Monday, April 22, 2013

Winners and Losers

Growing food can be a tad hit or miss, especially if like me you try to avoid F1 varieties in favour of heritage ones.  I've had great successes over the years - amazing asparagus and wonderful salad leaves and the sweetest perfect parsnips.  I've also made my family endure holey carrots, patchy sweetcorn, a nasty rocket pesto and some pretty manky aphid infested kale (not nice when the tiny grey lads are swimming around the pot).  Then there are the seasonal gluts; courgettes added to every meal, endless rhubarb (so welcome in March and sick of it by August) and monotonous podding of peas and beans by the bucketful.

So what is really worth the time and effort of growing, and what, well, isn't?  Here's my list of eight winners and eight losers (just because it's my lucky number!).

Winners first, in no particular order;

  1. Lettuce, Salad Leaves, Stirfry Greens & Rocket.  Crisp, fresh, spicy or just plain delicious, there is no comparison with what you get in a soggy chlorinated supermarket packet.  Infinitely worth it.
  2. Courgettes.  I know some people think they're bland, but grow your own and the flavour is much stronger.  I love their versatility and how many different shapes and colours there are.  I usually grow one or two plants of seven or eight different varieties, and I love how the mix looks together in a bowl at home.
  3. Swede.  Or turnips as we call them in Ireland.  This might surprise people as a turnip isn't the most exciting of vegetables - basically all you can do is boil them.  But, they're the ultimate low maintenance winter vegetable when there's little else to eat, frost just improves them, and very importantly to me cabbage rootfly largely leaves them alone.  After a cold snap this year we had the loveliest small sweet turnips - I recommend growing Major Dunne.
  4. Chillies.  I have to admit to being a bit of a wimp with spicy food, but every summer my tolerance goes up exponentially with the chili harvest.  They're addictive and they're exotic and they're nice happy little plants.  Plus you can dry them for a chili flake hit in deepest winter, a little taste of summer.
  5. Asparagus.  Real gourmet food - I only tasted asparagus a few years ago for the first time, but I love it.  It's also expensive and not very fresh in the shops, so definitely worth growing your own.  My patch is in over three years this summer so I'm hoping for a good harvest.
  6. Rhubarb. Give it a bit of manure once a year and it's happy.  Rhubarb makes such a delicious desert/crumble/tart.  I will always grow rhubarb, wherever I live.
  7. Pumpkins.  I love how you nurse them along til June and then they just take off, growing enormous vines and basically looking after themselves.  And of course there are so many colours and shapes and sizes of fruit, many of which will store for months.  I love them so much they're getting three raised beds this year.
  8. Currants.  I have red, white and black currants in the ground this year.  Currants, unlike a lot of fruit, actually likes to live in Ireland.  I love how they transform from a bare twig in March to a towering shrub laden with fruit by June.  A currant bush won't attack you like a gooseberry bush will, it won't try to take over the whole garden like raspberries will, its more productive than a blueberry bush (although I do love blueberries) and as long as you beat the birds to it the fruit makes the most amazing jam.  Respect.
And then on to the losers.  Even though these crops drive me up the wall, I still try and grow most of them.  I never seem to learn.

  1. Runner Beans.  I can grow runner beans, that's no problem.  But who on earth wants to?  I don't know why they're an allotment staple; they're the most overrated vegetable, tough, stringy and in an endless unstoppable supply.  Give me some climbing French beans any day.
  2. Cabbage.  Growing cabbage means fighting a war.  I quite like to eat cabbage, but so it seems does everything else.  The first wave of marauding pigeons and pheasants are followed by cabbage rootfly that makes the whole plant keel over.  Then the cabbage caterpillars set to work chewing through the leaves and finally the slugs move in to finish the job.  And a nice clean untouched cabbage in the shops is a few cent.  Just not worth it.
  3. Turnips.  The little small turnips, as opposed to swede.  I keep trying to grow them because my father loves them, but every time they get destroyed by cabbage rootfly.  They're a pain in the proverbial.
  4. Celeriac.  I just can't grow a decent celeriac.  All I end up with are slug infested golf-ball-sized disappointments.
  5. Celery.  I think good celery requires more attention than I can spare.  All that earthing up and maintaining moisture.  I've only ever produced measly little sticks, and the shop bought stuff tastes better.  I have a new variety to try this year though...
  6. Strawberries.  I love strawberries, but I just never get my act together to grow them properly.  The ones that do grow usually get attacked by slugs or birds before I get to them.  And I can buy three glorious perfect punnets for €5 direct from farmers on the road to the allotment all summer....so why bother, really?
  7. Sweetcorn.  I keep trying, but we just haven't had the heat in recent summers for decent sweetcorn.  Plus earwigs like to live in the cobs, and earwigs creep me out.  That said, I do love to eat it, so I've three varieties going in this year.  I'm a glutton for punishment.
  8. Kohl Rabi.  This is another one I can grow but not cook.  I've yet to find a recipe that makes it in any way interesting, plus it takes forever to soften and un-grittify.

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