img_20161029_113259

Overwintering Tea, Coffee and Other Tender Edible Perennials

I bought a tea plant (Camellia sinensis) and a coffee plant (Coffea arabica) earlier this year. I’m hoping, in time, to be able to produce infinitesimally small amounts of low quality hot beverages with which to underwhelm my friends and family. In the meantime, the coffee needs to come in for the winter and I’ll probably bring the camellia in too, although in time it should become large enough to overwinter successfully outside in its pot. Planting it in the ground here isn’t feasible as our soil is alkaline (pH 7.5) and camellias need acid soil. But potted in ericaceous compost, it should exist quite happily and produce leaves for green tea and salads for many years to come.

The list of plants needing winter attention is growing as my plant collection becomes more extensive and unusual, so this year I’m not convinced it’s all going to fit. Time to clear greenhouse benches and indoor windowsills, squeeze plants onto trays and cross my fingers as chillies, tea, coffee, lemongrass, lemon verbena, Vietnamese coriander, yacon, cucamelons and inca berries all come in for the winter…

IMG_20161029_103310.JPG

Scrubbing away a year’s grime

Fungus Gnats

My overwintering regime comes from a mixture of experience, good advice from fellow growers and intuition (aka. guesswork). Once the pots are in I’ll be treating them with nematodes as I had real problems with fungus gnats in the house last year (the annoying little black flies which buzz around the compost and can multiply disturbingly in just a few days) and using nematodes completely cleared them up. I’ve been sent a free trial pack of nematodes from the Green Gardener which can be stored in the fridge in their sealed packet for a few weeks until needed and then simply watered in the specified concentrations onto moist compost. I’ll be using them in the next few days and will report back on how successful they are this year. Here’s to a fly-free winter and lots of happy hibernating plants ready to burst into life early next spring  🙂

img_20161028_184953

My nematodes – currently residing in the fridge

Chillies

My 39 chilli plants will not, alas, all fit in the house, so the challenge has been to decide which are keepers and which will be feeding Compo (the compost heap). I’ve saved lots of seed that I will be able to sow next January and I’ve been sent an amazing array of exciting varieties by a reader of my blog who grows an extensive range and has been very generous in our seed swap. There is now no hope for me – I’m a confirmed chilli addict. Thirteen varieties this year and I suspect it will only get worse in 2017…

DSC_0153 (2).JPG

The crazy chilli collection 2016!

As well as saving seeds, the kitchen has turned into a pickling factory with shallots, red onions and chillies disappearing into jars, to reappear in a few weeks to jazz up pizzas, sandwiches and salads.

IMG_20161026_185035.JPG

Pickled chillies to heat up cold winter suppers

Cucamelons and Yacon

I’ve tried to overwinter cucamelon (Melothria scabra) tubers a couple of times and never been successful. They’ve been left them in pots in the unheated greenhouse and brought in as dried tubers, but each winter rot has set in. This time I’m going to attempt to keep them in their pots, dry on a windowsill alongside the yacon (Smallanthus sonchifolius) and see what happens…

DSC_0136 (3).JPG

I’m hoping for an early harvest next year – if I can only manage to overwinter the tubers…

 

Lemongrass

The lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) overwintered well last year and then I lost nearly all my plants by putting them out in the unheated greenhouse too early. Second year plants definitely grow more strongly (providing they’re kept warm), whereas first year plants don’t really have long enough to develop and multiply. So I’m intending to learn from my mistake and keep them indoors next spring until the frosts have well and truly finished.

dsc_0058_1

These little guys never really developed into mature plants

Lemon Verbena

I’ve had the same lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) plant for 5 years. It dies back in winter in the unheated greenhouse and reappears in spring, usually just after I’ve given up hope – I should know better by now. This year I repotted it and put it outside during the summer. It rewarded me by producing more leaves than we could use. It is such a lovely plant. Unlike lemon balm (Melissa officinalis), which has a similarly enticing scent, I find lemon verbena transfers its sherberty aroma more successfully to hot and cold drinks, cakes and spicy curries.

