LITTLE WONDERS?Cucamelons look like grape-sized watermelons but taste like cucumber and lime.
Would I grow them again?
Hans Wieland looks back on his gardening adventures in 2013
As my gardening year 2013 came to a close on January 6 with the lifting of an oca crop that experienced no significant frost, I reflected on one exciting year.
I sometimes say ‘Crazy lives longer’, and last year, we grew quite a few new or ‘crazy’ things at the home garden at Neantóg in Cliffoney, and at the gardens and polytunnels at The Organic Centre. Among them, lots of tomato varieties – more than 60 in fact – as well as tomatillos, cucamelons, kai lan, white alpine strawberries, mashua, edible burdock and white carrots. Would I grow them again?
Maybe. They look like small green tomatoes (of which they are a distant relative) covered with a papery husk. The round fruits are harvested from September to October. They would ripen to yellow, red, or purple if we let them, but unripe – green – tomatillos, oddly, have more of the lemony flavour that goes perfectly with spicy food or alongside grilled food at a barbecue (which we had very many of last year, thanks to the neighbours). They can also add a nice hit of acid to stews and other heavy foods.
A resounding Yes! They are watermelon look-a-likes for a doll house. Already a firm favourite amongst fans of botanist James Wong and gracing the dishes of many a TV chef, they have a refreshing ‘cucumber and lime’ taste. Plus, their lush vines will produce masses of fruit throughout the summer. I had so many that I pickled the surplus in a sweet and sours sauce.
They’re ready when they are grape-sized and still firm to the touch. Easy to grow, these vigorous climbers are pest free and drought resistant.
Cucamelons can also be treated like a perennial, providing you with fruit year-after-year. In late autumn, once the fruiting period is over, lift the cucamelon’s main radish-like root and store in barely moist compost in a garage or shed over winter. Plant out again in early April to achieve early fruiting. Sow from April to May, harvest from July to September.
Yes definitely. The tuberous nasturtiums taste delicious, but because I got only three tubers from a gardener friend I planted them in the polytunnel with the main aim to multiply the tubers the first year for a more edible crop in the following years. Well the thee tubers produced about 15 new ones.
Well, yes, in the polytunnel. You can harvest burdock from the wild for its roots, and it was my obsession with producing my own home-grown cereal coffee from dried dandelions and burdock roots mixed with ground barley that drew me to burdock in the first place. However, growing edible burdock from seed is an altogether different experience.
Grown in the polytunnel each plant produced long extensive roots that are very tasty to eat especially with baked beans. On the downside, it was the only plant in my whole outside garden that was ransacked by slugs and snails and so did not produce a lot of roots.
White alpine strawberries
Yes, yes, yes! White alpine strawberries were one of the biggest surprises in the garden. Grown from seed sown in April, they took a while to get established and produce, but we were still harvesting from plants grown in fish boxes outside the conservatory and from border plants in the herb garden as late as December. Eating the small delicious fruits in the winter is a crazy delight.
Yes. They were around long before the orange carrot became established in the 16th century. Yes, I know they contain no carotene, but I found them very sweet and tasty. I grew the White Satin variety.
As I write this article, I am still harvesting and eating kai lan, or Chinese broccoli. (See my article ‘A cabbage for all seasons’ on www.mayonews.ie.) Have a very exciting garden year 2014 and grow something ‘crazy’ – you might not regret it.
Hans Wieland is training manager at The Organic Centre, Rossinver, Co Leitrim, which offers courses, training and information on organic growing and cooking, and runs an Eco Shop and an online gardening store. For more information, visit www.theorganiccentre.ie.
Gardening questions or comments? Contact Hans at email@example.com.