Beans and peas defy the sea­son



Win­ter is the only sea­son when, for most of us, the vege gar­den ‘‘to do’’ list fo­cuses on what’s com­ing out of the gar­den rather than what’s go­ing into it. There’s very lit­tle that can be sown suc­cess­fully in cold, wet soil and trans­plant­ing tiny seedlings can seem equally fu­tile, given how slow these baby plants grow with­out the ben­e­fit of a plas­tic cloche.

What will still ger­mi­nate if sown di­rect this month? Broad beans and peas of all types. Pro­vided your soil isn’t frozen solid or so sat­u­rated that the seeds rot be­fore they sprout, peas will ger­mi­nate within 2-3 weeks and grow through­out win­ter, crop­ping in early spring.

My favourite va­ri­ety for shelling is ‘Su­garsnap Climb­ing’. Use the same stakes/trel­lis as you use for run­ner beans in sum­mer, but keep in mind that peas will need ty­ing for a leg up early in the sea­son. Most im­por­tantly, pro­tect your trenches from hun­gry birds who will scratch the seeds out as soon as they pop up oth­er­wise. Pro­tect pea beds with chicken mesh, bits of bracken fern or small twigs.


Yams (Ox­alis tuberosa) are my kind of veg­etable. You dig a small hole, put one in, wait six months and dig up its off­spring. It’s as easy as that.

What can pos­si­bly go wrong? Well, the ‘‘ox­alis’’ in the botan­i­cal name might give you a clue. Yams, or oca as they are known in most other parts of the world (where what we know as orange ku­mara are in­stead known as yams, just to make things more con­fus­ing), are a peren­nial species of tu­ber-form­ing, rather than bulb-form­ing and weedy, ox­alis. If well-grown and har­vested with care, they are a re­ward­ing, no-fuss win­ter crop. It’s only when lots of small tu­bers are left in the soil that they can out­stay their wel­come. • Yams are frost-ten­der. Bury the seed tu­bers af­ter the risk of late frosts has passed in spring, and wait ‘til frost knocks down the leafy tops of the plants the fol­low­ing win­ter to start har­vest­ing. The flavour of the tu­bers is bet­ter af­ter a few frosts. • Be­cause yams are dug af­ter their tops die down, it’s a good idea to put in a stake next to each plant, so you don’t miss any come har­vest time. • When har­vest­ing, use a spade to lift and dump all the soil out on to a tar­pau­lin or into a wheel­bar­row. Then you can sift the soil thor­oughly to make sure you don’t leave too many tiny tu­bers in the ground, as these will sprout the fol­low­ing year but are un­likely to amount to much more than a nui­sance. • You can grow your own yams from store­bought or home-saved tu­bers, or buy seed tu­bers of spe­cial va­ri­eties from gar­den cen­tres. They come in a range of colours from gold to orange and tra­di­tional red. • Plant yams in fer­tile soil in a sunny po­si­tion. Space them out 30-40cm apart, bury­ing the tu­bers 5cm deep, and mound up. Dig in com­post prior to plant­ing and side dress with fer­tiliser when the tops emerge. • To store yams for re­plant­ing in spring, just keep them in a pa­per bag in a cup­board in­doors.


There are some things – souf­fle´s, flambe´ed creˆpes and bombe Alaska – that are best left to res­tau­rants, but herb but­ter isn’t one of them. Not only does it look flash and ooze flavour, it’s easy to make and melt over a siz­zling steak or spread on bread straight out of the oven.

Peren­nial herbs to mix into but­ter in­clude rose­mary, pars­ley, thyme and sage (not too much as its flavour over­pow­ers all other herbs). Add a clove of freshly crushed gar­lic, chilli pow­der for a kick, or dried tar­ragon or mar­jo­ram if these herbs are more to your taste.

Har­vest win­ter herbs on a dry day, or cut and pop them in a glass of water in­doors overnight un­til the fo­liage dries out. Oth­er­wise you’ll get pock­ets of mois­ture in the but­ter.

Soften a block of good qual­ity This col­umn is adapted from the weekly e-zine, get grow­ing, from New Zealand Gar­dener mag­a­zine. For gar­den­ing ad­vice de­liv­ered to your in­box ev­ery Fri­day, sign up for Get Grow­ing at: get­grow­ but­ter to room tem­per­a­ture on your kitchen bench, then finely chop your choice of herbs with a sharp knife or old-fash­ioned herb roller. Mix the cut herbs into the but­ter, fash­ion it into a log and chill in the fridge.

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