‘Plant out when all danger of frost has passed’ Aaaarghh….so when exactly is that? It’s the ultimate ‘read the small print’ cop out isn’t it?
You need to have a few years of veg growing under your belt before you know to resist the siren call of a few warm days lulling you into in a false sense that summer is arriving early.
And some early veg will take a light frost without any lasting damage; lettuce, radish, carrots, young sprout and cabbage plants will all pull through. But courgettes, squashes and runner beans are all ‘warm season’ plants from more tropical parts of the world, and temperatures below freezing point are completely out of their field of experience. When the water in their cells freezes it expands, breaking down the cell walls causing the leaves to wilt and die.
But this weekend, in the soft south, we’re going to take a punt and plant out our courgettes; those who live north of the midlands may want to wait a week or two longer (are you paying attention Caroline?)
These plants are sprawlers and will need room to do their thing, so plant them a good two foot apart. Be ready to cover them up at night if there is even the remotest possibility of a dip towards freezing. If you don’t have any proper fleece, bubble wrap will do, or ordinary plastic lined with a few sheets of newspaper.
We may still wait a few days for the french and runner beans as a) they still need hardening off and b) the pole frames make it difficult to cover the plants with a fleece if the weather gods do decide to torment us with one last frost.
Keep sowing salad crops, such as lettuce, radish and spring onion. They have short life cycles and will keep cropping for you every few weeks.
And of course keep picking that rhubarb – it’s been amazing this spring (see our feature photo) and if you are running out of ideas about ways to cook it, I think Nigel may be able to help you out.
We normally have an abundance of rhubarb in our French garden, but at the moment we are having to rely on English friends to give us some of these fabulous stalks.
Strictly speaking a vegetable, rhubarb is really a crossover into fruit and some of its main culinary uses are indeed in desserts. However, these pretty pink stalks (the leaves are toxic) can be used in a myriad of different ways. I’ve listed some of these below but the versatility of the stems lend themselves to almost anything you can think of – with ginger and sugar for sweetness, with red onion and even vinegar for tartness:-
Pork Chops – with a chunky rhubarb chutney.
Jellied soup – mix with caster sugar, vanilla, lemon, white wine, gelatine and pour double cream over, or use blood oranges and Pimms for a spectacular jelly.
Smoked Salmon – can take a rhubarb sauce with a salad.
Rhubarb and Custard Tart – obviously.
Lamb – with a thicker rhubarb gravy involving onion, red wine and herbs.
Gin – rather like sloe gin. Lightly roast the rhubarb with sugar then bottle with gin (downside is that you have to leave it for a month!)
Jam – sugar, pectin and lemon juice make for a fragrant spread.
Brulee – ordinary crème brulee but poured over softened rhubarb before torching.
Sorbet – rhubarb, sugar, ginger, but well strained before freezing.
Venison – goes well with the tartness of rhubarb, just add crushed juniper berries and port to the softened sticks.
Crumbles, Cakes, Pies, Tarts and Puddings, et cetera.
BRUSCHETTA – Chop a few sticks of rhubarb into 3cm lengths and soften them in a saucepan over a medium heat with a tbsp. of sugar and one of water (although Calvados is a very acceptable alternative ). You need them to be just disintegrating without going too sloshy. Next take sections of baguette – anything between 10 and 15cms and halve them longways, brush both sides with olive oil and turn them light golden brown under a grill. Place them soft side up on baking parchment on an oven tray and smear the molten rhubarb across the top. All that’s needed now is piles of any other fresh fruit you have to hand; plums, nectarines, apples, apricots, blackberries, even oranges, are all good, and finish off with a scattering of raspberries or strawberries or red currants. A generous sprinkling of sugar over the lot and back under the grill until it starts to caramelise.
Don’t worry if it all topples over while cooking as it is easy to scrape all the sticky fruit and juices back over when it is on the plate. A dollop of ice cream, a splash of crème fraiche and some fresh mint leaves and …voila.
On our walks
Out in the countryside there’s been a major shift. Up until now we’ve had the woodland floor species of anemones, bluebells and wild garlic to admire. But now the trees have come into leaf these early vernal (spring) species must quickly finish flowering and produce seed before the deep summer shade of the woodland canopy descends.
But don’t worry, as the woodland goes quiet so our meadows start to wake up.
There are very few ancient hay meadows left nowadays, many were pulled up and replaced with more vigorous grasses to produce a better yield of hay or silage.
Luckily mini meadows are now springing up in peoples’ back gardens, especially in those taking part in Plantlife’s brilliant ‘No Mow May’ campaign (details at the end – do take a look). But lawns, too, often consist of tough grass species, which if left to grow tall, can push out the wildflowers, and this is where yellow rattle can come in handy.
Yellow rattle is a parasitic plant, getting its goodness by tapping into the root systems of other plants, and especially those vigorous grasses, which are thus weakened, allowing other wildflowers a look-in.
Our yellow rattle is up and flowering already, with hooded yellow flowers that develop into papery seed cases in which you can hear the seeds ‘rattle’ once they are ripe. It’s other common name is hay rattle, as countrymen took the rattle of their seed pods as the sign that it was time to cut their meadow for hay. The best time to sow the seed is late summer after you’ve cut and taken away your mini-meadow grass (the best management technique for a meadow). Scratch the soil a bit to expose some bare soil and sprinkle on the yellow rattle seed. It should germinate the following spring.
NB: You can hugely increase the pollinators visiting your garden by giving your lawn a Mohican haircut. Read how in Plantlife’s ‘No Mow May’ campaign.
More NB: If you’d like a bit more gardening chit-chat from the3growbags, please do sign up for a regular Saturday blog here: