In the garden – 26 February, 2010

The challenge of the ongoing cucumber harvest

  • We have a surplus of cucumbers here. Our formerly well travelled staffer tells us that in Turkey, street stalls sell cucumbers which they peel on the spot, slice in half and sprinkle with salt. The smaller, younger ones are pleasant eaten as a fruit though the Heart Foundation would no doubt prefer the salt omitted. I failed to convert Mark to cucumber juice last year but adding them to unsweetened yoghurt is tasty and ups the quantity consumed.
  • Regrettably we are cooling off somewhat and the days are noticeably shorter. The upside of this is that if you are dying to get into the ornamental garden, you can plant or dig and divide clumping perennials. These are more forgiving than woody trees and shrubs and as long as you water them in well and follow up in a few days time, they should be fine. Most perennials will keep growing until winter arrives so there is plenty of time for them to recover. If you have clumps which have fallen apart and are looking really scraggy, it is likely that they are congested and need to be split up. Make sure you replant in well cultivated soil and preferably add compost.
  • As summer crops are harvested from the vegetable garden, it is time to be sowing and planting winter crops. Pretty well every novice gardener ends up with far too many cabbages, broccoli and cauliflower all maturing at exactly the same time. It is better to sow a few seed every fortnight or so because you want them to mature in stages. If you buy small plants, look out for the punnets of mixed brassicas which are widely available – these usually have two of each vegetable.
  • You can also be planting winter lettuce (which is leafy not hearting), mesclun (which bolts to seed too fast in the heat of summer), Florence fennel (the most versatile of vegetables), spinach, beetroot, parsnip, peas, and carrots. Do leeks from plants now in preference to seed. Mark has just put in his last crop of beans though he is a little worried it may be too late. Don’t delay past this weekend on these in coastal areas. It is too late inland.
  • If you are harvesting rhubarb, make sure you feed and mulch the plant to encourage it to grow again. Rhubarb is deemed a gross feeder, which means it is a hungry plant. Adults may like to try adding grated fresh ginger when stewing their rhubarb. To make it palatable for children, cook it up with a bit of sago (tapioca takes too long to cook) which reduces the sharpness and therefore the amount of sugar you need to add.
  • Further to today’s column, if you have run out of swan plants for your monarch caterpillars, you can finish the larger ones on sliced pumpkin but apparently it is an insufficient food for young ‘uns and leads to deformities. You do have to imprison them in a box with the pumpkin or they will migrate in search of another swan plant, even if there are no more around. You can find more information on .