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16 October 2014
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Autumn 2001
  Kitchen Garden
  The 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. It’s 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!

BeansThe 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.

Its 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 seasonal joys!

Leeks 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!

Brassicas 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.

TomatoesIn 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.

To 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!

lanting a herb trough|
Compost heaps, seakale and rhubarb |
Harvesting, drying and storage | Extending the season for fresh herbs | Autumn Kitchen Garden | Winter herbs | February sowing | Soil Preparation | April Kitchen Garden


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