DSC_0008.JPG

The lemongrass stirring from its winter slumbers

This year I’ve dried the remaining leaves for tea over winter and I’m going to have another go at propagating from cuttings next year (something at which I have an embarrassingly bad track record).

14732177_333751810312208_6846983331928741919_n.jpg

Makes the best tea mixed with Moroccan mint

Vietnamese Coriander

A new herb for us this year, I’ve been impressed with the easy of use and clean taste of our Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata). I love the more traditional coriander (Coriandrum sativum), but the necessity of repeated sowings to cater for the speed at which it bolts is an extra job in a busy summer schedule. If the Vietnamese coriander overwinters successfully, it will allow a continuous supply of tasty leaves for cooking throughout the summer and autumn months and will have earned its place in the herb container garden.

DSC_0026 (2)

Vietnamese coriander – so far, so good

Inca Berries

A couple of weeks ago I was lamenting the three worst crops of 2016 – inca berries (Physalis peruviana) being one. I had an extremely helpful comment about the perennial nature of the plant and therefore the possibility of overwintering it. I have tried growing physalis for 4 years now, with very minimal harvests, so had already discounted new plants in 2017. However, I’m going to try bringing a couple of plants indoors to see if they produce higher yields in their second year. If not, they’re history – at least until I move on to warmer climes.

IMG_4914.JPG

My inca berry harvest

I’d love to know if anyone else is growing tea or coffee, and what the verdict is. And does anyone else contemplate paying their friends and relatives to overwinter plants on their windowsills due to a mismatch between plant collection ambitions and house size? Or is that just me?! Do leave me a comment below to let me know what other overwintering activities are going on this autumn…

img_20161029_171318

Assembled plants for overwintering – maybe we should move out?

 

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

 

 

 

 

 

DSC_0050 (2)

How To Grow Your Own Thai Curry

Kaffir lime leaves from India, chillies from Zambia and lemongrass from Thailand – although I love cooking food from all round the world, I’m sometimes dismayed at the air miles which an international meal requires. So last year I decided to have a go at providing most of these ingredients from my own garden and allotment, without resorting to lots of produce from overseas. I’ve had fun growing lemongrass and chillies from seed, trying Kaffir lime and vanilla grass as house plants, substituting lime balm and lemon verbena for lime juice and experimenting with Vietnamese coriander, garlic chives and vegetables for the base of the curries.

DSC_0046.JPG

Home grown ingredients ready for blending into a green Thai curry sauce

Here’s the recipe for aromatic Thai green curry which serves 4 people, to prove that anyone can grow their own Thai curry at home:

Ingredients

1. Kaffir lime leaves – 2 leaves

I’ve been growing Kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) in the kitchen for the past 3 years and it is thriving. I have two pots (I repotted the small seedlings I received into 2 groups when they arrived). I water them regularly and feed them with liquid citrus feed over the summer. The fresh leaves are amazingly aromatic and are far better than dried leaves in my opinion. For very little effort, these plants are a lovely addition to my curry collection and they are very cost effective as 1g of dried leaves can cost upwards of £2!

DSC_0023 (2).JPG

One of my Kaffir limes with its fascinating hourglass shaped leaves which are actually a leaf blade and flattened leaf stalk and very sharp spines

 

2. Vietnamese coriander – a handful

I bought my Vietnamese coriander (Persicaria odorata) recently at Hampton Court Flower Show and it beats growing regular coriander which I found tricky to harvest before it bolted, not to mention the necessity to repeat sow throughout the summer. It will need overwintering in a heated greenhouse – or in my case I’ll be putting it on the spare room windowsill with the chillies and lemongrass. I love the fact that it’s perennial, so no need to sow each year. It tastes remarkably like ordinary coriander too and is a pretty prolific grower.

