28 Aug 2009

A tale of radish past…

radishes in glassJust because they're beautiful…

Having searched (and failed) to find suitable recipes to honour our glut of radishes, I bring you instead…
Radish Folklore! (gleaned from Garden Action)

Apparently in the old days, when people had time to sit around and discover these things,
(probably when I was just a girl), lovers of the humble radish believed that eating them would stimulate the appetite, and be good for hair and nails, teeth, gums and nerves. (This one I can vouch for, being slightly tubby with all my own teeth and of a cheerful disposition.)

Tradition would have it that they help to speed up recuperation from nervous exhaustion. (Those living life in the fast lane should take note.) Constipation is eased by eating radishes. (Well, one never knows, does one? …)

Ancient wisdom reveals that whooping cough, asthma, and bronchitis have also been treated with the radish. Chronic liver and gallbladder disease, including gallstone and kidney stone afflictions, have responded by eating the whole plant. (Oh, surely not! the leaves are so prickly! - perhaps if they're cooked first? I leave you to experiment, should the need arise.)

Or, how about some medieval medical advice for baldness (found on KillerPlants.com - love that name). In 1597, John Gerard wrote in The Herbal: "The root stamped with hony (sic) and the powder of a sheepes heart dried, causeth haire to grow in short space."

Oo, what we did before trichologists (… or Marmite. Remember that ad, UK viewers?)

26 Aug 2009

A Ripening of Radishes…

radish, Carltonware Lobster plate
I'm so excited to bring you this photo, not least because I've been allowed to use L's beautiful Carltonware Lobster plate. Look what we found in the Veg Patch this morning! And not just these, but a very satisfying bumper crop.

But there is a downside as I discovered when I skipped round to share the news with the group. I'm the only one that actually likes eating them. (Gasp!) It seems everyone loves the colour, the shape, the visual contrast they bring to a leafy salad. They just don't like putting them in their mouths. Who knew?

So, chalk this one up to experience. We should only grow what we want to eat. And I need to find either a) lots of radish recipes or b) a stall at the local farmers' market.

Can't resist! Another Dictionary Moment! The word 'radish' is derived from the Saxon, rude, rudo, or reod (ruddy), or from the Sanskrit rudhira, meaning blood, referring to the bright red colour of the vegetable. Sanskrit and Saxon? Now that's what I call interesting, but I may not actually be helping my cause here - all that talk of blood.

24 Aug 2009

Promiscuity on the Patch…

Sowing a variety of lettuce seeds for a bit of late summer salad is proving to be a promising investment. But concern for the appearance of our tender leaves is leading us to a bit of old style matchmaking. We need to marry them off before they're ruined by spending the night with too many pests. (My own sweet peppers were positively decimated overnight by a herd of hungry caterpillars.)

Which leads us down the aisle to companion planting, that old favourite of organic gardeners. Some time in the past, I've read that mint is a good companion for lettuce. Jekka McVicar, in her New Book of Herbs (my copy published in 2002, so now not so new), denounces mint as promiscuous, having cross-bred, inter-bred and generally misbehaved. And who can blame them when no-one can resist giving their verdant leaves a quick squeeze in order to release that glorious smell? But perhaps not what we want, although the leaves of Spearmint (mentha spicata) make lovely tea and add a certain 'je ne sais quoi' to a salad or dish of couscous.

Having researched a little further, it would seem that radishes or strawberries make the ideal partners for lettuce, which is good as we have plenty of those. But I still think we should give those naughty but nice little mint plants some space, even if we do have to contain them amongst the cabbages.

21 Aug 2009

People Need Roots…

"Kiddies" digging in the VegPatch, circa 1960

The urge to grow veg (and flowers) resurrects a fine, historical trend within our community.

When the flats were built in the late 1930s, it was specified that there should be plenty of space for social living and gardening: allotments, raised brick beds, window boxes on each balcony, gardens between - and flower beds surrounding - the houses. The land for the flats was provided by the London Midland and Scottish Railway. It was a triangle of orchard farmland, leftover after the railway line had been run next to it, and had therefore never been poisoned by industrial use.

Irene Barclay*, writing in her book ‘People Need Roots’ (1976), considered that
'the finest achievements are at York Rise, where we had much more space for both communal and private gardens, and for children’s gardens, where the kiddies learnt not to kill worms, and how to wait for seeds to germinate.'  
And, to prove it, here they are, gardening their little socks off in the early 1960s. (The real point of interest here is the garden… that's our VegPatch in its previous incarnation.)

