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…

I’ve started  documenting the top flops of the year, so thought I should record some of the  successes too. To start, I was thrilled with my first harvest of Jerusalem artichokes.

A third of my harvest for the fridge

After a year’s extensive growing experience (ahem) here are my ten reasons to love them.

1. Good returns

The picture shows about a third of the harvest from one stem – which came to 5.5kg.  I was slightly overwhelmed by how much was there and spent lots more time than I’d thought working out how to deal with it all, but I’m not complaining.

There’s nearly two kilos distributed between the fridge and brown paper bags, to be used over the next week, and three more are in a bucket of mud outside the back door. These should last much longer, and will be easy to ‘dig’ in the cold. The rest has already been cooked up with garlic, lemon and parsley, or dehydrated in the oven in response to a sudden compulsion to make artichoke flour. With two more plants still in the ground, there should be more than enough to last two of us through to March.

2. Good returns #2

This harvest was basically free, as I grew my three plants from some (slightly mouldy) pieces I found in the bottom of my veg box at the end of last season. (Obviously not a recommended technique).  If I were buying them through the same veg-box scheme now they’d be £3.62/kg.

3. Easy to grow

So, yeah, yeah, grow your own is not ‘free’. What about the labour cost, and all the other inputs like water and compost? There’s lots to say on this argument but here it’s just irrelevant.

I threw my mouldy bits of tuber into a tiny patch of rocky mud by the back fence, and hoped. The only attention they got was five minutes to stake them when they passed eight foot.

4. Perennial

Lots of people complain about the artichoke’s amazing ability to grow from the tiniest bit of tuber left in the soil. You’ll never get rid of them. Well, boo hoo. I’m not complaining about food that does all the work itself and comes back year-after-year, just when you need it most.

The main time investment of growing this was weekly speculation on how big it had got5. Good timing

Gardening and blogging have both been put on hold for a few months while I finished some freelance work. So the chard, cavolo nero, winter radish, salad and all the other lovely things I planned to be eating over the winter remain unsown. Perfect then to have the artichoke step up to the plate (pun intended, but probably not excusable), and be willing to hang around until March.

6. Hard to find

While I can normally track some down at a market or through a veg-box scheme,  there’s certainly none available in my local shops. And even if there were, a bucket outside the back door is a much nicer way of doing the shopping.

7. Delicious

None of the above would matter much if it wasn’t also delicious.I’m still not persuaded by kohlrabi, and as much as I’d love to see their alien forms land in my garden, everything in my small space really needs to earn its keep. Jerusalem artichoke is sweet and nutty and really versatile – lovely raw, fried, boiled and mashed, roasted, or even dehydrated as I’ve just discovered.

I’ve been drying slices in my oven to grind up for flour. (I’m planning very posh papardelle. Nigel Slater has a lovely recipe with chestnut mushrooms, garlic and parsley, and as these are all good friends of the artichoke, I thought artichoke flour in the pasta would be a fine thing. Results to follow.) The side-effect of this was that I had to keep checking to see if the slices were dry yet, and in doing so found they were rather wonderful on their own. They kept all the jerusalem artichoke flavour and sweetness, and might be the perfect crisp.

8. Good for you

For all their sweetness, artichokes are low in calories. The sugar in the tuber is inulin – polysaccharides of fructose. Fructose has the same sweetness as glucose for less calories, if you’re into that sort of thing. We can’t digest it so it makes little difference to blood sugar, but bacteria in our guts can (yes, the ‘friendly’ type) so it is good if you’re concerned about keeping the little fellows happy.

Which leads to…

9. Entertainment/more for me

Some people don’t get on with this special feature of artichokes, leading to some epic farting. The bacteria give off CO2 and other gases – which has to go somewhere…

Either you can live with it and laugh at any side-effects, or you have to go without. Which means more for me.

Obviously, I never fart.

(My crisps may well be fine for all, as Harold McGee tells me that, if it is cooked at a low temperature for a long time, the inulin breaks down into shorter chains of fructose which our guts can cope with)

10. Delicious

Did I mention that already? Well here it is again, because it’s the most important thing. I’ll be making lots of soup, and finding some nice sausages so I can make Nigel’s Pork Sausages with artichokes and lemon – a lovely easy winter casserole.