Vegetable of the Month!

April – Rhubarb


Rhubarb is technically a vegetable as we eat the lovely pink stalks but we use it in cooking like a fruit. It is a great fruit (or vegetable) and is ready to harvest at a time when there is no other fruit available.

A short history of rhubarb

Rhubarb is thought to date back to as early as 2700 BC in China where it was originally used as for its medicinal properties. From China, rhubarb was taken to Europe most likely for trade and was even written about by Marco Polo.

rhubarb crumble
Rhubarb wasn’t eaten as food until the 18th century. Image credit: BBC Good Food

It was until the late 18th century that rhubarb was written about as a food source, where it appeared in recipes for pies and tarts much like how we use rhubarb today. From Europe, rhubarb also made it across the Atlantic ocean to the Americas and was in popular use by the early 19th century.

In the UK, forced rhubarb production dates back to the 1800s by many small farmers and growers. Forced rhubarb production became much more extensive towards the late 19th and early 20th century especially in a 30 square mile area in Yorkshire (between Leeds, Bradford and Wakefield) which became known as the Rhubarb triangle. After the second world war, rhubarb popularity declined due to the availability of more exotic fruits.

Why should we eat Rhubarb?

rhubarb nutrition

When we talk about eating rhubarb we are talking about the stalks of the plant. You can’t eat the leaves of Rhubarb as they are toxic. This is due to the high levels of oxalic acid which is nephrotoxic (toxic to the kidneys). Oxalic acid is still present in the stalks but in much lower quantities so is not harmful but does contribute to the sour acidic taste of raw rhubarb stalks.

However, there are health benefits to eating rhubarb. The vegetable contains a lot of water so is only 21 calories per 100g. They are a good source of fibre and an excellent source of vitamin K which is vital for proper clotting of the blood and has been shown in studies to have a neuro-protective effect against diseases such as Alzheimer’s. It also contains a good source of Vitamin C as well as being a source of calcium and manganese.

How to grow Rhubarb

Rhubarb is relatively easy plant to grow and care for. In my own experience, it is not massively demanding.

Plants are normally bought from suppliers as crowns. Dormant or bare-root crowns can be planted in Autumn and early spring whilst pot grown crowns can be planted at any time.

The ground should be prepared before planting by thoroughly weeding and working in organic matter such as compost and/or well-rotted manure. Dig a hole where the rhubarb will be positioned, and if bare root, spread the roots out in the hole with the crown just poking above the top. Back fill the hole with compost and soil and firmly press the soil around the base. If the plant is pot-grown then dig a hole slightly bigger but not deeper than the pot and transplant the crown into the hole. Back-fill and press the soil firmly down around the base. Water the plant well and continue to water it to help it get established.

The rhubarb should be left to grow and you shouldn’t take any stalks from the plant in the first year. If you do this will weaken the crown and it won’t establish well. If left alone, the plant will grow and produce food and energy which will be stored in the crown. In the second year, it is best to also leave the plant alone but if you just can’t wait then taking a few sticks shouldn’t hurt it too much. In the third year you can start to harvest more and by the fourth you can crop it continuously form March until the end of June taking up to half of the stems. Never pick all the stems from the plant, always leave some behind. From July onwards, you should leave the plant alone to recover and build up energy stores once again in its crown.

Every year, the crown should be mulched well with organic matter before the buds begin to open. The plant is susceptible to hard frosts and will lose it’s foliage over the winter. Remove dead leaves so they don’t rot on the crown.

You can force rhubarb to give you an earlier crop but this will sap the crown of its energy so once you have harvested the forced stalks you should leave it alone for the rest of the year and you shouldn’t force it again for another three years.

Forcing is relatively simple. You cover the crown with a large bucket or forcing jar in January to ensure that no light is reaching the plant. Any hole is pots should be covered with brisks or stones. The stalks and leaves will grow long searching for the light and you will be rewarded with tender pink stems which are typically ready three weeks before the normal harvesting season.

Rhubarb has been forced by covering with a large container and a rock to cover the drainage hole.

Harvesting rhubarb is very simple. Pull the stems from the base of the plant by pulling and twisting. Don’t cut the stalks off as this can leave a wound were disease and infection can set in. Cut of the leaves and put them in your compost bin. Then take home your lovely rhubarb stalks!

Some lovely forced rhubarb which has been harvested!

Rhubarb problems

Rhubarb doesn’t have many problems but do watch out for pests such as slugs, snails and aphids. Slugs and snails don’t tend to go for mature rhubarb plants but may attack young seedlings (if you grow from seed). The other problem to watch out for is crown rot. You can avoid this by maintaining good hygiene practices such as clearing up dead leaves and stalks promptly, harvesting stalks properly and when mulching don’t cover the crown as this can aid the onset of rot, mulch around the crown and avoid letting the mulch touch the crown.

How to cook rhubarb

Rhubarb is definately much better cooked with sugar. The sugar mellows the acid taste of the rhubarb. Rhubarb can be baked, poached or stewed and can be made into a variety of sauces, compotes, pies, tarts and crumbles. It can also be used in jams and chutneys.

  • To bake rhubarb cut it into chunks, scatter with sugar, cover with foil and bake in a medium oven for about 15 minutes until soft.
  • To poach rhubarb cut into sticks, scatter with sugar, add a splash of water and simmer gently for 8 minutes until soft and longer to cook it to a puree or compote.
Poaching rhubarb with sugar.

Rhubarb recipes

Rhubarb and Custard cake

rhubarb and custard cake

Rhubarb Tatin


Rhubarb and Date chutney

rhubarb and date chutney

Rhubarb Fool Trifle

rhubarb fool trifle



Vegetable of the Month

January – Parsnips


One of my favourite things about winter are being able to harvest sweet parsnips to go with my filling and hearty roast dinners! I certainly believe these delicious roots have a place in every allotment or veg patch!

A short history of parsnips!

Parsnips have long been high regarded as a food source and are thought to have been eaten since ancient times. By the time, the Romans were on the scene, parsnips were widely cultivated throughout Europe.


