Archive for the 'Growing & Using Produce' Category

In praise of Turnip Tops

Tuesday, October 18th, 2016
Turnips with their tops

Turnips with their tops

Most british allotment growers (assuming they grow turnips at all)  discard the plentiful leaves straight into the compost bin and concentrate on the roots.  Turnip leaves have never, to my knowledge, been sold in british supermarkets or green grocers.  In fact these leaves are highly nutritious – full of vitamins and minerals.  They have similarities with spinach but are a bit peppery and somewhat coarser especially when the roots have reached any size.  In Italy, where they seem to like peppery vegetables (think radiccio!), young turnip tops are often available on market stalls in Spring under the name broccoli rapa. They can be boiled or steamed but I think the nicest thing to do is a spicy chinese style stir fry with garlic, ginger, chillies and soy sauce.  Older turnip tops can be used in a nourishing stew or soup, as a substitute for curly kale for example.  Probably the most famous stew recipe is the Southern US dish of salt pork with turnip tops.  Whether the tops are young or old strip the leaves from the coarse stalks and wash them  carefully before use.

Turnip Gnocchi Verdi

Turnip Gnocchi Verdi

My absolutely favourite thing to do with these greens is an adaptation of Jane Grigson’s recipe for gnocchi verdi, substituting turnip greens for the spinach of the standard recipe.  It is a bit of a fiddle, but definitely worth it – so here is the recipe:

Cook about 3/4 kg of turnip leaves gently in a very small amount of water until they are obviously wilted and soft.  Blitz them in a food processor with 125 gm soft butter and 345 gm of ricotta cheese.  Return this mixture to the pan and heat gently for about 4 minutes stirring all the time.  Off the heat beat in 2 eggs,  30gm of grated parmesan cheese and at least 3 tbspns of flour (use your judgement here, more flour = heavier but easier to handle gnocchi).  Spread the mixture on a flat dish and leave to chill for a while till firm(ish).  Form the mixture into small balls (the gnocchi), you can use some extra flour to help with handling these balls.   Heat up some lightly salted water in a wide pan till it is almost boiling and drop a batch of 5 0r 6 gnocchi into the water.  Leave them to poach until they float to the top of the water, then remove with a slotted spoon .   Repeat this process until all the gnocchi have been cooked.  Try not to let the water boil – it can cause the gnocchi to disintegrate.  Put the gnocchi in a well buttered flat dish big enough to take them in a single layer.  Grate more parmesan and scatter it over them, dot with butter and place under a hot grill for a few minutes until the cheese is melted.

The gnocchi are also pretty good with a tomato sauce.  They can be frozen after being poached and then unthawed before the final cooking process.

Dealing with a glut

Friday, September 16th, 2016

Golden Zucchini

At the moment I am having to work hard to keep on top of my golden zucchini glut. If they are not picked with great regularity then the odd one, (the middle zucchini in the picture is an example),  starts to grow into a marrow and make seeds that need to be removed before cooking.  I have been passing some on to a neighbour who rewards me with slices of a delicious zucchini cake.  Same idea as a carrot cake.

I like to cook my zucchini before freezing them and have found that any of the stuffed aubergine recipes found in middle eastern cookery books work brilliantly with the oversized zucchini.  Even simpler, you can cut one in half lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, fill the space with a sausage meat stuffing and bake with a tomato sauce.  The result is a nice simple supper and it can be frozen in a plastic container for later use.

Zucchini Quesadilla The other day there was a recipe in the Guardian for butternut squash quesadilla.  A quesadilla is basically a fried tortilla sandwich.  So you heat some oil in a frying pan, put a tortilla into the pan, spread a reasonable amount of filling on top of it, then cover with another tortilla.  Fry till the bottom tortilla is crisp and brown, then flip the ‘sandwich’ over (this is tricky, the filling tries to escape!) and continue frying until the second tortilla is also brown.   I decided to experiment with using my oversized zucchini instead of butternut squash.  The result was a great success, so here is the recipe I used:

Deseed (but don’t peel) and grate two oversized zucchini (the Guardian suggested 1/4 butternut squash).  Fry fairly gently in oil with a small chopped up red chilli and a heaped tablespoon of chopped up black olives till the grated zucchini is soft and also you have driven off some of the water that comes off it.  Move to a bowl.   Add salt, pepper, a smallish tin of white beans (haricot, cannelini…) the zest and juice of a lemon, about 50gm grated blue stilton (the Guardian mentioned feta but I didn’t have any!) and mash the lot together fairly roughly.  This is the filling to be used in the cooking method from the paragraph above.

