What to Plant Now
The gloves are off. Or perhaps on, if they are gardening gloves. The risk of a frost has passed, the days are long, and pretty much everything can be planted and sown now. I love this time of year in the patch. Seedlings grow so quickly and so happily in the mild, wet weather that you can see progress every day – it’s immensely satisfying. That said, spring this year has been slower and wetter and colder than anyone anticipated, so don’t worry if your vegetables, indeed your whole garden, are behind.
It’s a good time to sow radishes, lettuce, peas and spring onions. They can be sown directly into the soil, will germinate quickly, tolerate any chilly moments (likely to be many given the current state of the weather) and be ready to harvest in 2-3 months. These are my go-to crops to fill in gaps or make use of space not needed until high summer, by which time they will be no more than a delicious lunch memory.
If you have been nurturing tender plants like French beans, courgettes and squash for outdoor planting, then you can plant them now. It’s always a bit like sending your firstborn off to a new school, and you’ll spend all day fretting that they might be too cold, or bothered by pigeons; and yes, they might well slump for a couple of days, but I promise they will acclimatize eventually. If you’re really worried, a piece of fleece over them at night will be a good comfort blanket for you both.
What to Harvest Now
I risked a few robust salad leaves in open ground in March and I’m glad I did because they are cropping now. Not in great abundance, but enough for a lunchtime salad. I sowed ‘Merveille de Quatre Saisons’ - a red-leafed lettuce - and a friseé lettuce, or endive, called ‘Tres Fine Mariachere’ in modules under cover then planted them out a few weeks ago. They are delicious with a few of the (still tiny) radishes that grow next to them.
My main harvest at the moment is chard. It has been in the ground since last June and I’ve been picking leaves since September. They over-wintered well, focusing on survival rather than producing new growth. But the longer days have brought them back to life and the new leaves are tight, bright, squeaky and delicious. Trouble is, I need to sow beans in the section of raised bed they call home. And anyway, chard becomes quite stocky-stemmed and tough after a year. Their days are numbered. But between now and the fateful day when I have to dig them up, I am picking every day and cooking them so as not to waste a leaf.
What to Cook with the Harvest
Chard can be used like spinach and simply wilted with butter as a side or stirred into stews, ramen, stirfry etc and so on. But I think this is to miss a trick. Because, when given centre stage, and in sufficient volume, chard has a rich, earthy taste that can play the lead role and carry a dish quite confidently. The following recipes are a prime example of this.
Chard loves cheese. Wilt as above, add a slug of cream, sprinkle with grated cheese and bake till bubbling for a quick gratin. Or daub with knobs of blue cheese once wilted. Or, try this speedy tart which incorporates cheddar, feta and, just for good measure, some parmesan too. I use filo pastry for the base; it's so much quicker than the usual shortcrust-pastry-quiche-faff and adds some much-needed crunch to accompany the pillowy eggy filling.
Chard really does the heavy lifting in this pizza - earthy, wholesome and hearty flavours. The goat’s cheese offers a salty, lemony zing to wake up the chard and serves to further demonstrate that pizza isn’t all about tomato and mozzarella!
James Strawbridge offers a brilliant solution if you, like me, have more chard than you can eat, need to use it up, and can’t bear the thought of it just going on the compost heap: preserving. His colourful kimchi is a world away from old-fashioned preserving (no malt vinegars here!) and a great way to keep the chard harvest coming all year.