Parsnips were originally used as a sugar source in bread, cakes and jam before the introduction of sugar cane and sugar beet and were the main starch source in people’s diet until the wide culitvation of the potato by the mid-19th century. As well as a food source, the parsnip was thought to have medicinal propertoies too with the root often being used to treat stomach upsets, toothaches and swollen testicles!

Unfortunately with the introduction of sugar and the potato, the cultivation and use of the parsnip has greatly declined!

Why should we eat parsnips?


Parsnips are sweet succulent roots which are closely related to the carrot. It has a relatively high sugar content compared to other vegetables with 75 calories per 100g. This is similar to some fruits such as bananas. That being said parsnips are an excellent source of soluble and insoluble dietary fibre which can help to reduce cholesterol. Adequate fibre in your diet will help with any constipation probelms you might have!

Parsnips are also a source of anti-oxidants such as falcarinol, falcarindiol, panaxydiol, and methyl-falcarindiol which have been shown in scientific studies to have anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory functions.

Overall parsnips have good levels of vitamins C, K, E and the B vitamins as well as a good dose of a variety of minerals including manganese, copper, iron, calcium and phosphorus. The high level of potassium in parsnips acts as a vasodilator and reduces blood pressure and stress on the heart which is key to a healthy cardiovascular system.

And whilst there is a higher sugar content than other vegetables, it is still a low calorie alternative to potatoes and can aid with weight loss. They also help to prevent the release of ghrelin which is a ‘hunger’ hormone keeping you feeling fuller for longer!

How to grow parsnips

Pasrnips seeds have a short viability so when growing parsnips you should use fresh seed every year and they are best sown straight outside between April and June. Parnsips like to be sown into well-prepared ground that doesn’t contain large lumps. Like carrots, if the roots hit a stone or large lump the root is likely to fork. If you add organic matter to the soil, it might be worth sieving it first to remove the larger lumps. Germination can be slow and can take up to 28 days but this can be dependent on the temperature and the time of sowing.

Tiny parsnip seedlings emerging from the soil!

When the seedlings are large enough to handle, normally when their first true leaves come through, thin out the seedlings within each row to 7cm  apart or 10cm apart if you want larger roots. Once the parsnips have germinated, I find that they don’t require much attention except to ensure that the soil is kept moist by watering regularly. Keep the bed free of weeds to prevent competition for nutrients.

Parsnips can be harvested when the roots are big enough but if they are left until the first frosts, the roots will be sweeter. Parsnips can be left in the ground until needed but after winter they will start to regrow leaves (and flower) and the roots start to become woody!

Parsnips harvested in the middle of winter!

Problems with parsnips

There are two major problems with parsnips. The first is carrot fly which causes the same damage to parsnips as they do to carrots. The carrot fly lays eggs on the soil near carrots and parsnips and the larvae burrow into the root until they pupate. The best way to tackle carrot fly is preventative. Thin parsnips in the evening to avoid the scent of parsnips attracting the little flies and put up barriers to stop the flies reaching the crop in the first place.

The other problem with parsnips is canker. Canker is caused by a variety of fungi which causes the parsnip to rot. The rot  starts at the crown and is often caused by damage to the parsnip. You can buy canker resistant cultivars. Remove and destroy affected material and rotate your parsnips every year to avoid build up of this problem.

How to cook parsnips

Parsnips are a versatile vegetable and can be used in a variety of ways not unlike potatoes. They can be eaten roasted, boiled, mashed and can be added to stews, soups and casseroles. They are often relegated a s a side dish but can easily be made the highlight of any meal with the right recipe. I recommend the salted caramel parsnip recipe below!

Parsnip recipes

Parsnip Hash Browns


Spiced Parsnip and Cauliflower Soup


Salted Caramel Parsnips

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Vegetable of the Month!


I love carrots and a roast dinner is just not complete without them! As November is starting to get really cold and extremely wet, it is now that we  turn to comforting, filling warm winter food – casseroles, stews, roasts all containing the humble carrot! It is a vegetable that is definitely worth celebrating!

Image credit: Mr Fothergills

A short history of carrots!

Reports suggest that the ancestor of the carrot originated from central Asia from it’s ancestor, the wild carrot (also known as ‘Queen Anne’s Lace’ and ‘Bishop’s Lace’). The carrot was originally grown for its scented leaves and seeds rather than its root as the root was thought to be bitter and woody. Carrots were known to be eaten by the Romans as a root vegetable possibly as early as the 1st century. Carrot roots were originally purple or white. In the 17th century, dutch farmers cultivated the first orange carrots from yellow rooted varieties (a subspecies of the purple carrot thought to have lost its purple pigmentation). This orange carrot was thought to be developed as a tribute to the ‘House of Orange’ which ruled at the time. Continued cultivation of the carrot led to the sweeter, less woody roots that we now know and love!

Why should we eat carrots!


Carrots are best known for the large amounts of beta-carotene, a known  anti-oxidant and also include other anti-oxidants such as Vitamin C and other phytonutrients which are important for fighting oxidative stress in the body and boosting your immune system. Research has also shown that anti-oxidants in carrots and other vegetables have a protective effect on the cardiovascular system with one study showing that those that had a high intake of carrots had a lower risk of cardiovascular disease. Purple carrots have large quantities of anthocyanin, another anti-oxidant.

Beta-carotene (provitamin A) is also important in vision and eye health and is partly metabolised in the liver to produce vitamin A. Whilst important for eye health, the saying that carrots help you see in the dark is actually a myth and was made up during the second world war to account for Britain’s pilots success in night raid to cover up improvements in radar technology. Vitamin A is also important for growth, development and reproduction.

Carrots provide only 41 calories per 100g and are a source of dietary fibre and contain no cholesterol and negligible fat – good for anyone on a weight loss or low cholesterol diet. Can’t really see a reason not to eat them!

How to grow carrots!

