Overwintered turnips are now sprouting spring greens. (Mary Lowther photo)

Mary Lowther column: Slugs, growing out seed, and tasty garden greens

How can one think of love when the forces of evil are coming for your crop?

By Mary Lowther

In spring, the poet says, “a young man’s fancy turns to thoughts of love.” Tennyson was obviously not into horticulture, for when spring arrives my thoughts turn to gastropods, and not in a kind way.

How can one think of love when the forces of evil are coming for your crop? Even in the subtropics of Victoria I have seen slugs reduce a bed of overwintering kale to skeletons. David, who hasnae a drop of guid Scots bluid, came close to tears when he laughed that the poor things must have been starving to eat “that stuff.”

Next he’ll be laughing at the haggis.

The slugs were more likely early risers. Colder winters like ours slow slugs down so when spring FINALLY arrives, kale and other early greens have a head start on the coming gastropodal apocalypse. David thinks slugs have evolved to naturally select those preferring to hibernate until the strawberries arrive. I only put up with his heresies because he promotes his theories while working.

Whatever the cause, late hibernation habits create a window of opportunity to enjoy the fresh new spring growth before we dig out overwintering biennials. I leave the best few plants alone for seed saving and harvest leaves from the rest.

Right now I have overwintered turnip greens, parsley, green onions, kale, carrots and garlic shoots vying for attention and fertilizer. Their roots will have held onto some nutrients, but they benefit from a boost. I sprinkle Solomon’s organic fertilizer in a two inch swath about an eighth of an inch deep along both sides of the rows and scratch this into the soil.

We can eat carrot greens, but if we dig up all but the ones we’re saving for seed we might be able to harvest the roots too before they become woody. Dig up the best carrots and turnips for seed, keeping the root ball intact and move them to a seed saving bed that you never water.

I dug up what was left of my leeks last week, carefully re-planting two that I’ll save for seed. I don’t save everything every year, so this bed is only 10 feet long by one and a half feet wide. In fact, we shouldn’t save seed from different species of brassicas like cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli grown near each other because they can cross pollinate; it’s best to grow out only one type each year. Keep notes.

Use the garlic you grow for shoots for that alone, because garlic needs nourishment from their leaves to develop good bulbs. If you want garlic for bulbs you must grow enough for both.

Be warned: Queen Anne’s Lace can cross pollinate with carrots, so unless you prefer your carrots stringy and tough, pull out any Queen Anne’s Lace in the nearby neighbourhood.

Here’s a good recipe for turnip greens, or any greens, for that matter. Even David eats it, although not without a little ritual grumbling for form’s sake. Turnip greens are packed with antioxidants and minerals.

Spicy Turnip Greens with Pear

3 cups loosely packed, chopped turnip greens

1 strip bacon, chopped

1 apple or pear, cored, sliced thinly

1 T. vinegar or lemon juice

½ T. mustard

1/8 tsp. ground black pepper

pinch salt

pinch nutmeg

Directions: Saute bacon in a skillet until cooked, then remove and set aside. Add slices of fruit and saute in bacon fat until softened. Add vinegar and mustard, simmer and cook until mostly evaporated. Return bacon to skillet along with the greens, pepper, salt and nutmeg. Cover and cook over medium heat for about 2 minutes, until greens are wilted. Stir well and serve. Don’t tell David it’s good for him.

Events:

Horticultural Centre of the Pacific, 505 Quayle Road, Saanich,

1. Plant sale, April 27 and 28 from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Most plants were grown on site. Master gardeners available for questions. Free.

2. Open house on Monday, April 22 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Meet with earth-minded community groups and master gardeners. Free.

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