December at Plot 4

It’s getting colder now and most days when I visit the plot after the school run I’m greeted with a delicate frosty blanket on the sage bush near the gate. It’s definitely winter and the log burner in the shed is coming into its own, proving a great place to go and warm up or dry off if the weather deteriorates. Despite this there are many things I want or need to do this month.

The shed itself needs a little more work on it, with a combination of bubble wrap and the leftover insulation from my brother’s extension. The plan is to cut the sheets to size, fitting them between the uprights of the shed. The bubble wrap I’ve got insulating the wall at present will be repurposed in the greenhouse; allowing us to continue to grow throughout the colder months.

There is still a bit of harvesting to be done with the last of the Cime di Rapa, as well as Cavalo Nero and the broccoli to pick. I’ll also be giving the brassicas a bit of a helping hand through winter; removing any yellowing leaves which may harbour disease, as well as firming the soil around the roots to give them a secure base. The winter digging will of course continue, with more manure and last years compost to add to the soil as space becomes available.

Winter is also the time when we should look after the birds that visit the allotment; so I plan to increase the number of feeders, including some for the ground feeders like Robins. I’m also planning to put up a new bird box to encourage nesting next summer. I’ve just got to source some wood which hasn’t been earmarked for the log burner!

Cime di Rapa

My wife and I really like Purple Sprouting Broccoli and grow it at the allotment. However, we can’t grow it all year round and refuse to pay for the imported crops out of season. Earlier in the year I discovered an alternative – Cime di Rapa. This is basically a variety of broccoli (despite the name referring to turnips) and although not known in this country is widely grown and eaten in Italy. One of the key advantages if this brassica is its speed of growth – different varieties range from 30-90 days from seed to harvest. The fantastic Franchi Seeds sell a number of varieties (I grew Cime di Rapa Quarantina, a 40 days variety).

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I sowed the seeds with 10cm gaps between each station (sowing a few seeds at each stop). Once sowed Cime di Rapa does pretty well left to its own devices. I’ve thinned some of the rows to get larger plants; but as the leaves alone can be eaten as greens, this is not necessarily needed. When the plants are at a reasonable size the flower heads can be picked and used as you would Purple Sprouting Broccoli. In Italy, it’s often eaten a part of a pasta dish, Orecchiette con Cime di Rapa is one of Puglia’s signature dishes.

I’ve used the Cime di Rapa as an accompaniment to Pork Chops stuffed with sage and bacon. The greens were treated very simply; steamed, then tossed in garlic infused olive oil and finished off with a squeeze of lemon juice. The slightly bitter flavours contrasting brilliantly with the sweet pork meat. The wilted greens also make a great bruschetta topping.

Writing this post has reminded me – I’m off to the plot in a moment to sow some more Cime di Rapa.