Carrots are best sown direct into the soil than planted into seed modules. Whilst you can sown into seed modules or buy plants in modules, you may end up with a higher proportion of roots that have forked. You can now get carrot mats and tapes which hold carrot seeds in a biodegradable material at the right spacing to reduce the need for thinning!

Image credit: Carrot museum

If you are sowing your seeds direct, carrots prefer a well draining soil which is free of lumps. Add lots of organic material to your compost but avoid freshly manuring you soil as carrots don’t tend to like this. Any lumps, large stones or clay can result in stunted or forked carrots.

Make drills in the soil and sow your carrots very thinly. The more thickly you sow the carrots, the harder it is to thin them out. The more thinning out you do, the more likely you will attract the dreaded carrot root fly! When sowing your seeds you are aiming for a depth of 1 cm with a spacing of 30cm between rows. Draw the soil back over your carrots making sure they are well covered and water well! Germination can take between 10-20 days.

When your carrot seedlings are large enough to handle, they will need to be thinned out. This allows each carrot room to grow into the lovely big roots we want. Thinning out can be done in stages if you wish or you can thin out to the final spacing of 10cm. By thinning out in stages, you have spare seedlings should slugs attack! For the first thinning aim to leave one seedling every 2-4cm, pulling out any in-between. About four weeks later you can further thin your carrots to the final spacing of 10cm.

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Carrots should be kept weed free as they are growing and once established, only water when the ground is dry. I water the carrots once a week with a really goos soaking! If the tops of your carrots poke through the soil you can earth up around them to keep the tops from going green. Carrots can be harvested in approximately 10-12 weeks from sowing and will keep well in the ground until you need them or can be pulled and stored for months in damp sand boxes.

Problems with carrots!

The major problem you get with carrots is carrot root fly. The female carrot fly is attracted to the scent of the carrots and will lay her eggs on the surface next to carrot seedlings. The larvae then hatch and burrow into the carrot tunneling through. The larvae then pupate in the soil and when the time is right hatch into flies and the cycle starts all over again. There is no chemical control against the larvae and the best means of preventing root fly is biological.

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My carrot harvest – slightly damaged by carrot root fly

Carrot fly are apparently weak flyers and can’t fly higher than 6 inches off the ground so barriers of enviromesh or fleece should be able to stop them. However, my carrot planters are 3ft high and I still get infestations so it might have only limited effectiveness. Covering the tops of crops with enviromesh might be better than vertical barriers.

There are now semi-resistant varieties to carrot root fly such as ‘resistafly’ and ‘flyaway’. I will be trying this varieties next year so will let you know how they go. The adult females are attracted to the scent of carrots and crushed foliage so carrots are particularly vulnerable when you are thinning the carrots. Where possible, carrot thinning should be done in the evening when the fly is less active and the thinning should be disposed or burnt immediately. You can also confuse the adult female by planting chives around the carrot seedlings as they don’t like the scent of alliums.

You can also get a nematode now which can be applied to the soil which will infect and kill the larvae from ‘Nemasys’. This is also something I plan to try next year!

If your carrots do get a root fly infestation – don’t be disheartened. If they are not to badly damaged, you can pull all your carrots and scrape away the damaged areas with a vegetable peeler, then cut your carrots up, blanch them and freeze them. If they are really badly damaged, you just have to cut your losses and throw them away!

Carrots once the damaged parts had been removed. I then chopped them up, blanched them and froze them. They will be saved for Christmas day!

How to cook carrots!

When it comes to cooking carrots, they can be cooked in many ways. The can be boiled, roasted, steamed or sliced and added to stir fries. They are also lovely eaten raw whether that is as crudites with a lovely houmous dip or grated onto a salad. There so many ways to use carrots! I hope you enjoy some of the recipes below and let me know what your favourite recipes are!

Carrot recipes!

Yummy Scrummy Carrot Cake


Carrot and coriander soup


Honey-glazed Roast Carrots

Honey glazed raost carrots.jpg


Vegetable of the month!

October – Pumpkins!

Image credit: Everfest

Because it’s Halloween this month, I thought I’d celebrate the pumpkin! I think in the UK, it is a very under-rated vegetable which we should do more with than just carving scary faces in them!

Pumpkins are actually squash and belong to the same family as the butternut squash! In North America and the UK, a pumpkin is a squash that is orange and round and if it is not orange and round then it is a winter squash. However, the terms are used interchangeably as in Australia, the name pumpkin is used for all winter squash no matter there shape or colour.

A short history of pumpkins

Pumpkins are thought to originate in the Americas with the oldest evidence of pumpkin seeds being found in Mexico from between 7000-5500BC and have continued to be cultivated in North America ever since. It is generally accepted that pumpkins were given to English colonists who had arrived in the ‘New World’ by Native Americans. The pumpkin’s ability to store well over winter is what made them a staple crop especially in the hard winters.

Image credit: Design bolts

And we can’t have a history of pumpkins without the story of the jack o’lantern. The practice of making jack-o-lanterns came from an Irish myth.

” According to the story, Stingy Jack invited the Devil to have a drink with him. True to his name, Stingy Jack didn’t want to pay for his drink, so he convinced the Devil to turn himself into a coin that Jack could use to buy their drinks. Once the Devil did so, Jack decided to keep the money and put it into his pocket next to a silver cross, which prevented the Devil from changing back into his original form. Jack eventually freed the Devil, under the condition that he would not bother Jack for one year and that, should Jack die, he would not claim his soul. The next year, Jack again tricked the Devil into climbing into a tree to pick a piece of fruit. While he was up in the tree, Jack carved a sign of the cross into the tree’s bark so that the Devil could not come down until the Devil promised Jack not to bother him for ten more years.

Soon after, Jack died. God would not allow such an unsavory figure into heaven. The Devil, upset by the trick Jack had played on him and keeping his word not to claim his soul, would not allow Jack into hell. He sent Jack off into the dark night with only a burning coal to light his way. Jack put the coal into a carved out turnip and has been roaming the Earth with it ever since.” Source:

This figure was referred to as “Jack of the lantern” and originally turnips, large beets and potatoes were used to carve scary faces, placing them in windows to ward away wandering evil spirits. Immigrants in the United States started using pumpkins to make Jack-o-lanterns. As pumpkins are synonymous with the autumn season and easier to carve, it wasn’t long before jack-o-lanterns became part of the Halloween celebrations.

