Posts Tagged ‘Salads’


Absolutely! It’s good for the soul, great for the mind and I can’t think of a better way of improving the waistline than digging over a vegetable plot. (Other than eating less of course)

But for me the most amazing part of growing your own fruit and veg has to be the harvest.

Just imagine for a moment, it’s a warm summers evening in July and you’ve a few slices of tasty locally cured ham accompanied by a few new potatoes on the side, English of course. A feast fit for a king that needs a handful of lush freshly picked lettuce leaves and maybe a sprig of fresh mint to add a little zing. Sounds too good be true … But it’s closer than you think!

I found out an amazing fact the other day. In the latter stages of the second world war home grown vegetables accounted for over 40% of all the vegetables consumed in the UK.

Why mention it?

Well, other than it being an extraordinary example of people power in the face of extreme adversity I really believe there will come a time in the not too distant future when the great British public will once again grow the majority of their own vegetables. It stands to reason. More young people than ever are turning to gardening and more specifically are growing there own vegetables.

Wouldn’t it be great if everyone utilised a small corner of their garden to grow a few vegetables of their own and we didn’t rely so heavily on foreign imports. Pipe dream maybe,  but I really think we are on the tipping point of a sea change in this country and we are all definitely in favour!

… but how do I get started growing my own vegetables?

Best advice is jump right in and have a go. You don’t need masses of space. Anyone can grow a few veg in plant pots, boxes or pretty much anything that will hold enough soil.

I’ve seen someone growing early Nantes carrots in an old pair of wellingtons! You don’t need any special equipment to get started, just the desire to make it happen. I’m lucky as we have a fairly large garden but not so long ago I was growing my veg in raised beds. They’re really easy to make with just a few basic diy skills and a few planks of 6in by 1in treated timber. Locate it close to the house if you can as it’s not so far to walk when it comes time to harvest and it’s easier to manage. You can always add more as your confidence grows.

Home Grown Radishes

What should I grow?

That’s an easy one … grow what you like to eat. Sounds obvious but when I first start growing veg I grew far too much and ended up wasting half of it.

My advice is start with a few simple root vegetables like radish, carrot and maybe a couple rows of beetroot. Also make room for a couple of rows of lettuce. The varieties really depend on your personal taste, so if you’re not sure try looking at a few cook books, or look up a few of the popular chefs on the web.

I particularly like what Raymond Blanc is doing at Le Manoir in the Cotswolds with his restored kitchen garden.

These are a few of my favourites:

Tom Thumb – Perfectly formed little heads of gorgeousness

Lollorosso – Cut and come again lettuce that will keep producing as long as you keep cutting.

Rocket – Peppery leaves that will give any salad a real kick.

Raddichio – Fresh, Crisp and slightly bitter leave that will add a wonderful deep mauve colour to your salad. Maybe not one for the beginner though as it has a tendency to run to seed.

Growing Your Own Vegetables in the Polytunnel

If you’ve never considered growing your own vegetables I urge you to give it a try. You don’t need a huge garden and can start with a few packets of seeds and a little 4ft by 4ft raised bed. And all this for an investment of less than £20!

If twenty pounds sounds a lot check out how much for a bag of salad at the supermarket and I’m sure you’ll agree it is definitely worth having a go at growing at few salad varieties.

Next time I’ll share at few ideas around how you can extend your vegetable patch to grow a few slightly more ‘exotic goodies’.

Best wishes

John And Tania The Rural Gardeners


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The kitchen garden in Spring is my most favourite time in the garden and certainly the busiest. But I’m not complaining, all this physical work is welcome exercise for my waistline!

I know it sounds a bit cliched, but growing your own veg really is the way to go and you can soooo taste the difference. I also grow far too much of everything, but this year I have a plan for my surplus.

How About An Honesty Table?

Each year we grow as much fruit and veg as we need and always end up giving loads away or relegating it to the compost heap. But this year I’m going to try something new. I’m going to put an honesty box at the end of my lane. If this is as new to you, as it was to me (until my friend Ruth told me) then read on.

Basically an honesty table is somewhere where you lay out your spare produce and invite passers by to drop a couple of coins into an old box , in exchange for your surplus. Seems like a great idea. Joe Public gets to take home some lovely fresh organic fruit and veg, while you (hopefully) collect a few pounds to spend on the garden or give to your favorite charity. I suppose someone could always nab your table along with the proceeds, but hey if their they needs that great then they’re welcome to it.

We’re lucky to have a lane at the end of our plot, which leads onto another minor road that is often used by walkers, so we might attract a few passers by. But before then I need to get on with growing some produce, or we’ll have nothing for the kitchen, let alone the rambler!

