On the vegetable front the past few weeks have been mostly about peas and beans. Not only have I been sowing mangetout, ‘Sweet Horizon’, a maincrop pea, ‘Hurst Greenshaft’ and broad beans, ‘Masterpiece Green Longpod’ but we’ve been feasting on peas shoots for a while now. I absolutely love broad beans but it wasn’t always that way. My memory of broad beans was those dreadful grey, dry, woolly things I was fed in the eighties. *shudders* The broad beans we eat now bear no resemblance, pick them when young and double pod them and the vivid green captures early summer on the plot. It’s difficult to buy organic broad beans, and even non-organic are sooooo expensive. For me, they are a must on our plot.
Until last year I had never thought it was worth growing my own peas. Frozen peas are nutritious and easy to come by. I did grow some sugar snaps though, and occasionally some of them swelled so much that we needed to discard the outer casing and eat the peas inside. Eaten straight away, and raw in salads they were so incredibly sweet and tasty. So, last year actual peas were introduced to the plot and despite the weather were a real success. Both sets of peas and the broad beans are all planted out now.
Everything is crazily busy at the moment, hence my absence from blogging for a while. I’m either at the computer writing or in the greenhouse. My apologies if comments don’t go up for a while and I don’t get back to you or I don’t make it over to your blog. I still read all your comments and really appreciate you popping by. I would really love it if there were a few extra hours in each day. I did, however manage to get out for a bit of a walk on Saturday. Pentwyn Farm near Monmouth is an idyllic spot even if the cold wind had returned. It’s an area of unimproved grassland owned by Gwent Wildlife Trust. A habitat that’s quite rare now, the fields are managed to protect the wide variety of wild flowers that grow there. We tend to come up here in early summer to see the orchids. It was strange to wander around through the fields in late April and there be so little to see. If you didn’t know what was hiding away in the soil waiting to appear you’d be forgiven for wondering why Pentwyn Farm is so important. This was the first time we’d used the new nature trail the wildlife trust have created. It took us down the valley and out past a field of Hebridean sheep which are being used to manage the grassland. There was also the slightly disconcerting sight of a couple of alpacas. It’s not that unusual now to see alpacas in the British countryside, brought in to protect newborn lambs from foxes, or kept for their wool. I still find it funny to see them, a touch of the Andes in Wales.
It may be May in a few days time but the landscape feels like it is only very reluctantly emerging into spring. Trees are coming to life but it was hard to imagine the fields in a month or so’s time, covered in orchids, eyebright, and yellow rattle. Then, just as we were leaving, we came across a field of cowslips. It’s been a great year for primroses, the cooler conditions meaning their flowering season has been long but we hadn’t come across any cowslips until yesterday. Unlike its cousin the primrose, cowslips need more sunshine and an open site in order to thrive. Once an abundant plant it played a significant role in the celebration of spring’s arrival but intensive agriculture and spraying of herbicides lead to a dramatic decline in their numbers, along with so many of our wild flowers. My own garden is teeming with primroses but I have only one cowslip plant which my mum gave me last year. The first thing I did when we got back from the walk was to go and see if it was flowering yet. And there they were, a couple of stems with delicate yellow trumpet-like flowers.
To complete the spring theme we came across the first bundle of asparagus spears in a local deli. I was surprised to see them to be honest. I had thought the cold spring would have delayed the harvest but it appears not. It was impossible to resist them even if the price tag was a little steep. The season is so short that they are such a treat to have over the coming weeks. Herefordshire and Worcestershire are proud of their asparagus growing, there’s a festival to celebrate the green spears with food, music and even inflatable asparagus. When it comes to cooking asparagus I prefer simplicity. I do occasionally put it in quiches or frittatas, but steamed with a few shavings of parmesan or with goats cheese and parma ham are my favourites. When it comes to snapping off the woodier base of a spear, my asparagus tip (sorry, dreadful pun, I know) is don’t throw the ends away. If you make your own vegetable stock they make a great addition giving it a lovely sweet flavour. I put the ends in a freezer bag, collecting them over the course of the asparagus season and keep them in the freezer. When you’re making your stock just get a few out and put in the simmering water along with your other veg.
Last year was the first year that I’ve grown broad beans, and you’re right, they’re so different to the ones I remember from my childhood. They’re being grown in a larger quantity this year, so I’m hoping for a bigger harvest. Great asparagus tip.