The early York Rise tenants - mainly railwaymen rehoused from the Euston area - had a love of gardening, and Mrs Barclay writes that ‘York Rise’ became famous for its flower and vegetable gardens.

Oh. Great. … so, no pressure there then.
*Irene Barclay was an architect whose work was instrumental in the early days of the St. Pancras Housing Improvement Society (as our landlord was then known).

19 Aug 2009

Sky High Squash…

Alright, I confess I'm looking for an excuse to post a bit of sunshine and blue skies. (The photos were getting a bit brown what with all that mud, etc.) Whilst not strictly reporting from the Veg Patch today, this is by way of proving that the York Rise Growers do not limit themselves to growing on the ground. Every summer I'm treated to this view as the delicate tendrils of my neighbour's squashes climb up like vines towards the sun from his third floor balcony. And today was particularly inspiring, set against a backdrop of a rare (in the UK at least) azure sky.

17 Aug 2009

Seeds of Change…

"…there is really no such thing as bad weather,
only different kinds of good weather."
~John Ruskin

I owe you all an apology. I may have left you with the impression that the game was up after the recent prolonged over-watering of the Veg Patch by Mother Nature. Admittedly we didn't check on any progress for a couple of days - let's face it, there would have been nothing to see anyway, whether the seeds were still there or not.

But! tra la la, happiness and optimism restored! Incredibly, only five days after sowing, plus the bountiful gift of water from the skies, tiny little leaves (oops no, let me guess … cotyledons?) appeared, followed a few days later by a micro forest of radish foliage. (Exciting times, indeed.)

I have since read via Garden Action that "[radishes] are an ideal vegetable for the amateur gardener. [They] require almost no attention once past the seedling stage - their main requirement is a reasonable supply of water."

Ooookaaay, right. Big tick in that box then.

14 Aug 2009

Après la Deluge…

It is best to read the weather forecast before praying for rain.
~Mark Twain

I am, by nature, an optimist. Which means that I will plant seeds in August when the packet clearly says Sow May to July. Who knew that two days after sprinkling our seeds (and hopes) into the ground, there would be monsoon conditions over North London?

We'd wished for clement weather to
coax our seeds into new life. Had we been given a choice, I imagine the order would have been for a gentle blanket of Irish rain, preferably in the morning, to balance the scorch of summer sunshine.

After tending to the Veg Patch in the early morning sun, some of our group headed off for a day out at the seaside. Within hours, an overcast sky had darkened to produce a heavy deluge(* dictionary moment below!) of rain of some 8 hours duration. Flowerbeds filled like ponds, unable to drain the water away fast enough, and, as the rain continued on (and on, and on), I pictured our little Veg Patch seeds floating away on the tide. We'd already been scuppered by a skulk of foxes enjoying the smell of fresh compost and now it was Mother Nature's turn.

And what of our friends struggling soggily back from Southend? Not a bit of it. They stepped, bone dry, out of the train station in a moment of light drizzle. "Rain? …What rain? We've had a smashing day and the first few drops we've seen was one station back down the line!"

Really, you couldn't make it up if you tried.

* I love the origins of language. So, for anyone, like me, who thinks about such things, the meaning of Deluge is literally 'washed away' from the Latin (diluere/diluvium) and thence to Old French (diluve) and to late Middle English. So now you know.

12 Aug 2009

Up, Up and Away…

August 2009: The Final Showdown
Frank (1); Cotoneaster (0)

You know how you can sometimes ignore a problem and it will do the decent thing and go away? That was the tactic we employed with the last, very stubborn, cotoneaster root. It worked for a while as we crumbled compost bought from the local Recycling Centre and sowed seeds until we were all PollyAnna'd out.

But, one day, as we discussed the planting plan for our future 'orchard' (by the way, how many fruit trees do you need to be worthy of that label?), we knew we could put off the problem no longer. Happily, Geordie Frank, one of our resident pensioners (say it quietly) wandered past and picked up the challenge. Within moments he was back with his work boots on and shovel… er, pickaxe… er, saw in hand. My,my, the way he tackled that root. You had to see it, it was impressive. And all for a cup of tea and chat with the ladies (I think we can call ourselves that).

(And, by the way Frank, entre nous, you don't look a day over ... oops, no, sorry, promised I wouldn't.)