Rotation, Rotation, Rotation

We adopt a ‘rotation system’ at Blackbirds, which basically means creating separate and distinct plots for each of the different veg types. We’re also organic, which means we never apply any chemicals, which means we have to find ways of minimising potential threats from ground borne diseases in other ways and crop rotations certainly helps.

It doesn’t matter how large or small your plot, just so long as you avoid growing the same group in the same space for at least 3 years.

Plot 1
My first plot is planted up with a few rows of potatoes. This year i’m only growing Charlotte as it seems to like my chalky ground and I find they don’t go all mushy when I cook them. We also make a fair bit of potato salad in the summer and Charlotte works really well in potato salad.

Last years second early potato crop

Last years second early potato crop ‘Charlotte’

We eat a fair bit of salad in the summer and I find Charlottes are excellent for potato salad.

My recipe for the perfect potato salad

Cook off about a dozen new potatoes, making sure not too over cook them. They should be softish on the outside, but still fairly firm on the inside.

While they’re cooking prepare the dressing.


  • 2 – 3 tablespoons of good vegetable oil. You can use extra virgin olive oil if you prefer the taste, personally I find it overpowers the potatoes.
  • 1 – 2 Teaspoons of Maggie seasoning.
  • 3 – 4 teaspoons of warm vegetable or chicken stock. (I prefer Knorr stock cubes)
  • Tablespoon of wine vinegar.
  • Teaspoon of lemon juice.
  • Couple of grinds of black pepper.
  • Medium sized onion finely chopped, or alternatively finely chop a spring onion.
  • Small chopped garlic clove (optional).

Mix all the ingredients together really well in a bowl.

When the potatoes are cooked drain them well and while they are still warm peel them and chop into approx 1 inch cubes. Then add the potatoes to the dressing and fold the potatoes in. As the potatoes are warm they will soak up the dressing and produce the most amazing tasting potato salad. It doesn’t work nearly as well with cold potatoes.

If the mix is a bit too wet, add a teaspoon of cornflower mixed with a little cold water and fold it in and the mix will thicken nicely.

Serve with grilled sausages, lettuce and tomato salads.


Plot 2 – Root Veg

My second plot is for my root veg. I’ve sown my beetroot in modules which have started to appear at long last. I’ll transplant in a couple of weeks when the risk of frosts has past. We use a lot of Beetroot both in salads and pickling for the winter.

I’ve planted 2 rows of early Nantes carrots, Kohl Rabi, Spring Onions and Turnips. The Spring Onions will help to keep the carrot fly from laying there eggs. It’s the larvae that do the damage as they burrow into the carrot. Nasty things they are, completely ruin your carrots if you let them.

Last Years Early Nantes Carrot

Plot 3 – Legumes
So far I’ve got my sugar peas in and they’re doing quit well, which I think is because they are slightly protected by the potting shed. I’ve planted my main crop peas in pots in the polytunnel, and they will go outside in a couple of weeks.

Plot 4 – Onions, Shallots and Garlic
I like to start my onion sets off in modules, but you need to keep an eye on the watering as they can be prone to dry out. Three weeks later weeks and they’re big enough to be planted out, and but his time they’re too big for the birds to yank them out!

How to grow onions the organic way with the Rural Gardener

Plot 5 – Lettuce
This year I’m going to be a bit more adventurous and growing several different varieties of lettuce. Instead of growing them in the kitchen garden I’m going to build a small raised bed close to the house to grow my everyday salads like lettuce, radish and maybe a few tomatoes when the weather warms up.

Plan is to build a simple wooden frame out of some gash timber we have around the place and position it next to the herb garden. I’ll fill it with some top soil mixed in equal quantity of well rotted compost and plant straight into it. Should be fun.

Tom Thumb Lettuce

One of the benefits of a Poly tunnel is the early salad crops including these gorgeous little Tom Thumbs.

Tom Thumb is my absolute favourite of all the lettuce and an excellent candidate for small gardens or of you’re stuck for space. I’ve also planted Lorroroso, Cos and Rocket, all in modules. The seeds only cost me 10 pence each, so we should have salads for weeks in the summer, and all for the price of a daily newspaper.

As for the rest of my kitchen garden it’s waiting from the weather to warm up a bit so we can plant out the Sweetcorn, Dwarf Beans and main crop Peas. I have planted them this early in the past, but the weather hasn’t been great over the last few days, so I think I’ll hang on for a bit longer.

Back soon.

