Long-term planning for the kitchen table

A selection of the reliable, favourite Musselburgh leeks, new and old. As one generation is harvested the next is getting ready for planting. Picture by Tom Pattinson.
A selection of the reliable, favourite Musselburgh leeks, new and old. As one generation is harvested the next is getting ready for planting. Picture by Tom Pattinson.

These are busy days for gardeners. We’re not only trying to keep abreast of rapidly developing seasonal plants – ornamentals, fruits and vegetables, but also looking beyond summer to the raising of winter edibles.

The last few of reliable old favourite leek Musselburgh have been harvested, still firm and sweet. This vastly underrated winter vegetable has performed continuously since November, and just as the flower spikes that betray its biennial plant status appear, the next generation, raised from seed, is shaping up for planting out.

Leeks are not alone in demanding time and long-term planning to get onto the kitchen table. We’ve just sown seeds of so-called leaf beet, a long-lasting spinach whose leaves steam to a fraction of their bulk in cooking, but taste delicious.

Seeds sown in May last year were offering a taste in June and continued until the first frost, at which point I entered with the hedge clippers and reduced the foliage to stumps. The regeneration of leaf growth signalled a return to harvesting, which continued until recently.

It’s only weeks ago that we pulled out the remaining Brussels sprouts, chopped up the stems and leaves, and consigned them to the composting bin. Whilst this was happening a new generation was emerging from seed and will be planted out in due course.

Some vegetables are like this. If you don’t sow seed on time or fail to buy young plants at a slightly later date, there’s going to be a key ingredient missing from the menu, unless the supermarket can help.

Early potato shoots have emerged and the soil has been earthed-up to afford some protection should frost appear. Broad beans and peas are well advanced, each with flowers, and we’re watching the tips of the former so action can be swift when the colonies of black aphid appear. This generally coincides with maximum plant growth so pinching out the topmost cluster, aphids and all, is no loss.

Two dozen, well-rooted sweetcorn specimens were planted out the first weekend of May, slightly earlier than usual, but the weather encouraged the action. They stand in block formation, a system that offers team support against the wind and encourages pollination.

Three runner bean cultivars planted at the same time are spiralling up the wigwam of canes. They are Super Trio Mix, a combination of Tenderstar, Firestorm and Moonlight. They’re billed as the best of a new generation of stringless varieties, with a mix of flower colours that makes them extremely ornamental. At 40 seeds for £2.99 they were certainly worth trying.