Particularly if you want to save the seeds from your most beloved varieties.

Notebook in the garden

I originally started this weblog as a way to try and organise my records of the garden and food growing activities and to share information, tips, ideas and techniques with other gardeners but by starting this blog the curious thing is that I was compelled to start a paper record too. I seem to have one foot in the ‘only paper will do’ camp and the other on the information super highway. Perhaps I am a Luddite at heart or perhaps I just don’t trust that wherever this website resides will always be there.

The irony is that starting a blog made me start a proper garden notebook going back to scratch. I took it seriously, buying a moleskine notebook no-less. It is a little bible of a book in which I have logged the sowing, transplanting and harvest dates for every thing I’ve grown since 2004 in chronological order. I started at the back of the book working from the first sowing here at Mas du Diable in March 2004 and worked forward in time logging each month until I reached the date I started the book, sometime in 2006. It took ages going through old scraps of paper and notebooks (at least 10) to piece together the first years but it was worth it because the more years you build up the more useful the information becomes. I have carried on logging in the same way and noting key things about the garden and what is happening in it as I work.

Now the beauty of this little book is that I can, at the flick of a couple of pages, wherever I am, see exactly what I sowed on this day 3 years ago for example, or last year or look at what I sowed next month last year, what I was harvesting in the garden or when I pruned the fruit trees. At the front of the book I have a page or two for each vegetable type I grow, in alphabetical order, so that I can easily find the page to make notes about its cultivation; spacing, timing, feeds, growing pains, planting tricks, anything worth noting. In the middle is a page for each month and what should be sown in that month. All really simple but effective. I am fast approaching the point where both ends meet and the thought of having to start a new book is really what triggered this post, should I continue to keep a paper record as well as an online one?

Sometimes I do wonder why I spend so much time posting stuff on this blog when I have my trusty garden notebook at hand. Well a picture tells a thousand words as they say and I could never describe a new variety as well as a picture could. I love capturing the beauty of the vegetables I grow and the seasons as they change. But more importantly I want to be part of a community of gardeners growing food and posting about it on the internet. I learn loads from other garden bloggers and I hope they learn something from me.

So I think I’ll keep scribbling in my little Luddite bible and on this blog because each one helps the other and you never know which one will be there tomorrow.

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How to Harvest & Cure Onions

Bulbing alliums, Onions and garlic, can be harvested as soon as they are big enough to eat. The whole plant is edible so they are a real treat pulled young and eaten fresh; bulbs, greens, flower buds the lot. However if you want to store onions or garlic you need to wait for the right moment. Stored well they will last right through autumn & winter until the next harvest in spring.

White onions strung for storage

Timing
Bulbing alliums have a lovely habit of telling you when its time for them to be lifted, the tops start to turn yellow and bend over. Just make sure they are not turning yellow due to lack of water and you are on to a sure thing. In my garden, main crop onions planted as sets in late winter – early spring will be ready to lift in late summer. The onions start to show signs of drying in the summer months, the tops naturally start to bend over once this starts to happen bend over all the tops and stop watering. Some gardeners say you should not bend over the tops as this can damage the onion neck but I have not found that to be the case. I gently push the leaves over letting the onion bend at the natural point. Turning the necks down will prevent the onions bolting and let the plant concentrate on bulb rather than seed growth. Leave the bulbs in the ground until the tops are brown or nearly all brown, in high summer that takes about 2 weeks.

After a couple of weeks lift the bulbs carefully, brush off the soil, and spread out on dry soil or on racks or anywhere handy to dry out for another couple of weeks, undercover if the weather is wet. This is to dry or cure the bulbs ready for storage.

Preparing for Storing
Once the onions are dried for storage, a good onion for storage should have a dense firm bulb and the neck dried back all the way to the bub, with a dry outer paper. Check over all the bulbs; separate any that still have a thick neck, or are a bit soft as these won’t store very well or any that show signs of disease and use them in the kitchen. Rub off any loose papery skin and any remaining dirt

Storing
Onions can be stored in sacks, baskets or boxes so long as there is ventillation around them. They can also be strung to hang in bunches, which is my preferred option. I find stringing them easier to store as they can be hung from the rafters or wall hooks and don’t take up any space. I also love looking at them given the choice between an Object D’Art or a string of onions on the wall I’d take the onions any day. I plait the onions together in groups of about 7-9 to make a useful bunch, one plait can be brought into the kitchen at a time. Store in a dry, frost free place with plenty of ventilation. A kitchen is normally too warm and humid so find somewhere cooler.

