Kitchen Garden in Spring
by Barbara Pilcher April 2002
All the signs of spring are here and we are into
the main season of activity in the kitchen garden.
The first forced rhubarb is ready to cut - a truly
luminous pink and far crisper and sweeter than
unforced. By the simple act of placing a light-excluding
forcing pot over the emergent shoots, the fast
pale stems that are produced are magically transformed
from ordinary to epicurean! There is still time
to produce some this season, as not all the rhubarb
stems are fully grown yet. Its the perfect
way to use an excessively large crop of rhubarb
- and who hasn't got that! Gently poached with
finely chopped angelica leaf stalk (see the herb
section), it is supreme, really worth the tiny
amount of trouble.
The forced seakale is just beginning (if you aren't
fussy when it crops, can still be started off
now). The tender cream stalks with their flourish
of leaf at the end (this is edible unlike the
poisonous leaf of rhubarb) are a real treat. Even
the stumps left when the winter chicory and lettuce
are cut may be forced by simply placing an upturned
terracotta flower pot, hole closed by a pebble
over. In a week or so, you can cut a nice little
handful of blanched leaves for a salad. Effortless,
and free! Try blanching volunteer dandelions too
- it makes sense to eat your weeds!
broad beans sown in small pots have been potted
on and transplanted after hardening off into
their deep bed, protected with a large polythene
cloche. Seeds of summer savory can now be sown
among them or at the ends of the row, so it
is nice and handy to pick while harvesting the
beans. The two flavours were made for each other.
time to plant out the chitted seed potatoes,
starting with the extra earlies like Dunluce,
followed by earlies and salad potatoes, maincrop
and late mincrop. Its important to earth up
the first green leaves immediately they appear
as we are likely to get frosts that would really
set the young growth back. That first earthing
up transforms the potato bed and is one of the
sown in modules are ready to be planted out.
I'm planting multiple sown leeks in their little
bunches at the ends of the bed which leeks share
this year with perennial globe artichokes. Then
I am setting out individually sown specimen
leeks between the artichoke plants where the
superb blue leaves of the leek 'St Victor' will
contrast beautifully with the silver artichoke
foliage. There is no rule that the vegetable
garden need not look pleasing - quite the reverse!
sown earlier in modules can now be planted out
and covered with a cloche or horticultural fleece
until fully hardened off and the weather permits
removal of the initial protection. And brassicas
can be sown direct into soil that has been warmed
up by black polythene covers in early spring.
I'm trying many cut and come again types this
year; these kales and broccolis have such a
long season of cropping and are very little
trouble to grow - just watch out for the cabbage
white butterfly. If you are greatly plagued
by these or indeed by pigeons pecking holes
in your cabbages, it's worth considering making
a big cloche from wire or bamboo hoops and special
fine netting. These can be kept in place for
the whole season.
the propagating house, tomato plants from seed
are being potted on and some have already gone
out into the greenhouse (with some protection
from a couple of layers of fleece on cold nights).
Corn, squash including courgettes, cucumbers
and peppers are all sown and are beginning to
get going under cover in frost free conditions.
Over the next few weeks they will be potted
on (avoiding checks to growth) and gradually
hardened off so they will grow happily on in
unheated glasshouse or polytunne.
keep the cook happy, overwintered rocket and
chard are being supplemented with newly sown
rocket, cress, mizuna and saladini (mixed seedling
salad leaves). All are sown outdoors in March
under cloches. With the use of cold frames and
space in unheated greenhouses it is possible
to keep a supply of these useful cut-and-come
salad greens going all through the winter. Is
there anything better you can do for your own
and your family's health? We complain about
the weather, but we are so lucky to be able
to grow so much and all year round!
a herb trough|
heaps, seakale and rhubarb | Harvesting,
drying and storage | Extending
the season for fresh herbs
| Winter herbs |
Preparation | April Kitchen