Posts Tagged Spring

Angelica

Angelica Angelica archangelica or Archangelica officinalis is an umbelliferous plant and member of the Apiaceae family.

Archangelica officinalis

From December to April the fresh young leaves of Angelica are at their best. Angelica is a lovely herb that self-seeds and establishes itself easily. It is a fascinating and useful herb that has been in use since ancient times, for both medicine and food.

History
The name is said (1) to come from medieval Latin herba angelica, which means angelic herb, a name given to it because it was believed that the herb could protect against evil and cure all ills. Other sources (5) suggest the name comes from the Greek angelos meaning messenger because, according to legend, an angel visited a monk and told him the herb would cure his plague stricken village. Another source (6) claims it is  named for the old saints day of  Michael the Archangel, when it comes into flower. In older times the herb appears to have featured in pagan festivals and was dedicated to heathen gods. Whatever its folkloric or linguistic roots angelica was growing in a large clump in front of our house, perhaps to ward off evil spirits, when we first arrived here. Since then I have used Angelica’s self-seeding capacity to spread it to choice spots around the place so we now have a healthy and plentiful supply.

Description

The plant is a robust, aromatic biennial if left to self-seed or a short-lived perennial if the flower stalks are kept cut back. Plants are tall, the flower stalks reach 6ft, and need plenty of space.  It has thick, hollow, ridged stems and long-stalked, deeply divided green leaves. Umbels of tiny green-white flowers appear in summer followed by ovate, dark, ridged seeds in late summer/autumn.

Growing Angelica Propagate from seed; collect seeds in autumn and sow directly where you want them to grow.  You can also sow in modules to plant out later  or wait until spring to sow direct. (NB I’ve read that angelica seeds (5) have a short life and that viability can start to decrease after about 3 months, I am not sure about that, I am not convinced that is so).  Plants do need plenty of water and space, a deep rich soil and some shade in order to grow happily in the summer months. They self-seed easily so If you want to prevent spreading cut down the flower stalks before they set seed.  Left to self-seed the new shoots appear in late winter.

Harvesting Harvest leaves before the plant flowers and use fresh or dry for use later. Here on our land the young leaves are at their best from late autumn to early spring. Harvest stems while they are young and still bright green and before the flowers appear. The seeds are best collected in the autumn when the weather is dry.

Culinary Use The fresh young leaves can be eaten raw in salads or lightly cooked as you would spinach, while the stems are traditionally candied and used in confectionary. Its aromatic flavours makes it a useful pot herb in late winter and early spring when not much in the way of fresh greens are available. The leaves are often stewed with tart fruits such as gooseberries and rhubarb, to counteract and sweeten the acidity of the fruit. Angelica is also used in the preparation of a number of liqueurs such as; Chartreuse and Bénédictine and sometimes in absinthe. Last spring I tried making Candied Angelica using a recipe from (5) but it really didn’t work. It was too sugary and the colour and flavour was lost in the lengthy cooking process required so if anyone has any tips on making Candied Angelica PLEASE do post your comments.

Garden Use An excellent variety to add to a perennial & self-sowing wild-life and edible hedgerow, along with Alexanders, Chervil, Korean Mint, Mustards, Chicories, Kales and Fennel.

Medicinal Use
I’ve been looking into the medicinal uses for Angelica because I had an awful cough that just would not shift, 3 months and counting, so I’ve been drinking Angelica tea as a remedy, it certainly has reduced the symptoms and is pleasant to drink. I thought it might be useful to post up the information I’ve gathered.

This information comes from a combination of the sources listed. I’ve included information only when two or more sources agree that Angelica is a good remedy for the specific properties and ailments listed.

Angelica has a soothing, warming, stimulating action on the digestion, lungs and circulation and is often counted as one of the bitter herbs used to make the gastric tonics often called bitters.  Angelica contains chemical compounds that can relax and sooth the muscles of the windpipe and intestines and is said to be able to loosen phlegm in the lungs.

In particular Angelica can be used as a remedy for:

  • respiratory complaints such as; bronchitis, asthma, pleurisy,catarrh
  • colds, flu & chills
  • digestive problems such as; indigestion, wind and heartburn
  • poor circulation
  • exhaustion and rheumatic pains (external)
  • swellings, itching and rheumatism. (external)

Preparations

leaves, stems dried roots and seeds are used. 
Infusion (tea)
 The fresh or dried leaves can be steeped in hot water to make Angelica tea.
Infusion (root tea) 1 tsp dried Angelica root is added to 1 cup boiling water and steeped 15 to 20 min. Take 1 spoonful 3-4 times a day 
Decoction
 The dried roots or stems are mashed and boiled for 8-10 minutes then strained. 
External use
 – add crushed leaves to a bath to relieve exhaustion and rheumatic pains. 
Poultice
 – fresh leaves can be crushed and rubbed on skin areas for swellings, itching and rheumatism.

Angelica Seeds

Reference Sources
1.       A-Z of Natural Remedies by Amanda Sandeman
2.       Off-The-Shelf Natural Health How to use Herbs and Nutrients to Stay Well by Mark Mayell
3.       Herbs and Health Nicola Peterson
4.       Encyclopedia of Herbs and their uses, by Deni Bown The Royal Horticultural society
5.       The complete Book of Vegetables Herbs & Fruit Mathew Biggs, Jekka McVicar and Bow Flowerdew
6.      The Country Diary Herbal Sarah Hollis

CAUTION
I think this is a herb to approach with caution because several sources provide a warning (4) that the fresh roots are poisonous, (5) large doses can paralyse or depress the central nervous system and Angelica tea is not recommended for those with diabetes as it can cause an increase of sugar in the urine. At one time large doses of Angelica were used to induce miscarriages so it is obviously a herb to use in moderation and with caution. 

