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A taste of the orient

Checking out the price of bags of oriental greens at the supermarket is enough to make most gardeners want to grow their own.

You can pay pounds for bags of mixed greens which add flavour to tangy salads and quick stir-fries, but all too often you don't use the whole bag in one sitting, so the rest is left hanging around in the fridge until it turns into an inedible green soggy mass.

It would be so much easier to pick the leaves you need straight from your garden, so there's less waste and guaranteed freshness.

With this in mind, Which? Gardening, the Consumers' Association magazine, tested 14 types of oriental veg to see how well they can grow either in your vegetable patch or in containers on the patio.

Researchers grew eight leafy vegetables in 30cm containers filled with peat-free compost. One pot of each was treated as a cut-and-come-again crop, while a second pot was left to produce larger plants. All were sown three times - in late March, late May and late July. Slower growing veg were grown in the ground.

Cut-and-come-again crops which were trialled included mizuna, mustard greens and amaranth, while other popular veg included pak choi, Chinese cabbage and giant radishes.

Among the easiest and quickest was mizuna, which can be added to salads and stir fries and is best grown on its own as it can outgrow and swamp most other salad plants. As a baby leaf it produced 300g per pot from a March sowing from the first cut and 185g from the second cut. Summer sowings proved less prolific and the young plants were damaged by flea beetles.

The tests found pak choi, which is delicious lightly steamed and served with garlic and oyster sauce, is easy to grow from seed although it's slower than other oriental greens. The best results were seen from the early sowing but later batches were also successful so it's worth planting throughout the summer, although not just after midsummer when it will bolt.

Chinese cabbage is best allowed to grow into a mature plant so it was grown in the ground. It was sown into small pots in mid-June and planted out in July - don't sow any earlier or it will bolt - and forms a dense heart like an iceberg lettuce. You'll need to cover it in fine netting to keep caterpillars at bay and it may be susceptible to mildew and mealy aphid, although the outer leaves can be thrown away. In the tests, when harvested, each head weighed just over 100g.

Mustard greens, which have a strong, peppery flavour, are also best used as a cut-and-come-again crop to perk up salads. The most successful sowing in the trial was the earliest sowing of the large-leaved 'Red Giant', as later sowings suffered from flea beetle damage. Other types worth trying are 'Golden Streaks' and 'Green Frills'.

Amaranth, which if allowed to grow larger can be cooked like spinach, did better from later sowings, producing plants up to 25cm tall which didn't attract flea beetles and was less prone to bolting. It can also be used as a cut-and-come-again crop to add to baby leaf salads.

Among the most impressive-looking vegetables were mooli and beauty heart radishes. Mooli was sown in mid-July, thinned to 30cm apart and by late August they had produced massive white roots weighing up to 750g each and are ideally used grated in salads. Beauty heart produced large round roots with brightly coloured centres, sown similarly to mooli. Researchers found that the quality was variable and concluded that this type of radish needs a long, warm summer.

Most of the veg tested are members of the cabbage family, suffering from the same pests, so you have to be vigilant against slugs and snails, flea beetles, cabbage white caterpillars and mealy aphids.

:: The full report of the trial can be found in the July/August edition of Which? Gardening. For a free copy of Grow Your Own Veg from Which? Gardening, call 0800 389 8855 and quote VEG106F.

BEST OF THE BUNCH - Achillea

These pretty, fragile-looking perennials fit in many garden settings. Their wispy, feathery green leaves make an attractive foil for other border plants, while their flat, plate-like flower clusters come in a vast array of colours from whites and creams, to yellows, pinks and crimsons. Most achilleas are drought-tolerant, preferring a sunny spot, and will flower from May to August. Some of the taller varieties need staking and can be invasive, so check with your garden centre or nursery before buying. Good varieties include 'Moonshine', with its sulphur-yellow flowers and grey-green foliage. It combines well with blue flowers like those of delphiniums or salvia x superba. Later-flowering varieties include A. ageratum 'W.B. Childs', with white flowers, while 'Coronation Gold', a yellow type, grows to 90cm (36in) tall and may need staking in exposed borders.

Achilleas should be lifted and divided every three years or so, in autumn or spring. Cut back tatty foliage in March to encourage new shoots.

GOOD ENOUGH TO EAT - Cherries

Cherries are the taste of British summer time, with varieties such as 'Roundel Heart', 'Polstead Black' or 'Early Birchenhayes' giving fans a sweet sensation.

Native cherries were part of our prehistoric ancestor's diet but the Romans probably introduced some of the first cultivars. There are two main groups for eating - the 'sweet', dessert types (Prunus avium) to eat off the tree and the 'sour' types (Prunus cerasus) used in cooking.

While cherry trees were massive and would have taken over the garden, today you can buy self-fertile smaller varieties, - some of which only grow to around 1.8m (6ft) tall -that can be grown as upright cordons in a smaller garden.

Cherries need to be placed in a sunny, sheltered spot in well-drained, slightly alkaline soil. Newly-planted trees should be kept well watered while they are starting to establish and in spring they should be mulched with plenty of organic matter. They should start fruiting within the first two years of planting, although the trees will need netting to protect the fruit from birds. Good varieties include 'Stella', which ripens in mid-July, and 'Sunburst', which bears sweet black cherries in July.

THREE WAYS TO... Speed up your composting

1. Chop or shred really tough stems such as cabbage stalks before adding them.

2. Turn the heap over occasionally with a digging fork.

3. Keep a lid on the compost heap, such as a piece of old carpet, to keep the heat in.

WHAT TO DO THIS WEEK

:: Water hanging baskets twice a day in hot weather. Once early morning and once in the evening, when the sun has gone down.

:: Deadhead your container plants regularly to encourage further flowering and feed annuals and tender perennials regularly.

:: Cut everlasting flowers such as statice and gypsophila and hang them upside down in a cool, well-ventilated place like a shed for drying.

:: Save seeds of alpines, perennials and hardy cyclamen as they are about to ripen, for sowing later.

:: Resist watering the lawn if you can bear it - it may go the colour of straw but it will recover.

:: Clip privet and other fast-growing hedges.

:: Prune old-fashioned roses and climbers after flowering, and when dead-heading don't just snip off the dead flower, follow the stem back for a few centimetres and cut it off just above a healthy leaf.

:: Take clematis cuttings to increase your stock.

:: Cut back lupins and delphiniums to encourage a second flush of flowers.

:: Give early-flowering perennials such as pulmonaria and brunnera a haircut, cutting off the foliage close to the ground.

:: Remove patches of cabbage white butterfly eggs from the undersides of leaves.

:: Thin waterweeds in your pond to provide more oxygen for the fish.

:: If the weather's really hot, add another layer of shading paint to your greenhouse to protect plants.

© Press Association


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