February 2011

WARNING: The following post contains NO scenes of parasitic murder, feline or insect defecation defecation and no eight-legged beasties or mucus of any kind. May contain mild swearing.

Normal service will resume soon.

I grew lots of nice things last year and didn’t write about most of them. But as they were nice I will be growing them again this year and so will start to tell you about them now. First in line, the rat-tailed radish.


the old peppery pink earth-dweller

Now there’s not much wrong with the ordinary radish. I like its peppery kick and I love the fact that seed can turn to lunch in as little as three weeks. I love the seeds for being happy to do their thing in the gaps in which few other plants would cooperate, and I like forgetting where I’ve put them then finding them again when a flash of fluorescent pink has broken the surface. And despite the slugs’ enthusiasm for almost everything I prepare for them (so rewarding to feed grateful mouths…) radish escape relatively unscathed.

But there is a problem with the old peppery-pink earth dweller. Each radish I munch requires  at least one seed to have been put into the ground a few weeks before.  A reliable supply requires regular sowing, and I am not to be trusted.

That got me thinking: wouldn’t it be great if radish grew on trees?

Or even on a small plant, say 1m high? Then one little seed would gives lots and lots of radish mouthfuls, and I wouldn’t mind at all if it took a little longer to grow.

Also, if we are to redesign the radish, please could they could look like the clawing fingers of an extra-terrestrial?

Rat-tailed radish









Yep that’s pretty good.

So how does it do on taste?

Good.  Not the same, but good. The flavour is primarily the hot-kick element one gets with the ground-radish (as we shall now call it), washed down with some green-tasting fresh air.

And don’t forget: because the poor blighter is so desperate to get some of its little seeds out into the world, the more you eat, the more it will try to grow some more.  Ha ha!

Also there’s the unexpected bonus of eternal youth. You just need to eat it right.

Aged seven, I spent hours and hours alone in the garden in various make-believe worlds. When one is engaged in an epic struggle battling witches (or pirates, or cave monsters, or bone-creatures or crazed goats) it often happens that one can only survive by living off the fat of the land. Nibbling dandelion leaves was not enjoyable, but good for reinforcing feelings of surviving against the odds. Sucking the nectar out of Deadnettle flowers was altogether sweeter (the pixies taught me that trick). Many adventures involved raiding Dad’s vegetable beds then retreating up a tree with muddy radish and spring onions on a lettuce plate; tomato harvests were sometimes lower than expected after small vermin invaded the greenhouse. Once, a thieving rat and her friend carried out a daring raid on a neighbouring garden after days of longing for raspberries which did not belong to them. This thieving rat still hangs her head in shame at the memory, but it can’t be denied that there is a special pleasure in eating something straight from the ground or the branch.

And what fun I could have had with rat-tailed radish! The gnarled and knobbly fingers are ideal for serving as a delicacy at a witches’ feast. They are also perfect for biting straight off the branch – “look! no hands!” –  which is very handy if one is spending the afternoon pretending to be a horse or other grazing animal. I was reflecting on this last August, when I realised I was sat on the ground in front of the plant,  snapping at it like a crocodile. Seven did not seem so far away.

Gnarled tree

The pixies live somewhere round here

'Forest' canaopy

Forest scape

Hello. It’s been a while. Sometimes life throws a lot of bastard-things at you all at once and gardening has to stop for a while whilst you stamp on the bastards and try to throw them back. It’s been a bit like whack-a-mole.

Luckily, not much happens in the garden anyway when it’s covered in snow and not much happens in MY garden when grey skies prevail over my square of patio day after day. And, luckily, nature will carry on doing her thing regardless of whether I go out and prod at her or not.

Three months have passed in which I did nothing except make the occasional outing to put food-waste in the compost bin … and only then when the kitchen started to smell. Now, it’s getting warmer and green shoots are literally emerging so we should all be better equipped for continued bastard-thing-stamping and I have ventured out to take stock.

The inventory:

  • Leeks planted at an inappropriate time in inappropriate places continue as they were – unperturbed by bad weather, threats to the nation’s forests and public services, or the fact I heard a really great new band last week.
  • The Alpine strawberries still push out the odd speculative fruit in the hope the sun will bring ripening rays before they shrivel. Not long now, my lovelies, not long now [please insert scurrilously piratical accent].
  • Mizuna and land-cress are very handy winter salads, and Swiss Chard seems quite happy to sit in a bucket for months, if unmolested by nothing but a fat pigeon or two.
  • Artichokes (and oca)As before, Jerusalem artichokes absolutely insist on providing delicious meals in exchange for absolutely no effort.
  • Oca was fun but not terribly productive. Get out your magnifying glass and look at that Jerusalem artichoke pic again. On the left. In the glass box. Now squint. Yep, that’s my harvest from 4 oca plants. Somehow this has delighted me even more than a middling to good harvest would have and I’m very much looking forward to trying again this year.
  • The greenhouse contains a lot of dead aubergine and chilli plants and accompanying fungal growth and spores.
  • Dried beansI still have more dried beans than I planted (despite having eaten several kilos along the way). Right now, they make me smile and marvel every time I see them. In a few weeks they will start the process of making me more beans and bring succour to my soul and stomach. A damn good deal if you ask me.
  • All my chilli plants that were brought in to overwinter died through neglect. Including the  hot, fleshy and delicious,* fascinating, beautiful, furry-leaved, purple-flowered, black-seeded, and getting to be properly tree-like in its second year, perennial Alberto’s Locoto**. But I have seeds so they SHALL come again! Where I have left them, some are already shooting in the pots where they fell. Plus something entirely unchilli-like has emerged and is growing at a triffid like rate. I am so excited. What will it be? I have no idea. I wonder if I will find out before it finds me out?

* I only put these phrases into get more visitors to the blog … and then disappoint them
**Happy to share some. No exchanges necessary, though wouldn’t say no to some Oca that grows tubers as well as leaves…