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Rouge de Florence


Onion (Allium cepa) 'Rouge de Florence' of the Liliaceae family.

Description Rouge de Florence, is also known variously as; Rossa di Firenze, Rossa Lunga Di Firenze, Rossa di Toscana, Long Red Florence, Florence Simiane, Italian Torpedo or Italian Red Torpedo. An outstanding long, red onion that I find a joy to both grow and to eat. I love this onion, the shape the colour and the outstanding flavour. In my garden it is one of the easiest and most reliable of croppers and can be grown right through the year. It stores quite well and can be used raw or cooked so this variety definitely makes it to my list of desert island veg.

The torpedo shaped bulbs have a deep purple red colour and robust flavour. According to the seedsman Thomas Etty this onion may be synonymous with the Ox-horn Onion or spindle shaped onion (ognon Corne de Boeuf) listed by Vilmorin in The Vegetable Garden, 1885 however I would disagree with M.Vilmorin who thinks that … ‘These [pear shaped] varieties, however, are more curious than useful’. In my opinion this is a really cracking onion for the home or cook’s garden.

Origin & History This is an old variety from Tuscan Italy which I think dates back to the 1800’s.

Flavour The flavour can be mild and delicious raw but it can also become quite pungent depending on the year and how the weather effects growth. I find some years these onions are stronger than others.

CultivationSow outdoors in early spring for a summer crop or late summer for a spring crop the following year. Sow undercover from winter and transplant in early spring spacing seedlings 5cm-8cm apart in rows 30cm apart. In my garden I have had the best results sowing in trays in November, pricking out into double trays in December-January and planting out late February -March to harvest a bumper crop after midsummer.

Plants are strong and reliable growers bulbing up nicely after midsummer. They withstand light frost, heavy frost seems to make them divide, drought and heat.

Harvest Grow in succession for use fresh – 2 sowings July-Nov and March-May will provide a continuous supply. For early spring onions leave some onions in the ground over winter and harvest the new green onions that are produced as spring arrives. Harvest when tops have died down and dry as for bulb onions, see my post on Harvesting & Storing onions. Rouge de Florence will store for about 6 months.

Use I use these onions for everything, you can even pickle the small ones.
Resistance a really easy going onion that will grow in poor soil and in tough conditions. An unstoppable onion.
USP When left in the ground overinter I’ve found that these onions multiply to form clumps of 4 or 5 green onions in the spring. These new green onions can be used as spring onions and are delicious.

Grown at Mas du Diable 2005, 2006, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010

Seed Source Franchi

Note seed sources generally recommend to Sow Feb-May in cool areas and in warmer areas sow from Sept to April to harvest April – Sept outdoors.

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Broccoli Raab

Cima di Rapa, Brassica Rapa generally classified in the Ruvo Group, is a fast growing brassica closely related to turnips and oriental greens. In Italy this vegetable is called Cima di Rapa and is also known as: turnip tops, broccoletto, broccoli de rabe, sprouting turnip tops, turnip mustard or rapini. It is grown primarily for the leaves, edible stem and the small bud clusters. The taste is light and mustardy with an interesting broccoli like nutty sweetness.  These winter and spring greens are hugely popular in Northern Italy, with both gardeners and cooks. In Italy most home gardeners seem to grow it and it is the star of a number of classic Italian dishes including Orecchiete e Cima di Rapa , pasta primavera, potato and spring greens pie, otherwise the greens are simply pan fried in olive oil with a little garlic or chilli pepper to taste.

