Valerie O’Connor has a garden full of green treasure and is working on recipes to use up a bountiful harvest of spinach and chard.
IT’S wise old thing to confess, that I just love gardening. Herbacious borders leave me confused, ask me what ornamentals you should plant and I’ll probably mumble Japanese Maple just to make myself sound knowledgeable.
I’m far more likely to look around your garden, or anyone’s and say “Four raised beds for basic crop rotation covering all the edibles, a composter over there, a beehive back there and a chicken coop”.
A grass lawn is lovely, but as chairman Mao stated before he got the revolutionary Chinese (like they had any choice) to pull out the grass from the parks and pretty public places, it’s an indulgence and serves little purpose.
Though a garden is a beautiful thing and we’re not in the grip of a communist revolution anytime soon, so mow that lawn away to your heart’s content.
Now that I have a little patch of ground ‘borrowed’ from the Gardener, I can grow my own things. As an avid grower who never even had a garden, I’ve been growing everything in pots for years now.
Runner beans in big tubs, strawberries in the gutter, tomatoes on window sills and spuds in shopping bags on my flat roof.
Salads are growing in biscuit tins and wine boxes, but boy do the slugs love to climb out of the ancient wall that surrounds my tiny space.
Now I feel like a kid at Christmas every time I visit my raised bed, having to tend it a few times a week with weeding and watering, plus successional planting. This bed, maybe one metre by two and a bit is bustling with so many things already.
I’ve planted two types of broad beans, the pretty purply Martock and the Londonderry. The beans are the Cherokee Trail of Tears, so named by Cherokee Indians as a staple food when forced out of their homelands on the ‘trail of tears’ in 1838.
There are three types of lettuce: Outredgeous, Maureen and Namenia plus rocket which, as the name suggests, flew up so fast it’s all been eaten and I’ve had to plant more in the past few weeks.
It’s easy to go mad with lettuce, it takes so little to grow the stuff but bear in mind, there are only so many salads you can eat. John’s Purple Carrot is already in full leaf, it’s tempting to have a poke around to see what’s under the soil but that’s bad garden behaviour.
I have two Waltham butternut squashes, they give lovely tender fruit that you just roast and there is one Genovese courgette. One well-managed courgette plant is enough, it’s all about the flowers really and I can’t wait to batter and deep fry them.
Peppers, beets and spinach are all snug in their spaces yet the magic rainbow chard steals the show with it’s wild array of vivid colours, like a brazen peacock amongst an army of green.
Growing the food is the purpose of all of this of course, nothing tastes like the stuff you grow yourself, just like no loaf of bread is as satisfying as the one you bake yourself. But the results, the fruits (and veg) of your labour are almost just the bonus points. Standing in the garden gives you a buzz.
As a member of the human race I spend too much time in my head, inevitably giving myself a hard time for all the things I should and shouldn’t be doing.
In martial arts they talk about grounding and this is so important. If you have a garden, veg patch or otherwise it’s great to just go out onto it in your bare feet and stand or walk around, look at what’s changed overnight.
With your hands in the soil you really do escape, something happens and the thoughts that bind you just wither away.
I am always inclined to take my shoes off to get into tightly squeezed spaces on the vegetable bed, barefoot gardening is the best. Before you know it you’re up to your elbows in soil and your fingernails and toenails never looked so purposeful.
I love this simple Greek recipe that makes spinach the star of the show.
Spinach is just mad for road at this time of year and, while it takes space to grow, like all things, it grows fast and if you grow and cut and come again variety, it keeps coming back for more.
Heat the oil in a heavy bottomed pan with a tight-fitting lid, cook the onion and garlic for about 10 minutes until soft, add the spinach to the pan and stir.
Make little dents in the spinach and spoon the rice into these pockets, it doesn’t have to be exactly like this but you get more spinachiness into the rice this way.
Season with salt and pepper, add the tomato and cover with enough cold water that will give you about a thumb thickness of water on top of the rice.
Bring to a boil and clamp on the lid and turn the heat down to a bare blip.
After about 20 minutes the rice should be cooked. Take of the lid and fluff it up with a fork.
Dish it out and sprinkle over plenty of extra feta and serve with, yes, a lemon wedge.
Chard is an amazing vegetable.
If you have any space to grow it plant as much as you can as it lends itself so well to many dishes, either as a side or as the starring role in an omelette or frittata.
Chard look delightful with its rainbow colours and keeps producing leaves for months on end.
You can make the most of chard by simply frying up a few cloves of sliced garlic and half a teaspoon of chili flakes in a little light olive or organic sunflower oil and then firing in the stems first, cooking them gently for a few minutes and then add in the leaves, shredded or torn, however you like with a tiny splash of water.
Cook for a couple of minutes only. This can be tossed through cooked spaghetti for an instant and delicious light meal, it works well with some parmesan grated on top too.
You can heat up a little oil and add spices like black mustard seeds or nigella seeds and then add the chard as above and have this as side dish to curries; squeeze over a freshly cut lemon to bring out the flavours.
Wilted chard can be used to top of pizza as it has stronger flavour than spinach and tends to wilt down a lot less, toss it into a risotto or a summer soup with other greens.
If you’re looking for more seed varieties like the ones I’ve mentioned here, Irish Seedsavers in Scariff, Co. Clare, are worth looking up.
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