There’s a vegetable revolution going on, one which is set to change the face of allotments, and engage a whole new audience. It’s rainbow veg!
Get on board with the rainbow veg movement and you’ll find that carrots are not only orange, but also purple, yellow, even white. You can experience a more gourmet taste, and really show off to your friends. Just think how this could change the look of your Sunday roast!
Carrot ‘Rainbow’ F1 Hybrid
A lot of these vegetables aren’t new, they’re simply being rediscovered. Another great example is with beetroot seeds, look out for our rainbow mixture, with mind-boggling yellow beetroot, and – for the complete wow factor – red and white striped beetroot.
Beetroot ‘Rainbow Beet’
It doesn’t end there though. Think golden courgettes, which will be much easier to pick and harvest at a young, tender stage than the camouflaged green ones. Some rainbow vegetables have additional goodness too, for example pea Shiraz has more antioxidants in its purple pods, so eat them raw or stir fried, to avoid diminishing that goodness!
Pea Shiraz (mangetout)
Every now and then, you might spot a unique vegetable in your local supermarket, but supply is always quite limited, and you could easily miss them. The only way to guarantee trying these tasty novelties is by growing your own!
Courgette ‘Sunstripe’ F1 Hybrid
Is the cauliflower, the most under-appreciated member of the brassica family, making a comeback?
After a number of sightings in the national press recently, we thought we’d cast a spotlight on this often overlooked – and overcooked – traditional British vegetable.
In The Times yesterday, the chef, Yottam Ottolenghi, described the cauliflower as ‘one of the most exciting vegetables in the world’! This might be going slightly over the top, but the article also mentions that Marks & Spencer has reported that sales of cauliflowers are up 68% on last year. So there are clearly some people that are finding uses for this much-maligned brassica.
Cauliflower White Step – perfect for smaller gardens
So what can you do with cauliflower other than smother it with cheese sauce? A quick search on the internet gives a number of tasty-sounding recipes. Yottam Ottolenghi backs up his cauliflower campaign with a number of surprisingly ‘exciting’ recipes. Fried cauliflower with pine nuts, capers and chili sounds delicious, as does a recipe of his featured recently in The Telegraph for a smoky cauliflower frittata. A friend of mine often roasts roasted cauliflower florets with curry spices as an out-of-the-ordinary accompaniment to her Sunday roast. All very mouth-watering. However, I wasn’t so enthusiastic about the random recipe ideas of cottage pie with leek and cauliflower mash or cauliflower crust pizza!
To enjoy a really tasty cauliflower, you need to grow your own. The great thing about growing cauliflowers is that they can be grown year round. The main sowing period is March to May, although you can sow them in January or February under glass for earlier crops. Cauliflowers do best in very fertile soil so digging in well-rotted manure before planting will help the plants’ growth. Vital to healthy and productive cauliflower plants is firm soil around the roots, so be sure to tread the earth down before and after planting/transplanting. Of course, it’s important to water plants well in dry weather – and don’t forget to give them some high nitrogen fertiliser to boost the formation of those nice bright white cauliflower curds.
Thompson & Morgan offers a wide range of cauliflower seeds. They come in a variety of shapes, colours and sizes. It’s also important to mention that they have the reputation of being high in fibre and a good source of vitamin C. They are also thought to contain cancer-fighting bioflavonoids.
Try Aalsmeer, a winter-hardy cauliflower that will be ready to eat in April and White Step, a compact cauli for smaller gardens – each head is just the right size to serve 2 people.
Another growing season draws to an end, well just about. I have been down the allotment this morning and I am still getting crops from beetroot, leeks, cauliflower, parsnips, chard, and turnip. The beetroot we have decided we like in a slightly different way, instead of cooking and pickling in jars we now roast in the oven as you would potato or parsnip. This produces a sweet and very tasty vegetable which we much prefer to the vinegar soaked method. In fact all of the above have been used today on the Sunday roast.
I have taken all the French and runner bean foliage down from the wigwam structures in a bit of a tidy up this morning, the wigwams are made from half inch steel bars 8’ long! These came to the company where I work as strengtheners in packing cases and were then thrown in the skip for scrap. They can stay in position all year round, will not rot, are too heavy to blow over and the best bit of all were completely free! Luckily my allotment is just across the road from the warehouse where I work.
I have been very impressed with the chard variety ‘Bright Lights’ which some of us were given to trial. I have cut some this morning and they are still cropping well, the coloured varieties seem much less prone to bolting or running to seed and both the leaves and succulent stems can be cooked and eaten. I am also looking forward to seeing if it does emerge again in the spring as promised to provide more fresh greens just when needed, this will have a well deserved row of its own in the allotment next year. Other vegetables which have also performed well this year are beetroot Boltardy, leek Musselburgh and onion Bedfordshire Champion.
Chard Bright Lights
One topical crop as it gets towards the end of October is the pumpkin! I grew T&M variety Dill’s Atlantic Giant down the allotment this year. I prefer the large varieties as I try to grow a couple of big pumpkins to carve for Halloween, the grandkids enjoy seeing one lit up on the back and I always try to attempt the scariest face possible when carving with the obligatory pointy teeth and mean eyes! But this year I went for a completely different approach and tried a kids’ favourite cartoon character. The result? Well, the grandkids absolutely loved it.
