Eat shoots and leaves
Townies can grow their own veg — even in a window box
MORE than a quarter of millennials now grow their own vegetables, whether in a few pots by the back door or even on an inside windowsill. Lack of space is no hindrance when you can grow radishes and spring onions in egg boxes, salad in seed trays and chillies in old tomato tins.
The urban farming movement is now a worldwide phenomenon and getting our hands in the soil and growing a few food plants has proven mental health benefits, connects us to nature in a techno-heavy world and tastes pretty good, too.
Darina Allen, head of the worldrenowned Ballymaloe Cookery School which sits in 100 acres of organic farmland in Ireland, is a keen veg grower. Her new book, Grow, Cook, Nourish, is packed with growing tips and ingenious ways to prepare your harvests, however small. From salads to pickles, soups to stews, these are simple, fresh dishes to showcase your harvest. “As long as you have a windowsill and some kind of tray, some soil, a seed, a drop of water and some patience, you can grow something.”
If you only have an inside windowsill, Allen recommends spring onions and radishes in module trays or egg boxes. Sow five onion seeds in each module below right, nasturtium flowers are good in salads. You can eat the seed pods, too
below, grow different leaves for fresh helpings all year, from lettuce to oriental greens
below left, compact chillis Redskin and Monkey Face thrive in big tomato tins on a south-facing windowsill for a mini bunch and cut the green part to add to eggs or potatoes. Enjoy your radishes simply dipped in butter and sea salt or add them to stir fries, and don’t forget you can eat the leaves.
Whatever the time of year, says Allen, you can grow microgreens in trays — “vibrant little flavour bombs” of kale, amaranth, sorrel, celery or other herb and vegetable seedlings — eaten when they’re only a few days older than a shoot. Or for something a bit more substantial, sow lettuce, mizuna and mibuna leaves in trays and leave them to grow into baby salad leaves, and you’ll get two or three cuttings.
If you have space outside the back door or on the balcony for some pots, Allen recommends growing beetroot and eating the leaves and stalks as well as the roots. Try beetroot tops and cream with pasta, or shaved beetroot and radish salad. Perpetual spinach is on her A-list for pots and raised beds, too, “perfect for small gardens and less likely to bolt than summer spinach. Grow lots of it because it disappears during cooking.” Boil it in salted water and add chilli flakes, harissa and herbs.
A wigwam of runner beans doesn’t take up much space in a pot and the flowers look beautiful. Don’t be dismayed when you forget to pick them and find the beans have become too old. “If they’re too tough to slice thinly, make them into runner bean chutney,” says Allen. “And if they’re even bigger, shell them and throw them into soups or stews.” Nasturtiums are another double-whammy crop. They not only look cheerful, she says, but you can eat the flowers in salads and the peppery seed pods fresh or pickled. Courgettes thrive in a large pot and the book has plenty of enticing recipes for them, but you can eat the flowers, too, stuffed with mozzarella or goats cheese.
TRY something different, Allen. “Everyone should grow at least one myrtus ugni.” Also known as the Chilean guava, this evergreen shrub with glossy dark leaves and pretty pink flowers can be grown in a pot. The tangy, wine-coloured berries are delicious in salads, fruit compotes or muffins. “And birds don’t like them.”
Grow, Cook, Nourish — a Kitchen Garden Companion in 500 Recipes, by Darina Allen, is out now, published by Kyle Books (rrp £30).
Give me shelter: a bright inside porch is ideal for tomatoes