10 Aug 2009

A Loveliness of Ladybirds …

Apparently we're experiencing an abundance of ladybirds this summer in the UK, emerging to feed greedily on the glut of aphids which our weather has encouraged (ironically, however, declining to feast on the aphids on my strawberries).

Small children, usually spotted (ho, ho) with one small red bug trailing over their hands, now have them by the potful. The press have seized on this summertime news with lurid pictures of swarms of ladybirds in biblical proportions (here and here - opens in new window) and, for those of a grammatical bent, flagged up the collective noun for this gathering which is a Loveliness of Ladybirds. (All together now… "aaaahhh".)

Which has set me thinking about collective nouns. I was unable to find any for garden produce - apart from the well-known 'hand of bananas' or 'rope of onions' - so I offer you these thoughts: how about
  • a march of mint
  • a blessing of beetroot
  • a conundrum of carrots (you never quite know how they'll turn out)
  • a marathon of beans
  • a hearing (or audience?) of sweetcorn (think about it)
  • a league of lettuces
Any more suggestions?

P.S. Children wanting to know more about ladybirds, including a colouring sheet, click here

7 Aug 2009

Back(s) to the Future II …

July 2009: Getting to the root of the matter. 
Time Banker Emma pauses while watching Jon (York Rise Grower) dig.

With the neglected rose bushes transplanted to a new home with the Time Bank helpers, you'd perhaps expect a frenzy of preparation for future harvests? Sadly, not so. The Veg Patch was still harbouring a couple of renegade cotoneasters which had defeated all our onslaughts, with roots deep under the surrounding paving. They had to come out before we could continue and the scale of the task was demotivating us. What to do?

A quick phone call to Clare from Origins Time Bank and one Emma, pictured above, strolled onto the Veg Patch one Tuesday in July with her gardening experience and the determination to not let anyone leave until the job was done.
Thanks, Emma. … Umm, no, really, thanks! 

At the end of the day, the ground had been dug over, wooden raised beds built, compost bought in and lots of growers went home with sunburn and aching limbs. (In fact one last cotoneaster root remained, more of which later …)

6 Aug 2009

Back(s) to the Future

Feb 2009: Did I mention the Cotoneaster? Mmm, lovely, isn't it.

Before the blog began: Well, this is how it started for us. Yep, faced with the prospect of turning the above plot (top photo) into a lush 'kitchen garden', early enthusiasm expressed over seed catalogues soon had all the fizz of 3 day old lemonade.

Lest we be accused of wimping out, it needs to be said that we were starting our veg patch a tad late in the season (April) and there was a lot of ground to (un)cover.

April 2009: Going to the (Time) Bank to get the job done.

Enter Viki and his team of Time Bank gardeners, a lovely group of men from Old Church Court in North London, who pitched up and started cheerfully digging out the rose bushes and ancient shrubs, while we pulled a few weeds and made cups of tea - and in L's case, a magnificent, huge, fresh cream Victoria Sponge Cake was baked … which I regrettably forgot to photograph.

Incidentally, if you don't know about TimeBank, check out these websites here (TimeBank) and here (SPH) and you, too, could soon be basking in TimeBank goodwill.

5 Aug 2009

August planting for salad crops

sowing seedsJust the other day, after a very satisfying morning in the veg patch, we were discussing what could usefully go into the ground for eating in a couple of months. As we've had to wrestle giant roots into submission before getting started, our little patch is devoid of summer harvest. (Although we do have a few aubergines, peppers and lavender in a greenhouse waiting to be transplanted now that the ground is ready-ish.) As it's practically still July, we decided to give salad-y stuff a go and have now lovingly sowed lettuce, rocket, radish, beetroot, spring onions, and parsley into the raised beds, with the help of one of the children. This was more an act of bravado than seasoned experience but I'm pleased to see that Sarah Raven, writing for the Guardian, advocates August as being the ideal time for sowing a late summer salad. Yum. In fact, I'm inspired to go out and sow spinach and coriander as well (which I was going to leave until the end of the month).

4 Aug 2009

In appreciation of Weeds

Don't you think that weeds have to put up with an awful lot of bad press? Garden enthusiasts, determined to impose bedding plant orderliness on the habitat, often overlook the subtle beauty of these plants. I therefore offer heartfelt thanks to Susie at Flowerpress for highlighting the delights of these natural survivors and for her beautiful photography. Perhaps we'll all learn to look and love before heaving them out of (our) beds.
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