In this section I hope to share with you a selection of some of my own favourite vegetables, including what I like about them and some general tips about growing them as I have learned over the years. I grow without use of chemicals. After all I am feeding these things to my kids, and they are both great vegetables eaters and budding gardeners too!
Early Purple Sprouting Broccoli
This is in my top 3 vegetables. The great thing about purple sprouting is that you harvest it in early spring when there is very little available. It tastes nice raw as well as gently steamed. The only disadvantage is it has quite a long growing season compared with your standard broccoli (Calabrase). They produce better in a relatively rich soil. I have planted them in the polytunnel and while the plants did not get as big as outside or produce as much they did start producing sprouts as early as February thereby lengthening the harvesting season.
Nine Star Perennial Broccoli
This is a perennial vegetable but I have been treating it like an annual and grow it in much the same way as the Purple Sprouting Broccoli. And it is a similar plant, producing one central cauliflower like floret and lots and lots of sprouting side shoots. This is only a recent find for me but I was very impressed the first year I grew it by its productivity. It is supposed to produce for up to five years but many of my plants did not thrive into the second year and therefore I think planting it as an annual may be more successful.
There are lots of varieties of kale but Curly Kale has proved to be another excellent cropper and will withstand a lot that an Irish winter can throw at it. Personally I have found that the green varieties have been more successful than the red varieties. Ragged Jack will self-seed all over the garden if you let it but saying that is it easy to collect the seed and grow it where you want it. The young leaves can be eaten raw and like all kales it can be steamed, added to casseroles, stews or soups.
No Irish garden should be without their potato crop. There are many varieties to choose from but at the end of the day it’s taste that dictates my choice. If you like a tasty, fluffy potato then Catriona is my number one choice. We grow an early crop of Charlotte in the polytunnel. We plant them late February / early March and can have a crop by the end of May. Other varieties that I like include Golden Wonder. Again a fluffy variety that stores very well. I have also grown Mayan Gold, an variety from Peru. Lovely yellow potato, fluffy in texture and great taste but low yield.
A wonderful winter vegetable. The key to growing parsnips is getting them to germinate and once they have thinning them sufficiently. Old parsnip seed does not germinate well so it is a good idea to sow new seed each year. The last couple of years I have successfully grown parsnips from my own seed.
Nothing can compare to the taste and crisp texture of a freshly pulled carrot and it is certainly up there in my top ten. I have good carrot years and bad carrot years. When carrots are still germinating it is important to be vigilant for slug damage. If you see damage go on an evening or night patrol with your flashlight. Often it may be just one big slug doing all the damage. Carrot fly is another pest that can destroy your carrot crop. I use a combination of companion planting and covering bed with some form of protection such as fleece.
The days of having just a bit of iceberg lettuce are gone. And among my favourite leafy greens are rocket and recently discovered winter purslane. Rocket, depending on the variety, can be quite mildly flavoured to very peppery! Winter purslane has grown well in the polytunnel for me and has grown throughout the winter. It’s more like lettuce in flavour but has the most wonderful shaped leaf.
Another favourite. I grow broad beans, runner beans and french beans. Broad beans do well in the polytunnel but the other varieties do better outside where bumblebees do a brilliant job of pollinating.
This is another one of my top three. Squashes do like a bit of sun and heat and so in our Irish climate do better in a good summer. One year I had great success with Little Gem, harvesting just over twenty squashes from just a couple of plants.
© Murtagh’s Meadow