Friday, November 20, 2015

Good crops, bad crops

Of course everyone who has ever watched a detective show on TV knows about "good cop bad cop", where one detective is nasty to the suspect (ie, the bad cop) while the other one (the good cop) offers the "perp" a drink and a kind word, in the hope that the suspect spills the beans to the nice detective before the bad one gets seriously upset and starts turning off the tape recorder and throwing chairs around the interview room.

What's this got to do with growing vegetables, you ask? Well, I suspect my vegetables are trying to work me over. My potatoes are my bad cop, my spinach is the nice guy. I think they want me to grow fewer potatoes and more spinach, but my mind doesn't work that way. I like eating both of them, so I am going to continue growing both of them, despite my dud crop of spuds trying to play the bad crop.

What do I mean by "dud crop of spuds?" Well, this is all of them. Not even one colander full. I was rather hoping for a few kilograms, and all I ended up with is far too many one-inch tiddler mini spuds and only a dozen or so "proper-sized" Kind Edward potatoes. Here's what happened ...

Back in mid-October, the potato plants started to do their usual thing of looking ugly. That's OK, potato crops do that. The foliage is meant to slowly die off while, underground, countless dozens of little spudettes turn into enormous great big spuds.

A month later, by mid-November, the plants looked like they'd done their dash, and so I harvested the lot ...

... and couldn't even fill one lousy colander. It's not as if this is my first go at growing spuds. I've done it a few times before, sometimes growing them in the ground and other times in bags. And I grew them this time using the same methods as before. Of course I could turn around and blame my seed potato supplier, but that would be churlish (however, I have resolved not to order from that same supplier next year, just as a precaution). Never fear though, this potato-loving boy will be back next season, hoping for a better result.

Meanwhile, in the very same patch of ground, and right next door to the dud spuds, my long-lasting crop of perpetual spinach had reached peak abundance, so I harvested the lot before our forecast scorching hot 41°C Friday hits us.

Ever the experimenter, several months ago I spotted a red-stemmed variety of perpetual spinach in amongst the more regular green types at the local nursery, so I have given that a try. Perpetual spinach isn't English spinach, and it isn't silver beet, and it isn't ruby chard. It's a close relative of all these, but it has the lovely quality of simply lasting a long time in the ground.

When the leaves are young and small we pick them as colourful little extras in a leafy green salad. Later on, once the number of leaves gets ahead of us and they mature into bigger leaves, we've been picking several at a time for cooking as a spinach side dish. (My favourite is to simply stir-fry it, along with currants (or sultanas) and pine nuts.)

The flavour is closer to English spinach than the more pungent silver beet/chard, but the main benefit of this is the way it lasts and lasts through all the winter months and spring. Once summer's heat comes along it's a goner, bolting to seed, but I've given up growing short-lived English spinach and rely instead on this. I'm not sure of its botanical name, but it's sold in nurseries around here as perpetual spinach, so give it a try once the worst of summer has passed.

And so, even if my vegie patch wants me to grow more spinach, I'm not taking the bait. Next year I will spud-up again, and there'll be trouble if there ain't a bumper crop!


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