I’m growing more broad beans too this year. I would have done even more if ground wasn’t taken up with other plants for this summer. But next year I might do a whole bed of broad beans.
We had our first rhubarb crumble of the year today, delicious! My cowslips have been flowering for some time now, but all mine are in the shade, in the woodland, next to the bog garden and behind some shrubs near the greenhouse, when I planted them, I didn’t realise they needed sunshine!
🙂 I just think you could grow anything, anywhere Pauline. Apparently though cowslips do cross pollinate very easily and there are quite a few different ones out there. Maybe you have a special variety which has adapted to your conditions.
I love cowslips! They mean that summer is on the way.
They are such gorgeous flowers. I’m becoming quite addicted to the Primula family.
It’s not just they’re prettiness but they’re hardiness as well:)
Flâneur Gardener said:
I, too, collect asparagus ends – and pea pods, for that matter. I find that you can mate a very delicious risotto by boiling up a stock only from pea pods and then adding fresh peas just before the risotto is done so they’re still half-raw. It turns a stocky winter dish into a delicately flavoured summer dish, though admittidly still rather heavy, so don’t eat it for lunch unless there’s time for a siesta!
I love pea risotto, although we make it with spelt grains, a little bit of bacon or smoked haddock and just parmesan rather than adding any cream. I had a risotto in Italy a few years ago and didn’t need to eat for 3 days afterwards. 😉 I’m always disappointed when I run out of asparagus ends in winter to make my stock with, it just doesn’t taste quite as good.
Weeding the Web said:
You’re absolutely right. The secret to broad beans is taking off that grey coat on the beans themselves – fiddly and you get a lot less on the plate but so much nicer. Are you sure the asparagus was English? The asparagus we spotted in a farm shop near us turned out to be from Italy.
It is fiddly but worth it. 😉 It was definitely English. We’re not far from the heart of asparagus country and it was from a well known local grower. It was possibly grown under polytunnels which might explain it’s production despite the cold weather.
We had the first asparagus from the garden last night – no comparison to the ones one can buy from supermarkets that have been lying around for several days. Fresh peas straight from the pod was one of the main things I wanted to grow when I got the veg patch. So far it has been extremely limited what I have been able to harvest. My dad never had any problems growing them, I wonder why I have such a hard time. Shouldn’t really be that difficult, should it now? Sounds lovely that grassland.
Hi Helle, I think most of us have one crop that is our nemesis. For me it is beetroot. I do occasionally get a few but they tend to struggle to form a swollen root. I know peas don’t like the ground to have been heavily manured or composted because they make their own nitrogen. Perhaps this might be a reason. Hopefully you’ll have more success this year. 🙂
Great Blossom photo!
I know. 😉 Sorry I need to give you a credit for it.
No you don’t 🙂
Lovely Spring post and very envious that you have pea shoots to pick already – I love them in salads. With you on the beans too, I’ve planted so many, including lots of broad beans. I think it’s worth growing your own to be able to pick them when they’re tiny, tender and delicious.
I deliberately started my pea shoots off much earlier this year and it’s worked which is good, although my successional sowing hasn’t worked so I’m going to end up with a gap before my next crop is ready to eat. I couldn’t believe how expensive the broad beans were in the supermarket last year. We must have saved quite a bit growing our own.
I wish someone had told me years ago about double podding broad beans – I loathed them at school. I grew some last year for the first time (Karmazyn) and was surprised at how delicious they were! This year I’m growing both red and white flowering broad beans and looking forward to the harvest. Not the same success with my asparagus though. Having cleared a tiny space for an asparagus bed, the tiny plants I ordered have done nothing … zip … nada. So now I’m wondering whether to leave the bed alone and hope they miraculously appear next year or dig it up. I actually like the look of the frondy stems and berries in the summer!
PS. My cowslip planted 2 years ago is huge now and has been flowering for several weeks. Despite snow, etc, etc.
I love the sound of the red and white flowering combo. Have you got up close and smelt a broad bean flower? I think the red ones are the best. At college they had some in a polytunnel and in the warmth the scent was incredible. I have never grown asparagus but think it can be a bit temperamental particularly about the condition of the soil. Maybe it’s just a late variety and with the cold spring has yet to poke through. Fingers crossed you’ll get something. Picking my own asparagus is something I dream, not yachts or flashy cars, I’m a girl of simple tastes. 😉 But I think it will have to wait a while as I can’t justify turning over a bed to it on the allotment at the moment.