DSC_0026 (2).JPG

Vietnamese coriander

 

3. Lemongrass – a stick or a few leaves

I love growing lemongrass (Cymbopogon citratus) and this is the third year I’ve sown from seed and had a good success rate. This year I’ve used the leaves in cooking as harvesting a whole stick would decimate the plant, but last year I was able to pull the whole stick off my 2 year old plants and still leave a sizeable plant to produce more offshoots. Unfortunately a cold spring this year was the final straw for last year’s plants, which died in the cold. Next spring I’ll be much more careful about temperatures when returning the lemongrass to the greenhouse.

DSC_0035 (2)

Lemongrass sown from seed this year – I lost all last year’s overwintered plants by rather stupidly putting them out in the greenhouse too early in our extremely cold spring

 

4. Garlic chives – a small handful

Garlic chives (Allium tuberosum) are a lovely addition to the herb border. They have beautiful white flowers in the spring and can be grown just like ordinary chives. They have a mild garlic/onion taste and are great in salads.

Allium tuberosum (2).JPG

Garlic chive flowers can also be used in salads

 

 

DSC_0052 (2).JPG

Difference between garlic chives and ordinary chives – the garlic chive (at the top) is much flatter and also has a lovely mild garlic flavour

 

5. Lime balm and lemon verbena – small handful of each

I’ve been growing lemon verbena (Aloysia citrodora) for a few years and it never fails to please me with its sherbet lemon scented leaves. I have propagated plants for friends and my original plant overwinters successfully in the unheated greenhouse every winter. I always think it has died, but without fail, each spring it sends up new shoots and flourishes. Lime balm (Melissa officinalis ‘Lime Balm’) is a new plant this year and combined with lemon verbena it makes an alternative for lime and lemon juice in curries and salads. It is best grown in containers as, like its relation lemon balm, it has a tendency to be vigorous (aka. invasive). It has a lovely lime fragrance and can also be used in teas, ice creams and as an insect repellent.

Lime balm and lemon verbena ready for harvesting

6. Chillies – 1-4 chillies to taste

This year my chilli obsession has got a bit out of hand and the most recent count reached 39 plants of 14 different varieties: ‘Cayenne’, ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Purple Gusto’, ‘Hungarian Hot Wax’, Rocoto – Alberto’s Locoto, Hungarian Black, Numex Twilight, ‘Aji Limon’, ‘Joe’s Long’, ‘Habanero Red Devil’, ‘Habanero Big Sun’, ‘Prairie Fire’, ‘Piri Piri’ and ‘Alma Paprika’. I love eating them for suppers stuffed with cream cheese and baked. Now the kids are getting a bit older we can finally introduce a bit of heat into family meals too. For this recipe I used ‘Jalapeno’, ‘Aji Limon’ and ‘Purple Gusto’ because they happened to be available, but any chillies would be fine and the variety can be adapted to suit the level of heat required.

DSC_0027.JPG

The chilli jungle in the greenhouse

 

DSC_0029.JPG

The ‘Aji Limon’ chillies successfully overwintered in the house and have been amongst the first to fruit this year

 

7. Garlic – 2 cloves

I’ve been growing garlic for a few years in large potato containers after we got white rot in our garden soil. They seem to thrive and give relatively big crops for very little work. I grow ‘Early Purple Wight’, ‘Red Czech’ and elephant garlic (Allium ampeloprasum) which is, as the name suggest, enormous and with a very mild flavour. I save some cloves each year for planting the next which makes this crop cost effective. We also get to eat the garlic scapes or flowering stalks in early summer, so get two crops for the price of one.

DSC_0041.JPG

First of this year’s elephant garlic bulbs harvested this week

 

8. Mint – small handful for the salad

I’m also a bit of a mint fanatic, because it’s so easy to propagate. I have 12 varieties at the moment – orange mint, banana mint, berries and cream mint, grapefruit mint, apple mint, peppermint, garden mint, basil mint, lime mint, ginger mint, Corsican mint and Indian mint. It all started last year as a plan to create an interesting collection for the school plant stall, but since then I’ve become fascinated by all the different tastes and uses. Watch this space for a post soon on the different varieties and their uses.

