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Designed by David Frary

Logo photographed by and copyright Rogan Macdonald

Vegetable trials in 2010.

Be daring. Try something different.

Overview of the year.

2010 will go down as a year to remember as January started extremely cold followed with the worst snowfall for many years. The cruel frosts made sure everything was late, then, just as things returned to normal a killing frost in late May put progress back once more. These little problems are just a test to sort out real gardeners from the rest and a warm and dry summer soon puts growth back on the crops.

No sooner had the snow and ice become a distant memory and the best tomato crop for many years safely gathered in and processed when in autumn, the night-time temperatures changed overnight from 8° to -8°. Needless to say, any tender plants still out in the open were turned to pulp. An altogether difficult year but with some good results. The following lists will guide you through the individual plants trialed during 2010.

New for this year.

Additionally, the following crops continued to be grown on or experimented with further from last year. Mangel has proved to be a worthwhile crop and will continue to be grown as part of the normal crop routine with a dedicated page for beets created when time permits.

The Plants.

Jicama (Pachyrhizus tuberosus)

Jicama seed ready for sowing.

Unfortunately I failed to get any germination from the seeds. This I put down to the excessively cold spring. Will try again next year.


Chuffa. (Cyperus esculentus).

Chuffa tubers ready for planting.

Here's something interesting to try. The grass-like plants produce quantities of small tubers that may be eaten raw, cooked or processed into drinks or oil. Plants could possibly become invasive or decimated by wildlife. Nothing like a challenge.

As is usual with anything new, I like to start plants off in small pots to plant out later in the spring. In early February, the first batch is slowly emerging with the second batch recently sown.

Chuffa plant growing in bucket.

Once again the extremely cold spring made germination difficult and I only managed to get a few plants to start. For future interest, there is no point starting these off until about May when they can germinate and romp away without chill. Once growing, however, they do not linger and once a crown of leaves have established, runners are sent out in all directions to produce more crowns all around the original. One plant completely filled the tub shown in the picture.

Chuffa at harvest.

The plant that I grew in the tub was my best result and produced more than 500 nuts but they are small and harvesting these in heavy clay soil would likely to be a labour of love. Assuming this is grown as a niche crop then pots are the way to go, but I need another season to find out what the best size would be.

Chuffa nuts or tiger nuts.

Now there is a harvest, albiet a small one, what to do? So far I have made one experiment at making Horchata, a famous Spanish drink. This involves wizzing the tiger nuts in a blender with milk and chilled before serving. Very nice.


Chichiquelite Huckleberry.

Here's an annual berry-bearing plant that originates in the USA. Seeds germinated with ease and the young plants seemed unperturbed by cold nights. Some young plants were grown to maturity in the polytunnel in pots while the remainder were planted outside from June.

Plants produce an abundance of small white flowers followed by soft berries about the size of a pea. These berries turn black when ripe

Chichiqulite Huckleberry seedlings growing in polytunnel.

Harvesting the fruit turned out to be the biggest problem with these plants. The trouble is the berries are both small and soft, squishing easily. Next year I will have to make or buy a combed berry harvester to prevent fruit from being squashed and my hands being stained. Due to the fairly small quantity of fruit harvested, the berries have been consigned to the deep freeze for the time being but will eventually be converted into jam or jelly.

Mature Chichiqulite Huckleberry plants with berries.

Pink Banana (Musa velutina).

A small banana plant that is supposed to be suitable for containers. These seeds failed to germinate. Frosts in May are not good for bananas. Maybe next year.


Jap Minowase Daikon Radish.

With the season in chaos early in the year, I ended up too busy to sow these seeds and they will have to wait until next year. Sad, but sometimes it is better to save time and space rather than have nice plants spoil.


Stevia (Stevia rebaudiana).

Stevia is a herb used to provide a sugar substitue with the leaves repudedly being hundreds of times sweeter that normal sugar. The plant also has a reputation for the seeds to be difficult to germinate. (Here we go again). Dissapointing initial results but I did manage to get two plants. Not sure whether to blame the cold spring or just the poor inherent germination rate of the seed itself.

As there were only two plants I spent my time keeping them alive rather than stripping the leaves for a bit of sugar, and after taking the plants home for the winter I'm happy to report they made it through the worst of the weather and will hopefully grow and produce cuttings or seed next sumer. I will upload pictures when I find them.


Chia (Salvia columbariae).

Another wonder herb originating from Mexico and nearby South American countries. The plant is grown for the seeds which are rich in all the good foody things although the seeds themselves are very small.

Tray of Chia seedlings.

My seeds germinated easily and were transplanted to growing boxes easily enough, but when transplanted again to the outside they died. Some plants were left in the growing box where they flowered and set seed, but nowhere near enough do do anything but save for regrowing in the following year. Photo to be added later.


Kenaf Hibiscus (Hibiscus cannabinus).

Seed failed to germinate.


Quamash (Camassia quamash).

Quamash is a native flowering bulb from the prairie lands of North America and was sought out annually by Redskin tribes as a valuable food resource. My bulbs were planted at the end of 2009 for the 2010 growing season.

Quamash bulbs ready to plant.

After a very long wait for the weather to improve, bulbs appear to have survived the winter without problem and emerged from the depths and grew well from early April.

Quamash bulbs emerging in spring.

Once summer arrived the bulbs came into flower and produced a wonderful display of light blue flowers for many weeks. These are worth growing purely for their ornamental value but the object of my trial is to find alternative foods.

Quamash in full flower.

After flowering, the plants were allowed to die down natually and the seed harvested for re-planting next year. In late summer, some of the bulbs were harvested to assess their edible qualities. Now it has to be said that these are very small bulbs and I do not have a prairie to dig up therefore all I had was a few tasters. There is though, some potential with this bulb but I feel that several years may be required to fully natualise and bulk up, therefore as a crop may be best regarded as a niche crop from marginal quality lands less suited to full cultivation.

