Thursday, February 28, 2008

Harvesting this month - February

Sprout tops

How's this for a bucketful of brassicas?

I cleared my brussels sprouts bed today, and this is what I came home with. Sprout tops, the cabbagey bits on top of the sprout plants, are delicious dark-green greens which are fabulously good for you. They have a really strong, earthy taste that tastes great with traditional Sunday roasts and also stir-fries very well. You can also cook them by dunking them whole in a pan of water flavoured with a knob of butter and some garlic, salt and pepper - simmer for 6-8 minutes and you have a real chef's delight.

These ones were Trafalgar - the sprouts were a bit disappointing, to be honest, as they didn't have the best of sites. The bed gets a bit too shaded by the shed, and the soil is a bit poor, too. But what we missed on the sprouts, we've more than made up for on the tops. We'll never chuck our old sprout plants on the compost again.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Mousey mayhem

Tragedy... up at the allotment first thing this morning, and a scene of devastation met my eyes. Along with the November-sown broad beans I put in the other week, I had also tried an early sowing of Meteor peas, raised just the same under glass and overwintered, then hardened off and planted out. They were doing just fine - but then the mousies got them.

They've been chewed right down to the ground, beyond all hope of recovery. It's just so heartbreaking when this kind of thing happens - you try your hardest, nurture things lovingly, only for them to meet a grisly end.

Well, there's nothing for it: I shall have to start again. And remember, in future, to apply proper protection against mice even when the peas have already germinated into young plants.

Last year I tried holly prunings, which seemed to work quite well, though then the slugs got a lot of the plants anyway: then there are other little tricks I've heard of, like plastic snakes left among the plants (wouldn't like to risk my baby peas with that one though).

I've tried conventional humane traps: the mice just laughed at them. I reckon they held open the gate with their feet while feasting on the peanut butter inside. I also tried unconventional "humane" traps - plastic long toms (very tall pots) sunk into the ground, some bait in the bottom so that the mice fall in and can't get out. These trapped mice, all right, but they had an alarming tendency to drown if it was raining (which it was, a lot, last year). Not very humane, then.

Last resort is the good old-fashioned mousetrap - I'm trying to avoid it, but it's beginning to seem like there's not much option...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

And... we're off!

At last, it's seed-sowing time again. After the long, wet, cold winter, there's hope in my heart and compost in my seed trays, and here's just one of the little babies poking their heads up bravely to see what the world's all about.

I get hopelessly sentimental about sowing seeds. It's the start of a new season; laden with hope, innocent of all the disasters to come. There's a sense of adventure, of stepping out into the unknown: who knows what will happen to this little cabbage seedling, so safe in my greenhouse for the moment - it could end up scoffed by slugs... flooded by spring rains... pecked at by pigeons... or (and of course this is the hope I cherish) burgeoning to beautiful cabbage-y perfection so I can enjoy it on my plate.

This is my early sowing date, so brassicas feature highly. I've sown savoy cabbage and two kinds of brussels sprouts - one early, one late, to extend the cropping season to the max. Parsnips, the first carrot sowing and the first batch of salad leaf are also coming up. And I've been in the habit of sowing my Mediterranean veg at this time of year, too - you need a frost-free greenhouse to do this successfully, but since I had electricity installed last autumn this is getting less risky and more profitable every year. So I also have three big pots of tomato seedlings, five melon seedlings (!) and three cucumber seedlings putting on growth almost as you watch them. The sweet peppers and aubergines are in the propagator, and won't be far behind.