Best wishes.


Rural Gardener

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Tomatoes growing away in the Polytunnel
This weekend I’ve been planting out my tomato plants in the Polytunnel.  I’m a bit behind this year I’m afraid as I usually try to get them in the ground by the last weekend in April.


This year I’m going for a few different varieties. Cherolla which is an F1 Hybrid and my choice for cherry tomatoes this year. Roma for plum tomatoes and Tigerella for something a little unusual, with its yellow striped fruits, hence the name.

Although I grow a few plants outside I tend to grow most of our crop in the Polytunnel.

Cherrola Tomatoes

Cherrola Tomatoes on the vine

Soil Preparation

First job is to prepare the soil as it really suffers through the winter. It always amazes me just how dry the soil becomes in the Polytunnel, and we’re not talking a few inches of topsoil. As I plunge the spade into the soil I find at least 12 inches deep from the surface the soil is still bone dry. The only answer is to deal with it before you plant anything or you’ll struggle to get a really good crop.

The secret to a good crop is good preparation of the borders before you start planting. I’ve used various methods but I’ve found the best method in an excellent book I recently read called The Polytunnel Book written by Joyce Russel .  It’s a great read that takes you  through a year of growing in the Polytunnel. (isbn 978-0-7112-3170-2)

Basically I dig out a hole for each plant approximately a spades depth wide and the same deep making sure each hole is a minimum 2-3 feet apart to maintain good airflow around the plants.

The borders are so dry after months of inactivity

Then I fill the hole up with water and leave it to drain away. This ensures the border is damp when the roots eventually make down to the subsoil.

Prepare your planting hole with well rotted compost

Then I make up a mix of compost, some decent top soil and well rotted cow manure, mixed with a handful of fish blood and bone. Then I backfill the holes and the surrounding area with the mix. Finally I water the entire area again to give the plants a good start. At the end of the day these little plants are going to be providing us with lovely fresh tomatoes,  so we owe to them to give them the best possible chance of success.

I always remove the lowest couple of leaves on my plants to prevent the side shoots from growing at the base. You can remove them later but I prefer the plants to concentrate on growing upwards, rather than outwards.  I always water the plants well in their pots before knocking them out, and planting them level with the top of the soil.

Whitefly can be a problem in the Polytunnel, so to keep them at bay I plant a few marigolds in between the tomato plants.  Must work as I rarely have whitefly problems.

Grow my little darlings!

In approximately 2 – 3 months time I hope to picking lovely fresh tomatoes!

I have used Grow Bags in the Polytunnel in the past, but I find they’re difficult to maintain without endless watering, which is not ideal as we’re on a water meter at Blackbirds now.

Next week I’ll head out to the local woods and collect a few hazel poles to support the plants, and plant up the rest of this years tender plants i.e. the Cucumbers, Melons, and Aubergines.

Best wishes,


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One of the benefits of owning a polytunnel are the early salad crops like these gorgeous little Tom Thumb lettuce.

They were sown in late February and thinned out in the third week of March. We’ve been cutting them since early May, along with Scarlet Globe radish and chives we brought from the old house. Like all the lettuce family they do need to kept well watered and try to avoid transplanting, best to thin the seedlings when they are large enough to handle.

Tom Thumb Lettuce

One of the benefits of a Poly tunnel is the early salad crops including these gorgeous little Tom Thumbs.

Beyond the Tom Thumbs are a new radish variety we’re trying this year called Daikon from Johnsons Seeds.  They are  from  their World Kitchen Range and should be ready in about another 3 weeks.

We’re looking forward to the official taste test at the end of May!



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Hard to believe it was only 4 weeks ago we planted our first 2 rows of Scarlet Globe in the poly! On Sunday we picked three lots which we duly shared with our neighbor. Also we had our first lettuce, spinach and rocket. All the salads were planted at over the same weekend 4 weeks ago. We started the Kohl Rabi off in pots, but as with the salads were grown on in the polytunnel.

We also had our second lot of Kohl Rabi over the weekend which we turned into delicious Kohl Rabi chips! Not deep fried as you might think but pan fried with a little oil and butter. Simply peel the Kohl Rabi first, then cut them into thin chips and add to the oil and butter mix. Important to keep them on a low heat as they need to soften. Don’t over cook them as you want to retain the flavor and keep some of the crispness of the Kohl Rabi. Finally stir in a little Maggi seasoning if you have it (if not Lea and Perrins works) and salt and pepper to taste.

If you’ve never cooked Kohl Rabi give it a try as it’s superb stuff and has quite a unique taste .

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