What to Plant Now
We’ve come to the end of the year and the end of the growing season. There’s not much to do in the garden, certainly nothing to plant, and really the only job is to tidy up and sweep a few leaves. This month also marks the end of this column. I set out the chart a year in my veg patch and I’ve loved sharing my growing tales over the seasons. I hope you’ve discovered some new recipes, been inspired to put more plants on your plate, and perhaps even found yourself eyeing the window box with new interest. But we’re not quite done yet…
What to Harvest Now
Because whilst the busy season might be over, there are still things to harvest if you’re lucky. My kale and chard are plodding on and the parsnips are passable. And were I a better grower, I would have leeks to harvest too. But they are a labour of love and the faff involved was too much this year. First, you raise the seedlings – I sow Musselburgh variety – in a nursery bed or seed tray between March and June. Once they are pencil-thick, you transplant them. Mine almost never reach this thickness in time, and I spend most of June dithering and fretting about whether they are sturdy enough to plant out yet.
And they do need to be sturdy, because transplanting them is traumatic, both for plant and planter. Use a dibber (a fat, tapered spike) to make deep holes in the soil and drop a single leek into each hole before filling with water so the soil ‘puddles in’ around the baby leek. With each interment, you think, ‘How can this poor fragile blade of grass possibly survive being buried alive and drowned? It’ll never work.’ But it does, every time.
All of this you do in July, inevitably on a sweltering hot day when making a 20cm-deep hole in the ground seems like chiselling marble, and you imagine you could puddle the little buggers in with your own sweat. It will take all day and you will be a sunburnt, sweaty wreck afterwards. Even a couple of rows can feel like an act of devotion.
But it is an investment I wish I had made this year. Because come December, a fat, muddy leek that makes your eyes water and the kitchen smell of alliums is a triumphant harvest.
What to Cook with the Harvest
Leeks love dairy – sweated long and slow in butter, drowned in a cheese sauce, daubed with blue cheese. Like all alliums, they take on a sweet, deeply comforting tone when cooked so also lend themselves to wintery bowls of succour from chicken pies to heroic bread and everything in between.
This is a recipe for long, slender leeks which are ideal for draping over a creamy bed of cheesy polenta. It’s a simple dish, but full of flavour.
A soda bread stuffed with blue cheese and leeks. Dunk in steaming hot soup after a muddy session of tidying up in the veg patch. Or slice and stuff with hunks of leftover Christmas ham.
Don’t imagine the leeks play second fiddle in this pie. They are assertive enough to stand up to strong flavours like chorizo and will add depth and richness to this terrific speedy supper.
From the book
From the book
From the Veg Patch
The ultimate guide to getting the most out of your veg patch
With 100 simple recipes to celebrate seasonal produce
From vibrant summer tomatoes to earthy winter beetroot