We were finally able to make it down to the greenhouse on the Easter weekend. But have our new tubers survived the long wait to be planted?
Major works at home kept us occupied for most of March. Not only that, snow and freezing temperatures made visiting the plot or the greenhouse even for a short while impossible. As a wheelchair user, Andrew can’t move around as readily as most of us, which means that his body temperature drops fast – something he’s not always aware of until it’s too late, which can make him very unwell.
And so the plants and tubers we ordered have had to wait – some survived better than others.
Last September, the Quest for Veg were invited to Glee – a show for the garden center trade.
Glee is the place where the garden industry comes together to launch its new ranges, latest innovations and next bestsellers. Over three days, 7,000 plus visitors come looking for the products that will fill the shelves of garden centres, high street stores and supermarket shelves in the season ahead.
You know how it is, you get a new shed and think you’ve just built a Tardis. Look at all that space, you say. Oh, the possibilities.
Perhaps you will put in two (maybe even three!) easy chairs and there you will sit, making tea and bacon rolls over a camping stove, admiring your beautifully manicured allotment.
Perhaps there will be a Welsh dresser (painted a heritage colour) behind you, a rug on the floor. Perhaps George Clarke will drop by to admire your handiwork over a chilled glass of something fizzy.
And then all of a sudden the shed is full of stuff. And not chairs and Welsh dressers, either. It’s all the stuff that didn’t previously have a home: rakes, hoes, bamboo canes, spades, my fork, our little draper cart.
It’s full of bags with potatoes because we finally dug them up since we now had somewhere to store them.
And then there are the plastic bags with all the sundries we’d either had to bring with us every time or hide in the compost bin. Plant pots, string, tubs of fertiliser, bottles of tomato food, hand tools. And it now takes five minutes to find my gardening gloves because I can never remember which bag they’re in.
It has taken us longer to get to this stage than we thought when we first took on the plot. But we are now the proud owners of a customised Topwood Robin shed.
Our new shed
We need to give a big shout out to Sandra’s mum, for a generous birthday present donation to the Quest for Veg project. And to our good friends Richard Anderson and Keith Boxall who immediately and enthusiastically volunteered to help build it. One’s a landscaper and the other’s an engineer, so it’s probably one of the best put together sheds going! Continue reading →
It had no instructions, some of the parts were missing and the box had been partially eaten by snails.
But we weren’t going to let those sorts of details put us off trying to erect the tunnel cloche we inherited from the previous plot holder.
And besides, the greenhouse was overflowing with plants and the risk of frost diminishing daily. It was time to think about moving our plants to the plot. We would need a structure to give them a little bit of protection while they were hardening off.
We were very fortunate to have been given two tools for cultivating the soil and hoeing by our good friend David.
In this video, Andrew talks about how to clean and care for your tools, and we show them both in action.
The soil miller
The soil miller is a Wolf Garten product. With its star shaped wheels, it looks fabulously medieval! They are designed to break down the soil as you work it back and forth, and a rear blade that cuts through any weeds.
Not only that, but the soil miller comes from the Wolf Garten multi-change tool range, which comprises a selection of handles and tool heads. Having got a handle we could potentially explore other tool heads in the range.
The oscillating hoe
Also known as the stirrup hoe, the swivel hoe or the reciprocating hoe. The stirrup shaped head has a swinging motion that keeps it at the right angle. It should have a sharp edge that cuts through weeds as you move it back and forth through the top layer of soil.
It should be self sharpening. We cleaned ours up and Andrew gave the edge a bit of a sharpen. Hopefully, that’s all we need to do to keep it in good working order.
Say dandelion to most gardeners and they’ll say weed right back to you. Think of a commercial weed control chemical and the chances are it will have the picture of a dandelion on it. But is this reputation deserved? Is it time to think about growing dandelions as a crop?
What’s in a name?
Dandelions have a long history. They have been recorded in cultivation for at least 1100 years. Their Latin name is Taraxacum officinale, with Taraxacum thought to originate from their medieval Persian name tarashaquq.
The officianale bit of the name indicates the plant has been regarded as an official herb either culinary or medicinal. Indeed they are said to contribute, among other things, to liver health, strong bones, skin health, gall bladder function, reduced acne, weight loss, lowering diabetes, maintaining blood pressure, having a diuretic action, and treating jaundice, anaemia, constipation! It is even purported that they have anti-cancer properties.
While we’re talking about names, dandelion comes from their French name dent-de-lion or lion’s teeth, a name inspired by their long irregular leaves with jagged tooth-shaped edges.
How to use
Dandelions are said to have both medicinal and culinary uses. Their roots, leaves and flowers can all be eaten.
But it is worth noting that their milky sap may be a skin irritant and in severe cases could possibly cause contact dermatitis after handling. Dandelion pollen has been known, on rare occasions, to cause allergic reactions when eaten, or adverse skin reactions in sensitive individuals.
This only highlights that you need to take care when dealing with plant material. Wear gloves and try a little before diving right in and munching away, are sensible precautions.
Feeling brave? Read on.