My carved pumpkin
Hey, look what I grew! Ok, so it doesn’t look like much, but these are the first few blueberries from my blueberry plant. I had them on my cereal and although they weren’t huge, they were really sweet and all the more delicious because I grew them myself! And frankly, if I can grow blueberries, then anyone can.
Let me be clear; I’m not really a gardener. I don’t have the time to nurture my plants; I tend to just stick them in a pot or in a spare place in one of my rather weedy beds, and hope for the best.
However, on the advice of my mum (she’s a proper gardener), I wrapped my blueberry plant in some voile netting that I had left over from making a fancy dress outfit for my daughter in an attempt to keep the birds off any blueberries that might appear. They were probably put off as much by the ghoulish appearance of the bush as the inaccessiblity of the growing berries!
That’s a fine mesh you’ve got us into…
I simply draped the material around the bush and secured it with some clothes pegs – nothing fancy or remotely expensive or scientific. But it seemed to do the trick!
Voile netting and clothes pegs – the perfect bird deterrent
I started to notice that there were some blueberries on the plant towards the end of the summer and because of the hot weather, I did actually make sure that I watered the plant fairly regularly. I’d read on the Thompson & Morgan website that it was important to water blueberry plants near cropping time as it helps to ‘plump the berries’.
I’ve only got one plant so I haven’t had an enormous crop, but I can’t tell you what a pleasure it’s been to wander up the garden in the morning to pick a handful of delicious blueberries to have on my morning cereal. And the fact that they’re home-grown really does make them taste sweeter!
Plump, juicy blueberries
Who doesn’t love a jug of flowers on the kitchen table?
When students arrive I pop warm muffins and a pot of fresh Fairtrade coffee on the kitchen table next to a jug of flowers. It makes people feel welcome and there are always comments on how lovely the flowers are. But when it comes to everyday flowers sometimes things just don’t make sense. Buying imported flowers is one of the things that in the majority of instances just makes me cross. For me flying flowers thousands of miles, using who knows what amount of energy to keep the flowers cool, goodness knows what pesticides to keep them pest free and paying a pittance to a poorly treated workforce who are more often than not exploited is senseless at best and irresponsible at worst. I grow my own or when there are none in the garden I buy Fairtrade.
A welcoming sight
I appreciate that there are certain varieties of flowers that only grow in special conditions, and I understand that if you want say, roses at Christmas, then of course we don’t have the climate. That said the revolution of local, seasonal and sustainable food is upon is and I see absolutely no reason that the same can’t be applied to the British cut flower industry.
I acknowledge that sometimes flowers like bananas, chocolate and vanilla need to be imported, but if you are going to buy imported goods this is still your opportunity to make a difference by buying Fairtrade flowers.
If you want to enjoy flowers with a totally guilt free with a free conscience the best thing to do is grow them yourself in your garden or allotment. I like Thompson and Morgan for a wide selection of bulbs and seeds that make beautiful cut flowers. Lilies, Sweet Peas, Sunflowers, Roses, Dianthus, Gladiolus, and Gypsophila are just a few straight forward flowers that you can grow with very little effort and if you want to take your green credentials even further then buy some of the organic seeds they sell and then the following year collect your own seeds.
Growing your own flowers can save you plenty of money especially if you give cut bouquets as gifts. It is also hugely beneficial for bees & insects providing food and habitats insects and in turn they help to pollinate your other flowers & vegetables and helping to maintain a healthier eco-system.
Growing your own cut flowers
Not everyone has the space in their garden or the time to grow their own flowers, so buying them is their only option, however there is a lot of information, much of it from the cut flower industry itself trying to convince us that cut flowers have low carbon footprints. It seems to me however that they have gone to great lengths to prove that they are a green option, and yet most of the data I have read focuses solely on the benefits of growing flowers in naturally hot countries and then flying them into the UK compared to growing them in cold countries in hothouses which of course can be very energy intensive. If we buy varieties that need little heat such as Cosmos, Nigella, Sweet Peas and Clary Sage like the ones in the photos above then this “comparison,” is utter nonsense.
If you want to think about the real impact of importing flowers one step further then consider this – in developing countries where poverty is endemic and access to clean water is problematic precious dwindling water supplies are used to produce exported luxury inedible crops grown.
Is it right that large corporations buy up land and claim the associated water rights, and that is before you start asking what impact large monocultures have on local biodiversity, which we know even from our own intensive farming is detrimental to the environment.
I know, I’m on my soap box now, but one of the biggest concerns I have about buying imported flowers with no certification is the well documented use of chemicals used on commercial cut flowers either to control pest & diseases or to prolong their life during transportation. Most imported cut flowers are grown in countries where there is little pesticide regulation which means that there is no control on the use of dangerous chemicals and a vast range of pesticides, fertilisers and fumigants are used in producing cut flowers such as DDT, dieldrin, methyl bromide and methyl parathion* have been banned in the UK and the USA for many years because they are deemed too dangerous to use in the industrialised world. (*source The Ecologist)
Perhaps one of the most worrying concerns I have is the issue of child labor in the cut flower industry. A quick Google search using the words ‘child labor in the cut flower industry’ reveals dozens of organisations fighting for changes to protect exploited children in the industry.
When I chat to people who come on courses here most people haven’t even thought about where our flowers come from, however after a few minutes explanation the penny drops and people are quick to cotton on that they are easy and cheap to grow yourself and that locally-grown flowers have similar advantages to locally produced food. The flowers are fresher, have a longer vase life and they smell much nicer.