Why should we eat pumpkins?

pumpkin-nutritionPumpkin is a low calorie vegetable offering only 26 calories per 100g. This makes it an excellent substitute for potatoes in calorie controlled diets. It also has no saturated fats or cholesterol. Pumpkins are also an excellent source of vitamins including vitamins A, C and E. In fact it can give you 246% of your RDA in a 100g serving. Vitamin A is extremely important for eyesight and the immune system and vitamin A deficiency causes devastating effects with 1 in 5 children thought to be vitamin A deficient worldwide!

Pumpkin seeds are a great source of fibre and mono-unsaturated fatty acids which are good for bowel and heart health!

How to grow pumpkins

Pumpkins are a tender plant which can be killed by frosts. They have a creeping vine habit so need plenty of room to grow and sprawl.

Pumpkin seeds can be sown indoors from mid March – May. Seeds should be sown 2 per station into a pot of compost, with the seeds placed on their sides to allow water to run off them. If seeds are planted flat they can end up rotting. Pumpkins need warmth when germinating so place in a propagator or place a polythene bag around the pot. Seedlings should germinate in 5-7 days.

Grow pumpkins on for about 4 weeks before transplanting them outside in mid-late may after the risk of frosts have passed. For some regions, this may mean you can’t plant out until June! Gradually accustom young plants to outside conditions by using a cold frame.

If you want to sow pumpkin seeds direct, you should sow from mid-late May when the soil has warmed and all risk of frosts have passed. Pumpkins are hungry greedy plants and require nutritious soil which will have had a good does of well-rotted manure or compost worked into the soil before planting or sowing. Plant pumpkin plants in a sunny site that ideally gets 6 hrs of sunlight a day and plant your plants at least 3ft apart. Plant each pumpkin plant on top of a mound to ensure good drainage and keep them well watered until they are established.

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Feed pumpkins with a general fertilizer regularly and water well in dry periods.Flowers on pumpkins are either male or female with the female flower having an embryonic fruit behind it. Flowers are normally insect pollinated but if you notice that fruit is not setting then hand pollinate. If you want very large pumpkins then you should limit the number of fruit that set to no more than 3.

Pumpkins will at first be green until they have reached their final size then the fruit will start to ripen and the skin will turn orange. If necessary place the fruit on a bit of cardboard or straw to protect the fruit from contact with wet soil. Pumpkins should be left for as long as possible in the sun for the skin to cure and ripen and should only be cut off the plant and brought indoors if there is a risk of frost. Pumpkins should then be placed on a sunny windowsill or in a greenhouse to allow their skins to cure. Curing of the skins allows the pumpkin to store for 3-4 months.

Image credit: mother earth news

Pumpkin problems!

The two main problems seen with pumpkins is powdery mildew and fruit not setting. Powdery mildew are a group of fungus which is seen as a white powdery coating on the leaves of plants. This is often seen in plants that are water stressed and therefore more prone to infection. To avoid powdery mildew, keep the water around the plant moist. Fruit not setting is often related to cooler temperatures and lower insect activity. If cool temperatures are a problem then you may need to hand pollinate your plants.

How to cook pumpkin

Pumpkin can be roasted or boiled and can be used in numerous recipes from soups and pies to stews and curries. You can even use a hollowed out pumpkin as a cooking bowl. To roast pumpkin, cut into pieces and lay on an oven tray. Spray with cooking spray and sprinkle with salt. Roast in the oven for 30-40mins at 200C until the pumpkin is soft.

Pumpkin recipes

Pumpkin Soup


Pumpkin Biryani

pumpkin biryani.jpg

Pumpkin Pie

pumpkin pie.jpg


Vegetable of the Month!

This is rather late due to me being away so much in September and although it is now currently October, I thought I would still put up my vegetable of the month for September!

September – Tomatoes

Tomatoes! A staple of the garden and the kitchen! I am sure that nearly every gardener has tried their hand at this vibrant red fruit whether it’s in a greenhouse or tumbling from baskets! Tomatoes are such a staple ingredient in so many different dishes in my kitchen that I am really not sure what people did before them?


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A short history of tomatoes

Tomatoes are originally native to the Americas and were part of the diet in Meso-American cultures.Tomatoes were introduced to Europe by the Spanish in the 16th Century after the discovery of the Americas. Originally regarded with suspicion, the tomato was shunned as many people though it was poisonous since it was a member of the deadly nightshade family. The tomato thrived easily in the warm Mediterranean climate and eventually by the 18th century, tomatoes were rapidly being incorporated into daily cuisine across Europe!

Why should we eat tomatoes?


Tomatoes are a rich source of lycopene which is thought to have anti-oxidant properties and, along with other flavonoids (of which there are quite a few present in tomatoes), can play a role in bone and heart health. The anti-oxidants generally found in tomatoes are thought to play a preventative role against cancers including colon, prostate, breast and lung cancer. Nutrients in tomatoes are also thought to help regulate fat in the blood stream. They are low in fat, zero cholesterol and only 18 calories per 100 grams. which often leads to them being recommended as part of weight and cholesterol control programs.

Tomatoes also provide a generous source of Vitamin C contributing 21.5% to your recommended daily value per 100g and 28% of your recommended Vitamin A.

How to grow tomatoes?

Tomatoes require a long growing season in our cooler climate and are tender plants which require frost protection. Tomatoes can be grown both indoors and outdoors depending on the variety and as a rule, indoor grown tomatoes will be ready approximately a month before their outdoor cousins.

