The winter has not exactly been kind to gardeners.
Especially those with only limited spare time. Cheryl, our vegetable virgin, works six days a week and if it happens to be miserable on the seventh, well who can blame her for choosing warm slippers over trudging off to deal with the allotment.
Gardening is supposed to be fun, after all, not finger numbing drudgery.
Still, you can’t delay the inevitable and her plot, on the leafy outskirts of South London, needs a bit of attention. In order to give her a kick start we sent nurseryman, gardener and broadcaster Toby Buckland round to give her a hand.
As always Toby had some useful advice, he is a remarkably knowledgeable fellow – if ever you get the chance to listen to Toby talk about tomatoes then, no matter what urgent appointments you may have booked, you should drop everything and hoof over to the venue prepared to be fascinated. On this occasion he had hints for Cheryl not only about planting new things but also about maintaining the few existing bonafide plants ie those that were not weeds.
Almost every allotment has a clump somewhere. Cover half the clump up with straw followed by an upended bucket to keep the light out and the warmth in. This will give you in earlier, more tender crops.
Toby’s tip: always pull off rhubarb stalks, never cut them as this allows disease into the clump.
These have a running rootstock that can be invasive. On Cheryl’s plot they had colonised a pathway. Dig up and replant extra canes. Cut back any silvery growth (old stems) while leaving the younger, browner stems to fruit this year.
Toby’s tip: Raspberries are hungry plants so give them a generous mulch in spring.
One of Cheryl’s favourite vegetables for which she has a cunning recipe (see below) They can be started as early as February. Plant a hand’s breadth apart with about nine inches between rows. Plant a double row then leave a gap so you can easily pick them.
Toby’s tip: Mice are the worst problem when planting beans. Never put the seeds on the ground beside the trench before planting as it gives the mice a scent trail.
Cheryl’s family are Tunisian and she has fond memories of her grandmother, Mama Saida, cooking with Broad Beans.
Tunisian Byesar (Broad bean Dip)
- 1/2 lb Fresh beans (without skins) â€“ beware, the fresh paste does not last very long so you can use dried beans (soaked overnight) instead.
- 3 cloves garlic, peeled
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- Good extra virgin olive oil Sprinkle of rock salt
- 1/2 teaspoon of thyme, marjoram, oregano.
Blanch fresh beans with the garlic and cumin seeds, remove skins and puree the beans in a blender or food processor. Stir in enough olive oil, and a little water, to give the puree a soupy consistency. Sprinkle with salt and beat well. Just before serving, heat and add a little more olive oil a sprinkling of herbs or za’atar blend. Serve with flat bread
Toby and Cheryl started off her chilli seeds which she has now taken home to germinate on a warm windowsill.
Toby’s Tip: If the seeds are labelled F1 then they are more likely to germinate (and will cost a bit more) so only plant one seed per cell. If not F1 sow two seeds per cell. Chillis should germinate in about 10 days.