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

Apr├Ęs 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.

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