Depending on your variety of tomatoes, you can sow seed from mid-January until April but always read the sowing guide on the back of the packet. Fill a tray or pot with seed compost and sprinkle your seed thinly over the top. Cover the seed with a fine layer of the same seed compost or vermiculite and press down well to make sure the seed is in contact with the soil. Water well and cover the tray or pot with a clear plastic bag or polythene cover if necessary. This creates a warm humid atmosphere for the tomatoes to germinate (I like using a heated propagator). You can leave them uncovered but make sure the soil stays moist and they are kept in a warm place. The seeds will take 7-14 days to germinate.

Tomato seed sown in a heated propagator!

Once true leaves have started to develop, you can transplant your seedlings into larger pots. If growing outside, tomatoes should be planted in their final growing positions after all chance of frosts have passed. If growing in a greenhouse or polytunnel they can be planted into their final positions once they are about 15-18cm tall, however, you should still keep an eye out for any  frosts and make sure the plants have adequate protection. A late hard frost in April one year killed all my tender plants in the polytunnel!

Tomatoes can be planted into the ground, into grow bags or can be grown in large pots. Most importantly is knowing if your tomatoes are indeterminate (grown as cordons, will need support) or determinate (forms bushy plants that don’t need support). If your plants are indeterminate, you will need to provide support in the form of bamboo canes or some other training system (of which there are many!). Tomatoes will need to be tied into your supports as they grow to stop them breaking under the weight of the fruit they produce.

How they grow tomatoes at Victoriana Nursery!

Side shoots should be pinched out as they develop and the tops of the tomatoes should be pinched out once 6 trusses of flowers have set. As the fruit develops, leaves below the first truss should be removed to improve ventilation and prevent diseases from taking hold. Removing some leaves can help the fruit to ripen by increasing the access to light although some people don’t like to do this.

Tomatoes should be fed at regular intervals to encourage flowers and fruit to form. A good quality general tomato feed will be sufficient.

Tomato problems 

Tomato blight (image credit: RHS)

Tomatoes, like potatoes, can be infected with blight. Blight is a fungus, Phytophthora infestans, which attacks the plant starting in the leaves and then travelling through the rest of the plant causing it to rot. Growing tomatoes indoors can help to reduce the chances of blight infestation and good horticultural practices such as providing adequate ventilation, watering at the roots and not on the leaves, removing debris can also help to prevent its spread.

Greenhouse grown tomatoes can also suffer from whitefly or green fly which are aphids that suck the sap of the plant and can spread diseases. Insecticides can be used to control these aphids or using companion planting or organic gardening will attract natural predators of these pests.

Problems with the fruit include splitting , blossom end rot and blossom drop all of which is cause by irregular watering. Ensure that you water well and regularly to avoid this problem.

How to cook tomatoes

Tomatoes can be eaten raw or cooked and is a staple ingredient in many Italian dishes. Tomatoes can be grilled, roasted or chopped up and boiled down in their own juices as the base for many sauces. They are incredibly versatile and their uses are endless. Below is a selection of recipes that use tomatoes.

Tomato Soup


Tomato and Thyme Cod


Stuffed Tomatoes


Tomato, Cucumber and Coriander Salad



Vegetable of the Month!



Sweetcorn cobs straight off the plant are definitely a luxury. They are so sweet and juicy and there is a real excitement in pulling back the layers on an ear of corn to see the perfectly filled kernals underneath.

The sweetcorn we grow in our gardens and allotments is not the same as the corn growing in the farmers field! The corn grown in fields (maize) is grown as a grain whilst sweetcorn is a mutation of maize which enables it to have the high sugar content is has – hence the name ‘sweet corn’.

A short history of sweet corn

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Sweet corn is unique in that it does not exist naturally in the wild and is in fact human invention from crossing  two wild grasses. Sweet corn was originally from Central America, believed to have been created some 7000 years ago, and was a core part of the diets of the indigenous people of the time. The cultivation of sweetcorn grew through out the Americas, extending both North and South becoming a core component of the diet for indigenous peoples of the Americas.

European settlers were given this crop by native tribes of the Americas and soon became a favourite in the United States and Europe although was treated with some suspicion when first entering Europe.

Further breeding of sweet corn led to the vast number of cultivars we see today and leaps forward in science has allowed us to understand the mutations which have occurred that give us sweetcorn.

Why should we eat sweetcorn


So why should we eat sweet corn? Well despite it’s relatively high calorie content, it is a gluten free cereal and contains a fair amount of fibre. According to one site (, the fibre in our corn helps to nourish the friendly bacteria in our lower digestive tract. These bacteria produce short chain fatty acids which give an energy supply to the cells in our intestine not only allowing them to be healthy and function well but can also lower our risk of colon cancer.

Sweet corn contains no cholesterol and is also a good source of phyto-nutrients for the body as well as helping with blood sugar control in diabetics. It is a good source of B vitamins and vitamin C, all essential for healthy immune system!

How to grow sweetcorn

So now we know why we should eat it, how do we go about growing it?

Sweet corn is a tender crop and will be killed by frosts so it is best to either start your seeds off indoors or wait until the last frost in May to sow seed direct.

Another fact you need to know about sweetcorn is that it is a wind pollinated plant and to get good pollination you should plant sweetcorn in blocks rather than rows. These plants grow tall so, where possible, site them in a sheltered place so they are not broken by strong winds.

Sweetcorn like a well-draining nutritious soil, so it is always good to add some fertiliser or well rotted manure/compost to the soil. Sweet corn seed kernals can be sown directly by simply pushing the kernal into the soil where you want it to crop or can be sown indoors. If you are sowing indoors, sow into root trainers, toilet tubes or individual deep pots in April. Sweetcorn doesn’t like too much root disturbance  when it is transplanted so to minimise this root trainers or toilet roll tubes (which can be planted directly into the soil) works well. Fill the pots with a good multipurpose compost and push the kernal into the soil.

planting-sweet-corn-05 (1)
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Seedlings take about 14-21 days to emerge and should be grown on until the risk of frost has passed and then planted out into final growing position. Water consistently throughout the season and this is especially true during the time that male and female flowers are developing. Corn cobs which develop will have green fibres protruding from them called silks and when a cob is ready to be harvested, these silks will go a dark chocolate brown colour. To test ripeness, pull back the husks and pierce a kernal with your fingernail. If the liquid is a milky colour, it is ripe!