Varieties
Varieties are named by the number of days they take to mature, I’ve found varieties named 40, 60, 90 or 120.
Harvest
To harvest, simply cut the budding shoots just before the flowers open at ground level or at a level where the stem is starting to get woody. Harvest until shoots are too small and tough. If the weather remains cool, you can expect a second and possibly third cutting from each plant.
Nutrition & Use
A versatile cooking green Broccoli raab can be boiled, steamed, sautéed, or fried. It can be used in soups, stir-fries, pies or in any dish you might use other cooking greens. Like most brassicas Broccoli raab is pretty healthy stuff. Rich in vitamins and minerals particularly Vitamins A and C, iron, folate, calcium, potassium and magnesium.
Cultivation
Sow in drills, lightly cover with soil and keep well watered then thin to ideal spacing as they grow. Best suited to the cooler months and in my garden it grows well undercover from a November sowing, or from an autumn or early spring sowing outdoors.
Season & Temperature In Italy Cima di Rapa is considered a late winter and early spring vegetable.
Sow Jul-Oct

Sow Undercover November

Harvest Nov-March
Spacing Rows 25-30cm apart, plants 10-15cm apart in the row.
Crops in 5-6 weeks 40-120 days depending on the variety.

Seed Life

More info
Growing Rapini

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Planting Leeks

I thought I’d share my method of leek planting as I do find it fascinating. It is the classic technique that many of the old timers advocate but more modern gardeners seem to shun. I personally think it works a treat and is particularly good for dry conditions.

When I was a kid my dad used to grow whopping leeks for the show bench. As one of those mad exhibition vegetable growers, his process for growing leeks was finely tuned, if not obsessive. His leeks were planted on long raised beds stacked with manure and earthed up to blanch the stems. I can remember him out in the garden with a tape measuring the girth of his leeks. I just grow leeks for eating, so no fancy treatment here. Apart from planting out and watering no further attention is required until harvest.

The best time to plant winter leeks in my garden is late summer, depending on the weather. If it is too hot and dry I’ll leave it until later, even as late as the end of October.  Leeks are best started in a seed bed and planted out when about the thicknesss shown below. In France it is common place for gardeners to buy baby leeks at this stage rather than go to the trouble of raising the seedlings themselves.

Preparation

Carefully dig up the young leeks and put straight into a bucket of water, keep them like this until you are ready ready to pant, which you need to do within a day or two. Take the seedling leeks and cut the roots back to 3 or 4cm, then I cut the tops off just above the smallest inside leaf. It may seem a bit harsh on the plant but it really does work for seedling alliums. The reason for doing this is to reduce any damaged or unnecessary plant material so that the roots are not supporting what they don’t need.  Reducing the roots is optional but I find that it does help the leeks to re-establish and it cuts back roots which may have been damaged when the seedlings were pulled up. It also makes the seedlings more manageable, getting huge long roots into the planting hole is difficult, roots can get congested or damaged. This method allows the roots room to start again and water to be taken up more readily on planting. It is an old technique used in the UK and more commonly in France when planting anything out in summer, even lettuces get this treatment, which I do find a bit barbaric and my observation is that they never quite recover from it. Lettuces are much better plug sown and planted out without too much disturbance. Anyway I digress. Leeks do seem to like this treatment so I carry on doing it.

Planting

  1. Clear any weeds from the planting area. In this case I am using land that had corn and pumpkins on previously so it was heavily manured earlier in the year.
  2. Hoe the top 6-10cm of soil to loosen and work in a little bonemeal and woodashes or not previously manured.
  3. Mark a line for the row of leeks and with a knife or trowel dig a planting hole about 10cm deep, at intervals of 20 to 30cm. Spacing will depend on the variety or how big you want the leeks to grow.
  4. Drop each baby leek into a hole and water well. In dry weather water the holes before putting the leeks in, as well as after.

Note There is no need to push the soil back in around the leek. The roots are safely at the bottom of the hole and the hole has been filled with water. Gradually the hole will fill with soil and or the leek expand to fill the hole. Either way you get a nice blanched stem and a leek with plenty of water directed to the roots.

Aftercare

Water well every few days making sure each hole gets filled for the first couple of weeks until the roots get a chance to establish then water as normal once a week or so.

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