Sometimes, I think that gardeners, if they are not also cooks, forget that vegetables are grown to be eaten! Yet for what other purpose do we take such loving care and attention of our vegetable plot or allotment, our pride and joy? Newcomers may be overwhelmed. On large plots particularly, you often see long rows of one variety, as if you were feeding the biblical 5,000; and no way would the produce still be tender by the time the end of the row is reached. Maybe, the intention is to preserve or freeze the surplus. Shorter rows and more variety might be more useful; or sown and grown in small patches. But with the ‘grow your own’ phenomenon still on the increase, there is always the possibility that the cook in the kitchen is unsure of how to prepare some of the more unusual varieties. The urge to grow outweighs other considerations.
In teaming up with a Food Ambassador (renowned chef, Simon Hulstone, pictured right), Dobies are inspiring gardeners and cooks with new ways of preparing produce. And alongside him, Dobies' Vegetable Product Manager, Peter Morton, offers tips on actual growing. Together, they’ve begun their ‘Tasty Treats from Garden to Plate’ mission with some of the most popular of vegetables: beetroot, purple sprouting, peas, squash and kale.
Beetroot suggestions appeared in this week’s Dobies e-news, but in case you missed it, here it is again: Beetroot ‘Boltardy’ can be sown now (in cells, or under cover out of doors), or ordered as plants for delivery in April or May. It has smooth skinned roots of fine colour, ideal for exhibition as well as eating. Resistant to bolting and highly recommended, it’s also an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. Growing tip from Peter: “Beetroot will grow in part shade or full sun. If in full sun make sure the soil doesn't dry out.” As for preparation, Simon suggests you place whole beet on sea salt and bake like a potato.
'Hurst Greencrop' Peas a tall variety which reliably produces heavy crops of pods borne in pairs, and is highly disease-resistant.. Trialed, tested and recommended by the National Institute of Agricultural Botany and an RHS Award of Garden Merit winner. Peter's Growing Tip: “Give peas a sunny spot protected from high winds. Later crops appreciate partial shade” and Simon’s cooking suggestion: “simply boil and mix with salted butter and mint”. Picked and shelled when really young, a few peas be eaten raw when added to salads. Whether cooked or eaten raw, this variety has a really sweet flavour.
Growing Squash seems to epitomize Summer with their flamboyant foliage and flowers, though cropping in Autumn. Just in time for Halloween too! This most versatile of vegetables is offered as a 'Mixed Collection', comprising a range of varieties to provide a good range of shapes, colours and tastes. Peter's Growing Tip: "Well-drained soil that receives full sun will suffice, work in plenty of organic matter", whilst Simon’s serving suggestion sounds brilliant, though slightly mystifying: “cut into wedges and roast with garlic and thyme damsons, perfect for jam and cheese.”
And so to 'greens', probably the vegetable that suffers most from poor cooking. Useful in the winter will be Dobies' delicious Kale Collection – three different kales ('Red Russian', 'Nero di Toscana' and 'Green Curled Afro'), put together to provide you with highly nutritious 'leafy' pickings from late autumn through to early winter. The plants are extremely reliable and withstand most adverse weather conditions, though it’s as well to protect them with fleece and / or netting to prevent attack by pigeons. They're colourful, too, with leaves of green, purple-red and near black. Peter's Growing Tip: "Use rich soil, high in organic matter and slightly acidic. Nitrogen content also recommended." Simon says: “blanch and mix with bacon and shallots”. To blanch, simply plunge washed and tender leaves into boiling water; drain and pat dry with a towel.
Even more delicate in flavour is Purple Sprouting Broccoli and Dobies’ collection of first-class varieties will provide you with tasty pickings from November 2013 right through to March 2014. Ready for delivery this June: 18 plants - 6 of each variety: 'Rudolph', 'Red Spear' and 'Cardinal'. The spears are actually the flowering shoots, so ensure you cut them away from the main stem whilst they are in tight bud. Peter's Growing Tip: "Plant in late June/early July in full sun in good fertile soil and keep well watered." Simon suggests you brush the shoots with olive oil and sea salt, grill on grill pan.
And a note from Dobies: You don't have to have a large vegetable garden to grow your own. Even the smallest patio or balcony can accommodate a few containers that will give you a crop of delicious fresh produce!
(This is a courgette, growing in the author's garden. Being in a pot, it needs well-feeding, watering once the fruit is set, of an evening as this plot is in full sun all day.)
For all Dobies Vegetable seeds and plants, please click HERE.