Sweetcorn doesn’t tend to suffer from many pests and diseases during it’s season unless you live somewhere where sweetcorn smut is prevalent – places with higher humidity. Thankfully, those of us in the UK don’t tend to have to worry about that! However, when your corn is ripe, you will not be the only one who wants to eat it! So will the rats! Protect your crops by putting up barriers to the rats and/or traps. (Two years running I have lost at least half my sweetcorn to these little blighters!)

Rat damage! (Image credit:

How to cook sweetcorn

If your sweet corn survives the rats and you get to harvest them, sweetcorn is very easy to cook. It should be cooked as close to harvesting as possible as it can lose its flavour quickly. If you have a lot at once, you can blanch the cobs for approximately 3 minutes, cool rapidly and freeze in packs of two for cooking later on.

If you want to eat the corn on the cob, you can either steam or boil it for 3-6 minutes depending on the size. You can also roast the cobs in the oven or on a barbecue which will take anywhere between 7-15 minutes depending on size.

If you want just the kernals, simply slice the kernals off the cob with a sharp knife keeping the blade as near to the cob core as possible and cook anyway you fancy.

Sweetcorn recipes

Mexican corn on the cob

mexican corn on cob

Corn Relish

corn relish

Corn and green bean cakes



Vegetable of the Month


rhs courgettes
Image credit: RHS

July – a time of year where you are constantly wondering ‘what do I do with all these courgettes!’ Courgettes will be growing by the day and if you take the time to blink they will have turned into giant marrows!

Every year, I plant too many plants, harvest over 200 courgettes and think ‘next year I won’t plant as many’ and then every year I suddenly panic that I won’t get any courgettes at all and plant too many plants again! It’s an endless cycle and one I am sure we are all in!

Courgettes (Cucurbita pepo var. cylindrica) are part of the squash family and are classed as a summer squash, i.e. you eat it in summer. They are related to other squash including pumpkins and butternut squash and belong to the same family as cucumbers and melons. They are are tender crop and are only in season in the warmer months when there is no sign of a frost. Courgettes can come in all shapes and sizes as well as a varieties of colours (as can be seen in the picture above). The flowers can also be eaten and are often stuffed and deep fried.

guardian courgette flowers.jpg
Image credit: The Guardian

A very short history of courgettes

The ancestor to the Courgettes originally hail from Central and South America where it is thought to have been cultivated and eaten by the indigenous people there (Aztecs, Inca’s and Mayan’s) for thousands of years. Christopher Columbus brought it back with him after his travels to the ‘New World’ to the Mediterranean where the more modern variety we have now was developed further in Italy. In Britian and France it is know as the ‘courgette’ whereas in Italy and the United States it is known as ‘Zucchino/Zucchini’.

Why should we eat courgettes

courgette nutrition

Courgettes are extremely low in calories with only 17 calories per 100g which is largely due to their high water content. They don’t contain saturated fats or cholesterol and provides a source of dietary fibre, specifically soluble fibre which helps to slow digestion and stabilise blood sugar levels.

This vegetable would be excellent for those who are trying to lose weight or are watching their cholesterol levels!

Courgettes don’t have the same nutritional kick of other vegetables such as the brassicas but they do provide a good amount of vitamin C (essential for the immune system) as well as providing a good level of Potassium (good for the circulatory system).

How to grow courgettes

In my experience courgettes are relatively easy to grow and can pretty much be left to their own devices once planted in the ground.

You can sow seed indoors in March/April or outdoors directly in May after frosts have passed. Seeds should be sown individually into 8cm pots of seed compost or you can plant two seeds in one pot and then pinch out the weaker seedling. The seed should be placed  on its end to prevent the seed from rotting in the wet compost and pushed 2cm deep. Keep somewhere warm and wait for seedlings to emerge. Seedlings should be transferred to larger pots of multipurpose compost when roots start to poke out from the 8cm pots.

garden fresco growing_courgettes_from_seed
Image credit: Garden Fresco

Two weeks before planting out into permanent positions, harden off plants by placing them outside for increasingly longer spells and during milder nights to toughen them up. Once hardened off and the risk of frosts have passed, plant out. Water the plants thoroughly and keep them watered throughout the season as they require large of amounts of water for their fruits to swell and give them a regular feed too. Fruits can be harvested by cutting them away from the plant with a knife whilst holding the fruit in one hand. Try not to pull /tug the courgette away from the plant Keep picking courgettes regularly when they are about 10-12cm long to encourage further fruit production. If courgettes are left on the plants they grow very large and become marrows (form seeds in their centre) and fruit production will slow.

Courgette plant in fruit
Image credit:

Powdery mildew can often be seen on leaves towards the end of the season but this doesn’t tend to affect production too much unless the attack is exceptionally bad. Keeping the plants well watered should prevent this. Cucurbits can be susceptible to foot and root rots but you are only likely to see this with unhygienic horticultural practices. Slugs can be a problem with seedlings and young plants but don’t tend to have taste for the mature established plants.

How to cook with courgettes

Courgettes don’t need to be peeled and can be sliced, chopped or cut into ribbons. They can be roasted, fried, griddled or steamed and are a great addition to many Mediterranean dishes.

Courgette recipes

Below is a few recipes for using your many courgettes!

Courgette fritters

courgette fritters

Stuffed Courgette flowers with Olive dressing

courgette flowers

Chocolate courgette cake


June recipes

I am a little late in posting this but here are my recipes of the month. This month there hasn’t been a lot to harvest than radishes, broad beans and strawberries and so a couple of the recipes use these ingredients but I have also included a non-seasonal dishes which I tried this month and absolutely loved!

Strawberry jam

As I have ended up putting so many strawberries in the freezer, as I simply cant get through the huge quantity I have, I thought I’d share my strawberry jam recipe with you which is just perfect spread over the scone recipe I posted previously.