Dandelion roots can be roasted and ground, and used to make a caffeine-free dandelion coffee. This is well worth the effort, as it tastes very good. Andrew has made it while out camping. Simply collect some roots, give them a good wash and roast them in a tin can until they are brown and crumbly (but not black as this will spoil the taste). Break the roasted roots into small chips (about the size of instant coffee granules) and pour boiling water over them. Let this brew for a little while and strain. Enjoy as it is, or add milk and sugar to taste.
Not planning on going camping? You can make this coffee in your kitchen at home as described in this Rangers blog article.
Dandelion was also traditionally used to make the traditional British soft drink dandelion and burdock, and is one of the ingredients of root beer. You can still buy these beverages in the UK but it can be hard to find versions that are true to the traditional recipe.
One place where you can is a temperance bar in Rawtenstall, Lancashire. You can enjoy a number of root based drinks at Fitzpatrick’s Temperance Bar & Emporium is said to be Britain’s last original temperance bar. Their botanically brewed vintage-recipe beverages can purchased on line.
Not following the temperance root? The flower petals, along with other ingredients, usually including citrus, are used to make dandelion wine.
Dandelion leaves are packed full of vitamins (A,C and K) and minerals (calcium, potassium, iron and manganese).
Their leaves are delicacies eaten mostly in salads and sandwiches. If you leave their taproot intact, you can harvest the leaves and they will grow more.
There are loads of salad recipes on the internet or in books. We simply add a few dandelion leaves to our salad, as you can see here:
Alternatively, try dressing your carefully washed dandelion leaves with a simple vinaigrette, before stirring through some pan fried shallots and smoked lardons, and finishing with quartered boiled eggs.
The leaves have a slightly bitter taste. If this is not to your liking, you could try a little horticultural blanching to make them more palatable. This is blanching their leaves by excluding light. You can do this for as little as two days, although if you wish to completely blanch them and achieve a harvest of white leaves, then cover for a longer period. Worth a try to see how this affects the taste.
Another method of removing some of the bitterness, is blanching with hot water in the kitchen. Just bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Toss in the dandelion greens; blanch for 1-2 minutes. Remove and plunge into an ice bath. Remove from the ice bath and squeeze as much water from the leaves as you can; use as you would any cooked green.
We have converted the recipe amounts for the UK, but you can find the US measurements on the Kitchn site.
Makes about 250 ml
190 ml unsalted hulled (green) pumpkin seeds
3 garlic gloves, crushed
6-7 tablespoons freshly grated parmesan
1 bunch dandelion greens (about 2 cups, loosely packed)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
120ml extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
Preheat the oven to 170°c. Pour the pumpkin seeds onto a shallow-rimmed baking sheet and roast until just fragrant, about 5 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool. Put the garlic and pumpkin seeds together in a food processor until very finely chopped, continue adding parmesan cheese, dandelion greens, and lemon juice and process continuously until combined. Stop the processor every now and again to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The pesto will be very thick after awhile then slowly pour in the olive oil and process until the pesto is smooth. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Foraging and collecting dandelions
Like any wild plant, there are a few rules you need to stick to when collecting.
have permission from the landowner
clearly identify the plant.
ensure that what you are collecting is not a rare or endangered plant
only remove enough to allow the plant to continue to grow/seed.
Most dandelions in the UK are likely to be the bog standard Taraxacum officinale that pop up everywhere. If you are able, place a bucket on top of the plant(s) a couple of days before collecting to helps to reduce the bitterness of the leaves and collect the younger leaves from the centre of the rosette.
Dandelions are herbaceous perennial plants with a height and spread of up to 40 x 40 cm.
There are about 60 species and they bear white, yellow to orange flowers during spring and autumn. You can see some of the different flower types on this Wikipedia page.
Some varieties are grown commercially, mostly in southern Europe, especially France and Italy. There are around three cultivated varieties that can be sourced from the links below.
Thick-leaved dandelion, available from Chiltern Seeds. It is easy, vigorous and quick growing with large, thick, dark green leaves. It can be eaten or drunk as described above. For salads, a little horticultural blanching might be in order to make them more succulent plant by blanching the hearts either earthing up or tying the leaves together.
Taraxacum pseudoroseum available from Chiltern seeds. A dandelion with a difference! With this you can expect the usual rosette of green leaves, but unexpectedly it bears rather appealing, bicolored, fluffy flowers of pink with yellow centres.
Taraxacum rubrifolium available from Chiltern seeds. An unusual dwarf relative of the humble dandelion, it forms a small flat rosette of the deepest purple and has contrasting yellow dandelion flowers on short stems.
It is also possible to find other varieties from online sellers based in other countries. And when you are on holiday, you are allowed to bring five packets of retail seeds into the UK for your own use. For more details on importing plants and plant material check out this site.
Of course, some readers might have a problem with the import of foreign species of ‘weeds’ that might out-compete our own native plants. A huge number of garden plants were imported from abroad and some of those such as Rhododendron ponticum, have gone on to become invasive weeds.
As with anything you have on your land – plants or animals – you must not allow it to escape and cause harm.
Having said all that, here is a small selection of available seeds we thought were interesting:
Pissenlit à Cœur Plein amélioré yields an abundant crop without taking up much ground, and tends to blanch itself naturally, due to its clumping growth habit.