Thursday, 10 February 2011

Winter Foraging

Early February, and after such a hard winter, the allotment is an unpromising bleak place to be scratching around looking for a meal. It could make a visit to Sainsbury's seem quite an attractive alternative.    Mmm... naah! It's not quite that bad.

It's always possible to find something to eat — these Oca stragglers dodged the main harvest last month, and are sufficient for the basis of a meal.
Strangely, they were located about two feet away from the original planting position, and I only discovered them by chance when I was forking out a weed. Oca can sneakily put down roots wherever its stems come in to contact with the ground, and form the odd tuber, but this seems to have been a major colonisation.

It's also time to lift the remaining parsnips...
The resulting heap of calorie-packed winter fuel is in stark contrast to Oca's mediocre and chancy productivity. A few of the best specimens will be selected for replanting, and grown on to provide fresh seed.

There's one crop I can always rely on for mid-winter greens, even in sub-zero conditions — the much maligned Three-Cornered Leek (Allium triquetrum). I think it deserves some discussion, so here goes...
The leaves are much more fleshy and substantial than either Chives or Garlic Chives, making it quick and easy to gather a generous bundle. There is a stiffening keel along each leaf, giving the plant its name, and acting as a useful method of identification.

Here it is growing in my autumn raspberry bed, making productive use of the available winter light while the raspberries are still dormant. In late spring, they flower, then die down just as the raspberries are overtopping them; an elegant and efficient bi-crop arrangement.
Early January
Notice the self-sown seedlings. Here lies the cause of much venomous abuse (including here from the GB Non-Native Species Secretariat). It's a very successful seeder, and if left to its own devices, is invasive.
Flowering in mid May

Personally, I find it easy to control by eating its delicious flowers, and knocking out any unwanted seedlings in late autumn before they have formed bulbs, but I could see that they might get away from anyone that doesn't own a hoe.

Plant it if you dare, manage responsibly, and enjoy plentiful mid-winter supplies of fresh oniony greens...  ...or head for the supermarket and pick up a little something flown in from Kenya. The choice is yours.