The spring garden
Though many blossoms and seedlings won’t be giving us a harvest any time soon, Sarah O’Neil finds a couple of early spring superstars ripe for the picking.
My greenhouse is full of hundreds of little sprouting seedlings and my fruit trees are swathed in glorious pink and white blossoms that hold out the hope of a harvest far off in the future. There is a jubilant feeling of hope and promise in the air. Spring has begun and the new growing season has commenced. Green fingers that spent the last few months itching for things to do can now be released to grow the makings of a bountiful harvest.
September/October are historically known as the hungry months, as the winter crops come to an end and the spring garden is still getting going, but there are a couple of incredible edibles that can be harvested now.
One of the very first vegetables to emerge from the ground in spring is the asparagus. This exquisitely delicious vegetable is the reward for the patience that goes into growing it and only those that grow it know the pleasure of eating it freshly picked.
Place the water on to boil and set a steamer on top. Once the water is at a rolling boil, go out into the garden and harvest the asparagus. Run back to the kitchen as fast you can and pop them in the steamer until just tender.
Harvest asparagus every day, through until Christmas, then leave to grow until mid-winter so the plant can recuperate from providing abundantly all through spring.
Make some finger sandwiches by spreading some mustard on white sliced bread, top with shaved asparagus (use a peeler to shave down the length of the asparagus, discarding woody ends) then another slice of bread. Spread over some boiled egg (mashed with a little cream, chives and lemon zest), top with a final slice of bread. Cut the crusts off and cut into 3 fingers. Here's the full recipe.
Another luxury crop that grows abundantly in the spring is the globe artichoke which is often used as a special occasion vegetable and overlooked as something to eat on a more regular basis. Artichokes are a very easy, low-maintenance and strikingly architectural plant to grow. It comes back year after year and produces an abundant crop that will have you seeking out all the great ways to eat them.
Preparing artichokes can be a lot of work, but is it well worth the effort. Poaching the artichoke slowly with spring herbs in water acidified with lemon juice to prevent it from discolouring transforms this relative of the thistle into something quite delectable.
Plucking off each leaf scale and dipping it in melted butter before sucking off the fleshy base brings new meaning to finger food. If your family begin to complain “oh no, not artichoke again”, like my family do, you can leave the artichoke to bloom — the beautiful, vibrant, purple flower is adored by the bees.
After the heavy comfort food of winter we find ourselves looking for something fresh on the palate. Fennel, with its light aniseed flavour, is just the vegetable for this. Autumn-sown bulbs will be ready to eat now, but those planted now will grow fatter. The key to successful fennel-growing is to make sure the plant stays moist during the growing season.
It is wonderful with fish, or roasted to bring out the sweetness, or sliced thinly and included in a salad. But however you cook it, make sure you thoroughly inspect every nook and cranny, as the slugs like fennel just as much as I do. It is also a great idea to grow an extra plant or two, so you can use the leaves and let them go to seed. The bright yellow pollen is a lovely garnish and the fennel seeds have many great uses in the kitchen.
Make Karena and Kasey Bird’s simple side salad by combining the segments from 2 oranges with 2 finely sliced or shredded fennel bulbs and a few of the small fennel fronds. Drizzle with olive oil (Al Brown’s lemon and fennel-infused olive oil is good here) and toss gently to serve.
Spinach is a great crop to get started in spring, as it is quick to give you a harvest. In as little as seven weeks you can have some green goodness rich in iron and vitamin C. You can pluck the leaves as you need them or treat it as a cut-and-come-again crop. To ensure a constant supply throughout the spring and summer, it is a good idea to sow new seeds every 3-4 weeks.
Spinach has long been known for increasing vitality and energy, due to the high iron content. This is just what you need to get you going as you spend more time outside digging and getting the garden ready for the new season.
Juicing and clean eating are good news for the body and really great news for suppliers of spinach. Spinach sales, according to Nielsen, have grown in value by 37 per cent in the last year, well above the overall salad category growth. LeaderBrand, one of
New Zealand’s largest producers of fresh vegetables, says the value of its own spinach sales has grown even more, by 37.6 per cent. Bevan Roach, LeaderBrand’s marketing manager, says juicing has probably played a part in sales of spinach increasing in the last few years, along with an awareness of superfoods. He adds that the recent surge in the profile of kale has also given all dark green, leafy vegetables a boost.
Spinach is high in antioxidants, vitamins A and K, folate, iron and fibre. It packs an early morning punch in Aaron Brunet’s Get-up-and-go green smoothie and is downright delicious.
Sarah O’Neil, hubby the Un-Gardener and their two boys have planted a large garden as part of their journey to discover “the good life”. Visit sarahthegardener.co.nz for more.