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.
There is nothing better than biting into a home grown melon with its succulent taste and sweet aroma. Melons are in the Cucurbitaceae plant family which contains cucumbers, pumpkins, squashes and courgettes. Despite being closely related melons will not cross pollinate with the above. Melons prefer a hot sunny location with fertile well drained soil. They may in certain areas need glasshouse or polytunnel protection to ensure a good plentiful crop. Melon seeds are best sown in March and then transplanted to the growing area when they have 2 -3 true leaves. Be careful when transplanting as they can be sensitive to root disturbance. It is advisable to mulch plants with well-rotted manure as this will feed the plant, supress weeds, and warm the soil temperature plus retain moisture levels in the soil. Melons need regular watering so if possible use a drip feed irrigation system. Watering in the last two weeks of growth is essential. However on the other hand excessive water can cause the fruit to split. A typical Cantaloupe melon can take 35 – 45 days to mature depending on environmental temperature and growing conditions. At full ripeness and ultimate flavour the stem will break away from the melon. Many commercial growers harvest before this maturity point to avoid damage for exporting around the world. In many cases a net is used to support the fruit as it develops. It is best advised to grow powdery mildew resistant varieties. Melons have separate male and female flowers. Hand pollination can help chances of fruit setting. Poorly pollinated flowers will abort or produce misshapen fruit. Healthy high quality melons are produced by avoiding stress during the growing season. The plant will become stressed from disease, pests, weeds, poor nutrition and excessive or lack of water.