The Kitchen Garden . . . on your marks – sow!
PUBLISHED: 09:42 19 April 2016 | UPDATED: 09:42 19 April 2016
April is a busy month for getting all your favourite veg started, but Linda Duffin finds time to enjoy some lingering leeks
I love leeks. I like their versatility and the gentle oniony flavour they bring to winter cooking, but more importantly from a lazy gardener’s point of view, they’re one of those vegetables you can just bung in the ground and leave to get on with the important business of growing.
Ours never get very big (must be all that neglect) but they’re beautifully tender, which makes them perfect for all sorts of dishes, whether it’s a creamy leek and potato soup, a frittata or the vinaigrette recipe I’m sharing with you this month. Faithful though they have been, they need to go to make space for all the summer vegetables we need to plant this month.
April usually passes in a blur of sowing and growing. We succession plant so that in theory at least we have a steady supply of our favourite vegetables. OK, deep breath . . . Now is the time to plant your second early and maybe your maincrop potatoes, plus other root veg like parsnips, Jerusalem artichokes and celeriac, and a fresh sowing of carrots.
If you like cauliflower, plant little and often, otherwise modern varieties, geared more to professional growers, tend to all come at once. It is also a good time to sow spring onions, chard, spinach beet and sorrel. Most of the herbs, like parsley, tarragon, fennel and dill can go in now, but plant basil under cover as it will get nipped in the bud by a late frost. If you’ve already planted tomatoes, aubergines, cucumbers, chillies and squash in the greenhouse, you’ll probably need to pot them on around now. It’s too late to plant bare-root fruit ,but pot-grown bushes can go in at any time.
There’s still time to get in some more peas and broad beans, but runners and French beans are also susceptible to frost, so it’s best to get them going in cells or pots under cover, for planting out towards the end of next month. The same goes for bulb fennel and sweetcorn. We often use troughs rather than cells, to give the plants plenty of room to put down roots.
We use the gutter system for planting our peas, otherwise the mice get them. We’ve lost three-quarters of our potential crop to the little varmints before now. All you need are a couple of lengths of plastic guttering, with end stops to prevent the soil being watered out. Fill them with compost, plant your peas, and suspend them from the greenhouse roof or sit them on mouse-proof staging. When the peas are two or three inches high, dig a small trench in your chosen growing position the same length as the gutters and slide the plants, along with their compost, into place. Tamp down and water in well and congratulate yourself on having foiled the rodent population for another year.
All your pruning should be complete by now so the only things left to do are to muck and mulch and keep on top of the weeding. No challenge, then!
This is a lovely summery side dish, perfect with a quiche or some cold chicken.
12-18 baby leeks For the vinaigrette:1 heaped tspn Dijon mustard, 1 tbspn made mayonnaise, 1/2 tspn honey or agave nectar, 2 tbsp cider vinegar, 3-4 tbsp good olive oil, salt and freshly ground black pepper, 1 tbsp of snipped chives, to garnish
Trim the leeks, wash well, and cut them in half horizontally and then again vertically. Place them carefully into a steamer so they don’t fall apart and steam until tender to the tip of a knife. Remove them equally carefully and put them to drain on a clean tea towel. In a small bowl, whisk together the mustard, mayo, honey or nectar and the vinegar. Add the oil and whisk well until thickened then season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Taste and if it’s too acidic for you, whisk in a little more oil. On a rectangular dish or plate, place a layer of leeks neatly side by side. Drizzle with the dressing and season with salt and pepper. Repeat, layer by layer, until you’ve used all the leeks. Cover with clingfilm and chill. Remove from the fridge 15-20 minutes before you want to eat.
Linda Duffin blogs at Mrs Portly’s Kitchen – A Suffolk Aga Saga https://mrsportlyskitchen.wordpress.com