This quantity made 3 quesadillas. I served them with a tomato ‘salsa’ created by chopping up cherry tomatoes reasonable small with a good handful of basil and adding an olive oil and balsamic vinegar dressing.  The recipe fed 3 people very adequately. I have not tried to freeze a quesadilla but I imagine it would work.

It would be great to hear from others about their recipes for coping with their gluts. Beans, spinach anyone?

Wild Flowers and Pollinators

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016
Sow Wild Flyer

Sow Wild Flyer

Researcher Janine Giffiths-Lee from the University of Sussex is studying the effects of wild flowers in allotments and urban gardens on pollinator populations.  This spring a ‘citizen science’ project is starting in which she wants to involve keen gardeners from all over the UK.

If you click on  the thumbnail to the left (for a full sized flyer) you can see more information and full contact details .  To take part you should get in contact on or before February 12. Contact can be through a Facebook group but if you do not have a Facebook account just contact Janine directly by email.

This is basically how the project works:

1) You register your interest by 12th Feb 2016 by using the link on the Facebook group
2) You are sent a project pack, which includes a pack of wildflowers, sampling equipment and detailed instructions.
3) You sow the ‘Sow Wild!’ wildflower seeds in your allotment or garden in Spring 2016.
4) You sample insects in the wildflower patch in summer, using pan traps, and send them back to us.
5) We let you know what is pollinating your garden or allotment!
6) You repeat the sampling in summer 2017.

Growing on Contaminated Land

Wednesday, December 10th, 2014

Every grower, in an allotment or a garden, would  like to work with a clean fertile greenfield site.  Sadly in an urban situation this is not always possible.  Much development takes place on brownfield sites, possibly used previously in some industrial context that has left a potential legacy of contamination.  The Grow Your Own Working Group established and supported by the Scottish Government has recently produced a booklet that discusses this problem. It

  • details the problems that can be caused by contamination .
  • tells you how to find out whether, and with what, your land is contaminated.
  • lays out practical solutions that will enable you to get growing safely in spite of the contamination
  • gives case studies of real examples where growers have overcome contamination problems

The Guide for Growing on Contaminated land can be downloaded for free here as a pdf document which can be printed or stored on your computer.

Allotments better for the soil than commercial agriculture

Monday, June 2nd, 2014

A group of academics from English universities have published a research paper which indicates that techniques of allotment cultivation are better for the soil than the techniques used in modern commercial agriculture.  In summary they have found that because of a desire to maximise yields, modern commercial agriculture has depleted the soil of nutrients. Compared with pastures and arable fields allotment soils have been found to have 32% more soil organic carbon, a 36% higher carbon to nitrogen ratio and 25% higher total nitrogen. These are considered to be important indicators of soil quality.

Maintenance and protection of the quality of our soil resource is essential for sustainable food production and for regulating and supporting ecosystem services upon which we depend.  Compared with commercial agriculture,  allotment gardeners are more likely to add manure to the soil and use composted bio-mass – either bought in or created on the allotment.  This study establishes, for the first time, that small-scale urban food production can occur without the penalty of soil degradation seen in conventional agriculture, and it is believed that this is because of the different techniques used.

Given the involvement of over 800 million people in urban agriculture globally, and its important contribution to food security, these findings suggest that to better protect soil functions, local, national and international urban planning and policy making should promote more urban own-growing in preference to further intensification of conventional agriculture to meet increasing food demand.

Talented Gardeners wanted for BBC2 show, The Big Allotment Challenge

Tuesday, March 4th, 2014

ThePerfectAllotmentSilver River Productions are keen to hear from talented amateur gardeners. They are looking for ‘kitchen gardeners’ who would like to participate in the second BBC2 series of The Big Allotment Challenge (series 1 is due to be broadcast soon). Successful applicants will need to love to use their produce as well as grow it – gardeners who can not only grow the perfect carrot but can also turn their green tomatoes into award winning chutney and their dahlias and sweet peas into magnificent bouquets.