DSC_0025.JPG

Mint collection

9. Seasonal vegetables – potatoes, kale, broad beans (enough vegetables to feed 4 people) carrots and cucumber (3 carrots, 1/2 a cucumber)

I would just use any vegetables for the curry and salad which are available from the garden or allotment at any given time. At the moment this includes new potatoes ‘Lady Christl’, broad beans and kale (Cavolo Nero) for the curry, and carrots and cucumber for the accompanying salad. That’s the beauty of recipes like this – they allow you to celebrate whatever’s in season and try different combinations throughout the year.

DSC_0056 (2).JPG

Pick of the July veggies

10. My prize coconut tree – 1 coconut (or a 400ml tin of coconut milk)

Every summer I send the kids up the coconut tree with small woven baskets to collect the coconuts to crack open for curries…

OK – so this is one ingredient I can’t grow in the UK and thus should be taken with a large pinch of salt, which incidentally, is another ingredient not harvested from our garden/allotment, along with sesame oil, 200ml vegetable stock (either made with with left over vegetable cooking water or vegetable stock powder and water) or chicken stock (either from boiling a roast chicken carcass with bay leaves or ready made) and fish sauce (nam pla). Leftover roast chicken is good added to the curry if it is available.

If anyone knows of a home grown alternative to coconut milk, (or has a tree with coconuts on it in the UK!) I’d love to hear from you.

Method

To make the green curry sauce I blend the garlic chives, lemon verbena, lemongrass, Kaffir lime leaves, Vietnamese coriander, lime balm leaves, chillies, garlic and a 2cm piece of ginger in the food processor and then add the cold stock, a few drops of sesame oil and a splash (2-3 tsps) of fish sauce to allow the mixture to be completely blended. I find if I try to make a green Thai curry paste (without the liquid) with these ingredients, it tends to end up with stringy bits throughout. Then I add the sauce to the pan, add the coconut milk and begin to heat it gently.

DSC_0053

Green Thai curry sauce

Next I add the vegetables, suiting the cooking time to the type of vegetables I’m using. With the new potatoes I added them for 15 minutes until soft and then added the broad beans and kale for a further 5 minutes until all the vegetables were cooked.

DSC_0068.JPG

The kitchen smells amazing during the cooking

 

DSC_0070.JPG

My lunch bowl

To Serve…

Serve with rice (yes, I know, not many rice paddies in Hertfordshire) and a Thai salad.

Recently I’ve been adding a few vanilla grass leaves (Pandanus amaryllifolius) to the rice as I boil it to add a subtle vanilla flavour. This lovely houseplant has been happy in our bathroom for the past 3 years and only needs rainwater and ericaeous feed in the summer to keep it producing leaves for the kitchen.

DSC_0061 (2)

Adding the vanilla grass leaves to the cooking rice

 

For the salad I usually shred some of our carrots, cucumbers and/or courgettes, spring onions or chopped chives, chopped mint, lime balm and Vietnamese coriander. Then I add chopped chillies, crushed garlic, a pinch of salt, a few drops of sesame oil and a squeeze of the honey produced on a neighbouring allotment to mix with the raw vegetables.

DSC_0066.JPG

Fresh salad to accompany the curry

 

Other Ideas…

How do you create international dishes with local ingredients? If you grow other useful ingredients please leave me a comment as I’d love to broaden my range of different ingredients and different cuisines. I’m hoping to grow Japanese hardy ginger (Zingiber mioga) on the allotment next year so I’ll be able to add that ginger tang to my curries. I’ve also grown Thai basil from seed in previous years and used it successfully in curries, so I’ll be sowing it again next year to add extra depth to the flavour – and thanks to the reader who suggested this lovely ingredient ☺

If you have enjoyed the recipe, you can follow the blog here:

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Next I’m planning more mouth-watering summer recipes for gluten-free scones with homemade redcurrant and strawberry jam. (Our favourite jam and very useful if you’re struggling with a glut of redcurrants!)