Beans and peas defy the season
SOW PEAS – DWARF, CLIMBING & SWEET
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.
HARVEST YAMS (OR BUY TUBERS FOR PLANTING)
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 tuberforming, rather than bulbforming and weedy, oxalis. If well-grown and harvested with care, they are a rewarding, nofuss 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.
PLANT OR POT UP COLOURFUL CALENDULAS
Calendulas have edible petals but even if you have no intention of ever eating them, they’re worth planting for winter and early spring colour. They don’t mind the cold but aren’t too keen on wet soil, so plant in pots if your soil is soffy. I like to pop in few punnets of mixed seedlings as they come in yellow, red, orange and pale apricot. Pluck the petals for salads or add to bread dough and shortbread biscuits for natural colour.
SORT OUT YOUR SEED STOCKPILE
Most gardeners are guilty of stockpiling packets of seeds... only to then buy more each spring. To break the habit, sort your seeds now. Opened packets should be sown first, as should those with fast-approaching best before dates.
If you have an abundance of organic seeds, sprout any spares. And if you have heaps of flower seeds, mix them all together to make your own wildflower mix to scatter over a patch of bare ground next spring.
HOMEGROWN HERB BUTTERS
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 glove 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 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.