Participants will be offered the opportunity to turn a virgin plot of land into a place of beauty, and to be filmed while doing it! The plot of land is near Reading in the south of England. Interested applicants will need to think in terms of committing 1 or 2 days a week between April and August to maintain the plot and allow for filming however all travel and accommodation would be covered by the production company.

Anyone reading this who is interested can download an application form by clicking here. The form must be completed and submitted by midnight of March 13.

Edinburgh Edible Estates Project provides growing spaces for tenement dwellers

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Edible Estate GardenThe Edible Estates project in Edinburgh aims to provide community growing spaces for residents of tenements and high rise blocks on underused council land.  It involves collaboration between public bodies such as Wester Hailes Health Agency and an Edinburgh based design agency Re:Solution.

Green space in the Calders, Dumbryden, Murrayburn and Hailesland neighbourhoods, owned by Edinburgh City Council, would be turned over for use as garden hubs and private plots as part of the Edible Estates scheme.  Up to 120 households would benefit in the first year of the scheme.

A majority of participating residents would be able to see their plot from their own house, with the aim to have the first gardens running later this year.  The Wester Hailes Heath Agency has now applied for £300,000 in climate challenge funding to run the project. A decision on the application will be made soon.  The move has the backing of the city council, which stands to save thousands of pounds each year in reduced maintenance costs for green space.

While a primary focus is on food growing there are great hopes the project will have a positive impact on the health and well being of many residents.

Arbroath allotmenteers helping with a rare health problem

Friday, October 5th, 2012

Courgettes from Arbroath

Recently, Joe Gibb, of Arbroaths’ Brechin Road Allotments, was asked by a neighbour if he happened to have any spare courgettes. His first thoughts were that she wanted to make a pot of soup but no…….far from it!!!!!
The wee boy (aged 7) of a friend had been diagnosed two years previously with a very rare chromosomal disorder, Glut1 Transformer Deficiency Syndrome (Glut1-DS).  This child is the only person diagnosed with the disease in Scotland (and one of only 200 in the world). He is not allowed glucose, in any form, because he is unable to metabolise it. He has to use fats to fuel his body, so has to take 120mls of olive oil every day as part of a strict Ketogenic diet.

Research has shown that courgettes (and aubergines) contain no glucose, whilst nearly all other vegetables do (These which contain glucose would cause him to have diarrhoea++).   Warning-  Yellow-fleshed courgettes or squashes must be avoided.
To make the olive oil more palatable, his mum has EXPERIMENTED with courgettes cooked in various ways with the olive oil.(Cooks will know that both courgettes and aubergines soak up oil and flavourings like garlic) and he has shown no adverse side-effects.  He is also allowed Celeriac “chips” as this vegetable is really low in carbohydrates also.  Arbroath Allotmenteers have managed to rally round and provide her with three lots of 2-3 kilos of courgettes during September. Mum has provided them with various ways of “cooking” courgettes in return……Unfortunately we do not grow aubergines or celeriac in Arbroath!!

Scientists need help to probe ‘Cabbage Benefits’

Monday, April 16th, 2012

University of Aberdeen scientists at the Rowett Institute of Nutrition and Health are probing the benefits of cabbage and kale. They want to investigate whether eating these vegetables can help fight diseases such as cancer.

Dr Wendy Russell, who is leading the project, said volunteers would eat kale, white and red cabbage.  They are seeking healthy non-smokers from Aberdeen and Aberdeenshire aged 18 to 55.
Anyone interested in taking part in the study can get in touch via 01224 738785 or

Friends of Wemyss Bay Station open Garden

Wednesday, August 24th, 2011

SAGS members Jenny Mollison and Ian Welsh were invited to attend the formal opening of the Station Garden at Wemyss Bay Station on August 11.  The garden has been created on derelict land that was formerly sidings.  It includes a vegetable plot with beds of carrots, leeks, onions and salad crops.  There is also a polytunnel in which tomatoes, courgettes, peppers and aubergines are flourishing.  The polytunnel will also be used for growing bedding plants for the containers on the station.

The Friends maintain an extensive range of formal displays around the station and hope that in future they will be able to raise most of the bedding plants used in the displays.  They are experimenting with the use of raised beds to enable growing in areas where the soil is contaminated and hostile.

The project has benefited from support from ScotRail.