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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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Chinese Greens

Leafy green brassicas of the turnip family, which were developed in the far east and collectively referred to as: Chinese Cabbage, Oriental greens or  Chinese brassicas. This group of plants really deserve their place in any kitchen garden because they are fast growing, versatile in the kitchen and nutritious, easy to cultivate and they taste delicious. I am keen to experiment with more leafy veg in this family but here are some of my favourites so far.

Pak Choi or Bok Choy Brassica rapa var chinensis
This delightful vegetable has crisp, juicy stalks with a light, but lovely, flavour and only a hint of mustard.
Known to have been cultivated in China, since the 5th century, there are many variations of this old vegetable; ranging in height from 10cm to 60cm, leaves can be the classic spoon-shaped or thin stemmed, the leaves are pale to dark green and the stalks range from white to green. Quick growing, pak choi can be picked at the baby stage in 4 weeks, mature stage in 5-8 weeks and can be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir-fried, added to soups, used in salads, pickled, steamed or boiled and dressed as a side vegetable or cooked salad. The flowering shoots are also edible and are used like broccoli.
Varieties: Canton Dwarf is the one I seed save and grow. Short spoon shape with crisp white stems. Green Revolution small spoon shape with light green crisp stems, Mei Qing Choi small spoon shape with crisp light green stems.

Rosette pak choi, Yukina February 2008 undercover

Tatsoi or Rosette pak choi Brassica rapa var rosularis
A loose-heading prostrate rosette plant with dark green, almost black, crinkled leaves and crisp white to yellowy green stems. It has slightly mustardy leaves and a strong brassica flavour. Given enough room and cool conditions the plants will form beautiful wide prostrate rosettes, as the weather starts to warm in spring the leaves tend to grow upright. The whole plant may be harvested at once or the leaves can be picked continuously for several weeks. It can also be cut to grow again for a second or more harvest. In the kitchen it can be stir fried, used in soups or lightly boiled then dressed and served at room temperature as a side vegetable or salad. It has a more robust flavour than Pak Choi and can take a strong dressing.
Varieties: Yukina yellowy pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves. Tah Tsai a very old variety from China, pale green stems and dark green slightly crinkled leaves.

Chinese Cabbage, Green Tower February 2007 undercover

Chinese Cabbage Brassica rapa var pekinensis
Sometimes known as Chinese leaves or nappa cabbage, there are two main types of Chinese cabbage; a tall loose hearting leaf variety and a tall cylindrical cabbage where the leaves fold-in to form a dense head. Both have wide white ribs and pale green leaves. The second variety is the one most commonly found in supermarkets. Be carefull when buying chinese cabbage seeds I’ve found that often the picture or description may be of the more commonly known dense form even though the variety is a loose heading form.
Varieties: Michili has an elongated loose semi-heading shape that resembles romaine lettuce with light green leaves with broad white ribs. Green Tower a loose heading variety.

Image Mizuna showing its clump form and beautiful serrated leaves February 2008 undercover

Mizuna Brassica rapa var nipposinica or var japonica
Mizuna has green serrated leaves on slender white stems, the leaves are delicate enough to eat raw and have a slightly pungent mustardy flavour. The plants are very forgiving and vigorous. Mizuna will grow on poorer soils, is cold resistant and of all the oriental brassicas it can cope best with the hot dry conditions of our summers. It is quick to mature and picking can start in as little as 8 weeks. Normally, with good spacing the plant will form bushy clumps but it can also be closely spaced and cut young to regrow after cutting.
In the kitchen Leaves and stems can be used raw in salads and make a great addition to a mixed winter leaf salad. They are also great cooked; lightly boiled & dressed to serve at room temperature as a side vegetable, or cooked in stir-fries or soups, the young flowering stems can be used like broccoli. In Japan Mizuna is salt pickled.

PLANNING A HARVEST
Lush oriental brassicas perform best in cooler weather preferring temperatures between 15-20 Celsius. These are my sowing dates according to how they grow best in a Mediterranean climate, dates may be adjusted for cooler climates. They can be sown in cell trays and transplanted or sown directly and thinned out. Mature plants will not stand long before bolting so i find it best to sow in succession and to grow small amounts at a time for harvesting between November and April. Seed catalogues often suggest sowing oriental brassicas in April-May but they simply will not stand the temperatures in mid summer here so I grow them as follows.

Vegetable Sow Harvest Spacing
Mizuna March
April
Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
April-May
May-June
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
10-15 cm apart
Rows 25-35cm apart.
Tatsoi (Jan)
Sept-Oct
Oct
(Nov)
Mar-April
Oct-Nov
(Nov-Dec)
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP
45cm apart for rosette 15-30cm blocks for CCA
Rows 45cm apart.
Pak Choi (January)
Sept-Oct
(November)
March-April
Oct – Dec
(Jan-March)
TP Sow direct 1cm deep or in cells and TP 15cm apart.
Rows 20-40cm apart.
Chinese Cabbage Sept-Oct
(Oct-Nov)
Nov-Dec
(Jan-March)
Sow direct 1.5cm deep or TP to 25cm apart.Rows 30cm apart.

Key ( ) means sown/grown undercover. CCA means cut & come again TP means Transplant

Note
I  have tried Komatsuna and Choy Sum but neither performed well and I was not that keen on eating them either, but perhaps I should give them another go now that I have a polytunnel and know how to get the best from other plants in the same family.

Further Reading
Oriental Vegetables; The Complete Guide for the Gardening Cook Joy Larkom

Original post 9/3/2008: Oriental Brassicas

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