We’re into March, and while we haven’t seen the last of the cold weather it certainly feels like the growing season is getting started – bulbs are flowering, the rhubarb is sending up shoots and there’s even some blossom on a few trees. I’ve got radish, lettuce, parsley, spring onion, broad bean, pea and sweet pea seeds sown in the polytunnel and shallots planted, and I’m thinking ahead to some of the new crops I’ll be trying this year.
Some allotmenteers seem to get endless pleasure from growing nothing but cabbages and onions, but I do think part of the fun is growing something new every year, particularly when there are so many delicious vegetables and vegetable varieties that you’ll never see for sale in a supermarket or greengrocer. Here’s some of the new crops I’ll be trying this year:
A close relative of the nasturtium, mashua is grown primarily for its tubers. Carl Legge very kindly sent me some mashua tubers from his garden last autumn, some of which we saved for planting, while others got roasted in their skins. They tasted fantastic – mustardy, with an almost five-spice like flavour. The leaves and flowers are also edible, I believe.
Kalettes, Sutherland Kale, Dazzling Blue Kale
These are all variations on the kale theme. Kalettes (or flower sprouts) are a relatively new hybrid between brussels sprouts and kale, producing little bundles of tender kale leaves along its stalk. Sutherland and dazzling blue kale are both varieties from the brilliant Real Seeds Company. I’m particularly interested in Sutherland kale which has been grown for decades by crofters near Ullapool in North West Scotland (a part of the world that I love to visit whenever I can). I suspect the allotment pigeons will be equally excited about these crops.
Also known as ‘Monk’s Beard’, this is a samphire-like vegetable which is very popular in Italy. The seeds are not actually seeds but miniature rolled up plants and germination can apparently be tricky, so I’ll sow more than I actually need.
Nothing unusual about spinach, but I have somehow managed to avoid growing it thus far! Notorious for running to seed, I want to try sowing spinach in late summer in order to over-winter it and add some variety to our winter and early spring harvests next year.
Oca and Yacon
I grew both of these last year, and have saved tubers to replant. Oca tastes like a lemony potato, and when roasted they taste exactly like a good chip which has been doused with salt and vinegar. Yacon is bizarrely sweet, good raw in salads, and excellent coated in breadcrumbs, fried, and served with katsu curry sauce. Trust me on this one!
What new crops will you be trying this year? Have you grown any of the above? If so, do let me know how they got on, or if you’ve any top tips.