Quamash harvest.

Chinese artichoke (Stachys affinis)

These tubers were ordered but my supplier had to cancel the delivery due to their harvest failue. It would seem that it is not only me having bad luck.


Top of page.



The Plants. (Continued.)


Seakale.

Overwintered Seakale plants.

This is a perennial plant native to the UK that takes several years to mature. My seeds were sown in the polytunnel during the spring of 2008 and grown on outside in a deep tray. During August 08 the small plants were transplanted to individual deep boxes to overwinter. The reason for keeping them portable is simply that I am not yet in a position to commit the space for them long term.

The photo below shows a crown in its dormant state during the winter. These plants are perfectly hardy but remain deciduous throughout the winter period.

Seakale crown.

The leaves of seakale while edible, are both tough and bitter which is why the crowns are covered in late winter to exclude light and blanche the emerging shoots. These shoots are considered a delicacy and used nowadays as a luxury food item similar to asparagus. The image below shows the shoots just emerging and nearly ready for harvest.

Seakale starting to blanche.

Seakale eventually matures into a large plant and requires quite a bit of space. My plot is already crammed full but I've found a home for it on a neighbours plot shown in the image below. The plant to the right has flowered and successfully produced seeds.

Seakale plants growing in ground

Scorzonera.

Scorzonera plants growing in small pop bottles on a ridge.

Last year I experimented with an idea to grow the plants in plastic bottles pushed into the top of a ridge of soil. Bad weather over the Christmas period prevented any harvest until mid February. The resultant roots were not as long as I had hoped for but they did have reasonable diameter, and were easy to harvest.

Scorzonera ready for harvest Scorzonera roots

Well, a result is a result but this is not quite good enough so things have to be done slightly differently this year. Constriction at the neck of the bottle caused most of the problems. I had envisaged that the roots would simply open up the split bottle but the reality was that the split simply saved the roots from being completely stuck. Maybe this year I will try bottles without splits and much wider holes at the bottom. The roots were easy to harvest without loss or damage so there is some merit in the method.

None were sown during 2010 due to weather conditions causing a jam up in the polytunnel plus I need to set up a better method of growing these roots to enable easy harvesting. Most of my space has very heavy clay making it difficult to lift the roots.


Mangel Worzel.

Harvested Mangel worzels.

After growing mangels for two years I have found these roots to be a versatile asset in the kitchen with similar cooking methods to swede, but with better taste. This year I will be looking at improvements to the yield and will be testing another couple of varieties.

Young mangel worzel 'Yellow Intermediate'.

The new varieties grown were Mammoth Red and Geante Blanche. Their growth habit and size seemed to be similar as was the taste and keeping qualities.

Young mangel worzel 'Yellow Eckendorf'.

Papaya.

These are small trees but are supposed to fruit within a year or so. Seedlings were grown last year and kept indoors during the winter as houseplants.

Young papaya plant. Papaya plant growing in polytunnel.

One plant made it through the winter (Lack of space for the others) and was grown on during the summer as a pot plant in the polytunnel. Late in the season it did try to flower but the buds failed to open and dropped off. The probable cause I put down to fluctuations in temperature. For the winter, the one plant was taken home again but some hard decisions will be needed next winter as it has developed into a small tree and is likely to be far too large for accomodation at home.


Mashua (Tropaeolum tuberosum)

Grown for the first time last year, this plant warrants another go. A lesson learnt from last year is the need for a decent support system and best grown as part of the flowerbed.

Mashua, tropaeolum tuberosum flowering in mid summer.

2010 was not a good year for the mashua and yield was less than last year. Either the prolonged cold spells were not to its liking or the plants fare better growing as a tangled mess on the ground. We shall see next year. As it was, I was lucky to harvest the tubers just before the very early and severe frosts arrived.

Mashua tubers at harvest time.

Tomatillo

Tomatillo are grown mostly in Mexico and Central American countries and is best described as a green tomato in a paper bag. Appearance of the fruits are similar to the chinese lanterns and ground cherries, but larger. Grown for the first time this year I tried some in the polytunnel and a few outside. The plants grown under cover grew vigorously and threatened to take over the entire space but were reluctant to set fruit until late in the season causing many to be lost to the early frosts. Plants grown outside were much smaller and struggled to get going but did set a good crop. Maybe there are polination issues here or temperature problems. Time will tell.

Tomatillo plants growing outside.

When the fruit is mature it pushes itself out of the papery husk. Tomatillos are used mostly in cooked spicy dishes or made into sauce. Frankly, if you can do it with a tomato, you can also do it with a tomatillo. I am hoping to grow more of these outside next year as I believe these will resist blight better and produce more reliably than tomatoes in a bad year.

Fruit of tomatillo.

Maca (Lepidium meyenii)

I was very lucky to be given some of these seeds in a trade as they are not readily available. Maca originates from the high mountains of Peru and has a reputation for being difficult to grow at low altitudes and in greenhouses. With this in mind I decided to wait until the heat of summer had passed before sowing some seed. The theory being that as the plant would normally spend most of its life in low temperatures and is fully hardy, I would attempt to grow it accross the winter from early autumn through to late spring. I just hope maca is not daylight sensitive.

Maca seedlings growing in polytunnel.

Maca is a root vegetable which is best described as a cross between cress and radish. The plant produces a fattened root looking like a turnip. The colour varies, with the different coloured roots supposedly being different varieties. Maca is regarded as nutritious and supposedly has many medicinal uses as well.

As my sowing is not going to mature until next year progress will be recorded on the page later.

Maca plants growing in polytunnel.