  • 1kg Strawberries, hulled and roughly chopped
  • 1kg suger with added pectin
  • juice of 2 lemons

Place a saucer in the freezer. Add the chopped strawberries into a jam pan with the lemon juice and cook on a medium heat. Once the strawberries have softened, you can add all of the sugar mixing thoroughly with the fruit. Once the sugar has dissolved, bring the pan up to a boil and allow to boil rapidly for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to a simmer remove any scum as it forms. When the jam has started to thicken, test that the jam is ready by removing the saucer from the freezer and dropping some of the jam onto the cold surface. Wait a couple of minutes and then test the set of the jam with your finger. If the jam has set and/or wrinkles when you touch it – it is ready. Take the pan off the heat and allow to cool for a few minutes and allow any bubbles to dissipate. Then add the jam to sterilised jars and seal.


Brazilian Fish Stew

I tried a new recipe this month called ‘Moqueca’ or Brazilian fish stew/soup. I had some swordfish steaks left over in the freezer and needed a inventive way of using them and stumbled across this recipe. There is nothing seasonal about this recipe (it will be more in season when its time to harvest peppers and tomatoes) but I did enjoy it and thought I’d share it with you!

(recipe amended from this article on Simply Recipes by Elise Bauer)

  • 1 1/2 to 2 lbs of fillets of swordfish cut into large cubes
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • juice of 1 lime
  • Pinch of red chilli flakes
  • Olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1/2 yellow and 1/2 red pepper, de-seeded, and chopped
  • 3 chopped  fresh tomatoes
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 can coconut milk
  • salt and pepper
  • chopped spring onion and coriander to garnish

Place fish pieces in a bowl and marinate with the garlic, lime juice and chilli flakes. Season with salt and pepper and keep chilled. In a large pan, add the olive oil and heat on medium heat. Add the chopped onion and cook a few minutes until softened. Add the bell pepper, brown sugar and paprika. Sprinkle generously with salt and pepper. Cook for a few minutes longer, until the pepper begins to soften. Stir in the chopped tomatoes and bring to a simmer for 5 minutes, uncovered. Once the vegetables have softened, add the cubes of marinated swordfish. Pour coconut milk over the fish and vegetables.

Bring the stew to a simmer, reduce the heat, cover, and let simmer for 15 -20 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. You may need to add more salt, sugar, lime juice, paprika, pepper, or chili flakes to get the soup to the desired seasoning for your taste. Once seasoned to taste and the stew has thickened slightly, serve with rice and garnish with coriander and spring onions.

Sausage, pea and courgette risotto (adapted from Eat-In Magazine)

Despite the fact that my pea plants have  been absolutely destroyed this year by various armies, fresh British peas are available now in the stores and it is a product we should make use of. Fresh peas are ten times better than the frozen ones! Also it’s my vegetable of the month so I’d thought I’d include this Risotto recipe. The peas can easily be replaced by broad beans or, if you are like me, have a mixture of both!

Image: Eat In magazine
  • cooking oil spray (something like fry-light)
  • 2 large courgettes, diced
  • 1 large onion, finely chopped
  • 125g risotto rice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 700ml hot chicken or veg stock,
  • 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg
  • 1 tsp Dijon mustard
  • salt and pepper
  • 10 chicken sausages (or any sausage of your choice)
  • 325g of podded peas (or use defrosted petit pois or broad beans or a mixture)
  • 2 tbsp fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • extra basil and parmesan shavings for a garnish

Spray a large non-stick frying pan with the cooking spray and over a medium heat, saute the courgettes for 5 minutes or until reduced by a third. Transfer to bowl and set aside. Spray the pan again with the cooking spray and reduce the heat to medium. Saute the onion for 5 minutes or until soft. Stir in the risotto rice and garlic for 1 minute. Add a splash of the hot stock, along with the nutmeg and mustard and season. If you are using fresh peas or broad beans, add them to the hot stock to cook whilst the risotto is being made. Turn the heat low on the frying pan and gradually add the remaining stock , a ladle at a time, waiting for it to be absorbed before adding another. This will take 10-150 mins and approximately 100ml should be left with the peas and/or broad beans in. The peas and broad beans can be taken off the heat and drained and set aside. Meanwhile, spray another non-stick frying pan with cooking spray over a medium high heat. Squeeze out small blobs from 10 chicken sausages into the pan (discard the casings) and fry for 3 minutes, turning once, until cooked and golden brown. Stir the sausages, courgettes, cooked peas/broad beans or defrosted petit pois, and the basil leaves into the risotto mixture. Add a splach of boiling water if it’s too thick. Cook for 2 minutes or until piping hot. Serve, garnished with extra basil leaves and parmesan.



Vegetable of the Month!


We are half way through the year and the pea season is now upon us! If you think the first broad beans are a treat, then you will be blown away by peas fresh from the pod! No cooking required!

Peas are such a treat for me and I love watching the pods develop and fill out. Getting a decent pea harvest every year is quite a challenge for us due to the large number of pests that can ravage the crop but when it’s successful it’s totally worth it!


Image Credit:

Peas (Pisum sativum – literally means ‘cultivated pea’) is a name that can be applied to many different peas in the wider family such a ‘pigeon peas’ but for the sake of this article, I am talking about our common garden pea. It is not just the pea seed inside that can be eaten, the pods can be eaten too and some varieties are specifically grown with eating the pods in mind such as ‘sugar snap’ peas and ‘snow pea’ varieties (we refer to them as mange-tout in this country). Each plant produces numerous pods filled with 6-8 individual peas. They are a climbing crop and use tendrils to wrap around supports such as the traditionally used ‘pea sticks’ in cultivation. Peas are a cool season crop which may explain why they can thrive in our spring/summer climate but the wild pea, from which our cultivated one comes from, is found in the Mediterranean and the Middle East.