A enjoyable post, and good to see you taking time out to relax.
If you ever meet Kate Humble ask her about alpacas!
It’s rather busy all round at the moment isn’t it but good to see it all happening at long last. xx
Thanks Flighty, I’m intrigued about Kate and alpacas. It is hectic at the moment but this is what we’ve all spent all that long winter waiting for and I’m loving it. Hope you’re enjoying the lovely sunshine this weekend.
I like the tip on adding asparagus bases to stocks.
We grow more and more broad beans each year, they are just so delicious – and freeze well when blanched lightly. My eating-peas are just showing through in their strip of gutter in the greenhouse – I’m looking forward to my usual habit of snacking on the contents of pod as I walk past in the summer…!
I think next year there will be even more broad beans but there isn’t the space for them this year. A lot of our peas don’t make it home. 🙂
It’s intriguing to see the variations in progress of various plants across the country – one thing the same is how excited it makes us all to see something new coming up! Like Pauline, I too have cowslips popping up across the garden, all from one original plant.
I’m hoping my cowslip will start to self-seed too. I’ve got primroses all over the place but not sure my conditions are quite as good for cowslips.
Just found the first few asparagus tips at my new allotment, along with some rhubarb – oh the excitement, actual produce! I know what you mean about there not being enough time for everything – I reckon an extra five hours a day should do the trick…
Oh I’m envious of your own asparagus. One day I’ll grow my own too.
You must be crazy-busy, wee’re all playing catch-up but you have the book to worry about too! Glad to hear you managed to get out for a little r&r. I adore asparagus, just can’t justify the space for an asparagus bed since my oh, generally a man of excllent taste, doesn’t like it. I’ve been wondering about growing a few spears in a container of some sort. Had to smile at your broad beans comment, I was exactly the same, hated them, now wouldn’t be without them, so wonderful grown and picked fresh and young. In fact I think I will always grow more legumes than anything else, since I also adore mange-tout, sugar snap peas and beans of all sorts, plus the taste of totally fresh home grown peas is something else. Good luck managing all your conflicting tasks, hope you still enjoy the process of growing and don’t get overwhelmed.
Hi Janet, I think I’d pushed myself a bit much by the end of last week and ended up with a stinking cold but I’ve had a bit of a breather this week and the long bank holiday weekend is just what I needed. It’s less the extra work and more the timing of plants being ready for photos which is driving me to distraction. I’m dreaming about it, even OH is dreaming about it. 😉 I can’t justify the space for an asparagus bed either but one day I hope to grow my own. Beans and peas really are brilliant crops to grow, none of those floppy French beans from Kenya when you pick them yourself. Thanks for the kind words, it is a bit overwhelming at times but it’ll hopefully be worth it in the end. A few hours pottering in the greenhouse or on the plot soothe most troubles anyway. 🙂
That first asparagus, I’m going to have to look out for some in the shops. I’ve been pondering planting some at my allotment, but missed the planting time for this year, think I’ll plan carefully where I should put it and get ready for next year. Glad things are catching up for you, I’m the same very behind in reading blogs and writing my own this month!
I’d love to grow some but I can’t justify the space needed at the moment but it would be amazing to grow my own asparagus. I’m not sure when you plant it, think it might be the autumn. It’s such a busy time of year but I don’t like to miss out on reading how everyone else is doing. It’s lovely to read about what others are growing so I’m trying to keep up. 🙂
Hello I went to sissinghurst today. Fantastic place I had to tell someone. Great blog by the way I am a keen follower!
I’m so glad you enjoyed Sissinghurst. We were there last year. It is a beautiful garden and the buildings are so impressive. And thank you for your kind words about my blog, it really means a lot. :))
Broad Bean and Puy Lentil salad is m fave Broad Bean dish…with the horrible inner skin removed of course. Not reall mad about Asparagus. Don’t know when I’ve seen a Cowslip. Like you we have lots of Primroses.
I like the sound of your salad. We make a gorgeous pate with broad beans which I might post about when I have some to pick.