Image credit:

A short history of Peas

Archaeological evidence suggests that peas have been eaten and cultivated since neolithic times, as early as 4800-4400 B.C. They have been a staple in human diets ever since and were of special significance in medieval times to keep famine at bay. Peas used to be grown for their dry seeds and fresh garden peas, like what we eat today, was an innovative luxury of the 17th century  but by the end of the 17th/early 18th century it become popular to eat peas green and from there the garden pea was born. Along with the inventions of canning and freezing, green, garden peas became a staple all year long!

Why should we eat peas?

pea nutrition

Peas contain starch and sugar which gives that lovely sweet taste but they also contain good levels of Vitamin K, which is thought to be beneficial for good heart and bone health.  They also contain B and C vitamins which are important in cardiovascular health and for a strong immune system. Peas contain manganese, an important mineral essential for development and metabolism, and they are a  source of dietary fibre.

They are very low in fat (only 0.4g per 100g of peas) but the fats they do contain are high in poly- and mono- unsaturated fats, all super healthy for you! They are also an excellent source of protein.

Peas also contain a number of phyto-nutrients which give good anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory effects and one study even suggests it might have a role in protection against stomach cancer! Other studies have suggested a link with pea consumption and a lower risk of type 2 diabetes.

How to grow peas

Peas, like potatoes, can be grouped as first earlies, second earlies and maincrop. This relates to how quickly they mature. Peas don’t like root disturbance so where possible you should either sow them directly or preferably in root trainers. I myself sow them in egg cartons where I can then break the individuals sections of the egg cartons off and plant them whole in the ground. The egg carton decomposes and the peas carry on like nothings happened.


Peas can be sown from February until June (and Oct-Nov for autumn sown peas). Successive sowing helps to ensure a longer supply of peas. If sown directly, a shallow trench should be dug and pea seeds should be spaced 5-7 cm apart and 3-5cm deep into well prepared soil. Peas will rot in soggy cold ground so ensure that the soil is warm and well-draining. Peas require support as they grow, pea sticks or netting is ideal for their tendrils to twist around.

Pea and bean weevil can be a problem on young plants, the adults nibbling the edges of the leaves leaving little notches. Pigeons love to eat the shoots and can strip the tender plant if not protected and mice will nibble the sown seeds if they can get to it so make sure that plants are protected where possible. My main problem, though, is pea moth. The moth lays its eggs on the flowers and the larvae burrow into the pod and eat the peas.

How to cook peas

Peas can be eaten fresh out of the pod when they are young but if you prefer them to be cooked they are easily boiled or steamed for a few minutes. The pods themselves, are also packed full of goodness so we often boil the empty pods in stocks when making risottos – that way all the vitaminy goodness goes into the risotto!

Pea shoots are also delicious added to a salad or as a garnish! I often sow a tray full of peas just to use as pea shoots!

Pea recipes

Pea and Ham Soup

pea and ham soup

Lemony Pea and Prawn Risotto

prawn and pea risotto

Pea, Ham Hock and Watercress Salad

pea salad

Vegetable of the Month!


May is an exciting month with temperatures warming, the last of the frosts and moving our crops outside into the warming soil! With June on it’s way we are approaching the end of the hungry gap and nothing quite signals this than the opening of flowers on our broad bean plants!

There is nothing better than the first fresh broad beans of the season and if you planned ahead you may be looking forward to your first harvest from your autumn-sown broad beans.

How-to-grow-broadbeans-pod-close-upBroad beans are also known by a few other names, most notably ‘field beans’ in the UK and ‘fava beans’ in the US. The plant itself is normally quite erect with pods that point upwards rather than hanging down such as other beans such as runner beans and french beans. Each pod holds 4-6 beans and the inside of the pod is often coated in a downy ‘fur’. The flowers on the plants are white with a black spot. Unlike other plants, this black spot is a ‘true black’ colour as opposed to very dark blue or purple. Like other legumes, their roots contain bacteria which are able to fix nitrogen in the soil.

A very short history

Broad beans have been cultivated since 3000BC being once of the most ancient cultivated plants. It was grown by the Egyptians, Greeks and Romans up until today and were the only beans in Europe until we ‘discovered’ the New World and other beans were exported here!

broad beans nutritionWhy should we eat broad beans?

To be honest, this question is easily answered if you get the opportunity to eat small fresh broad beans straight out of the pod – they are delicious!

But in case you want specific nutritional information, broad beans are low in saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium and are very high in protein and dietary fibre – a good weight loss combo!

They also contain high levels of folate and are an excellent source of B vitamins which we need for nerve and blood cell development, cognitive function and energy.

How to grow broad beans

There are two times during the year when you can start growing broad beans; autumn and spring. Autumn sown broad beans are sown in early November, of which specific varieties such as ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ are more suited to autumn sowing, and spring sown broad beans can be sown from as early as February up until May, sowing successionally for a long harvest.

Broad beans should be sown 2-3 inches deep, 6-9 inches apart and should be ideally sited in a well-draining site improved with compost or well-rotted manure. Both dwarf and tall cultivars are available and tall cultivars may need staking as they grow or, if broad beans are grown in a block, can be kept erect by placing posts in the corners and tying string between the posts.

broad bean stake.jpgWhen the first pods have formed, you should pinch out the tops of the plants to promote fruit set and reduce black fly infestation. Pods should be picked when they start to swell to enjoy the beans when they are at there tenderest!

Broad beans have many problems, pests include black fly, pea and bean weevil, mice and sometimes birds like to pull out freshly planted small plants.  Also watch out for fungi and viruses such as chocolate spot and rust.

How to cook broad beans

Young and tender beans can be eaten raw but as the beans get older they develop a ‘skin’ which should be removed after cooking to really enjoy their flavour. Beans can be boiled easily for 3-5 minutes in water and the skin is removed easily by slitting the skin with your nail and then pushing the beans out.

One of my favourite things to do with broad beans is to put them in a risotto with some fresh peas (although frozen will also do fine) and courgette.

Here are some recipe ideas for using your broad beans:

Risotto with peas and broad beans

broad bean risotto

Broad beans and peas with mint butter

broad beans and peas

Spanish roast fish with broad beans and chorizo