Archive for June, 2012

June 27, 2012

How to make a newspaper plant pot

by Ciaran Burke

One sheet of newspaper, one empty smoothie bottle… easy and quick!

June 26, 2012

Honey Berry, Siberian Blue Berry – Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica

by Ciaran Burke

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – berries in a bowl

This morning before I left to supervise the Royal Horticultural Society examinations taking place in our Galway centre today, I enjoyed a bowl of muesli topped with berries of Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica- it is so uncommon in gardens that there has yet to be a common name adopted for it; honey berry, blue honeysuckle and siberian blueberry.

Whatever you wish to call it, this is a berried plant to get excited about. The fruits have a taste similar to blueberries and are packed with Vitamin C, and unlike blue berries it will grow in alkaline soils! ANother great feature of this shrub is that the fruits ripen very early in the year, before such fruit bushes as black currants.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

Home for Lonicera caerulea var. kamtschatica is Kamtschatka Penninsula in north east Siberia. The plant can survie minus 40 Celcius and the flowers which are borne in Spring will tolerate frosty conditions as cold as minus 8 Celcius.

I first came across the plant in Finland, or rather in a book written by a Finn, Lief Blomqvist. In his book Puutarhan marjat (Garden Berries) he inspires me with his amazing range of edible berries which they grow in Finland. The book is written in Finnish, my wife Hanna translates for me. He also runs a nursery north of Vaasa, which apart from stocking perennials and shrubs, stocks old, rare and winter hardy (in mid-Finland) apple varieties and unusual fruit and berrying plants. We visited his nursery last summer and were amazed by the range of plants on offer, especially the fruits.

Each summer when we return from Finland, we do so with a few plants in our suitcases, we usually have to post home dirty laundry! The first time our luggage contained two sea buckthorns, Hippophae rhamnoides, ‘Rudolf” and ‘Raisa’, male and female. Despite being stripped of their rootball clothing of potting compost they established well and last summer after three years, we enjoyed out first crop of berries.

Varieties of  mock orange Philadelphus ‘Erectus’, sand cherry, Prunus pumila and of course Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica have been among the many to make the southern journey in August every year since. The Lonicera has started to fruit well this year. It produces fruits about 1cm long hidden amongst the foliage. The fruit ripen early, before any of the other bush fruit and the taste similar to blueberries.

The plants grow about the same size as black currants, about 1.5m and live for about 30 years, although it is said that their peak production is on plants that are between 7 and 15 years old. Cross pollination between two cultivars, like blueberries, provides larger crops. Unlike blueberries, this relative of the honeysuckle does not require acid soil conditions. They grow best in a sunny position and any soil that is not very wet.

Apart from their excellent flavour, the fact that they fruit early is a hugely positive characteristic, they fruit at the same time as strawberries, before currants and gooseberries. We have one plant without a cultivar name with hairy foliage, the first that we purchased. The following year we got L. caerulea var. kamtschatica ‘Duet’. L.’ Duet’ has not fruited well as yet, there was an issue about weed competition, but the other unnamed plant has fruited quite well. The latest addition is L.’Gerda’ which is said to have really big fruits, we wait patiently for its large sized bounty next year. About five weeks ago I took some cuttings of a plant from my mothers garden, an un-named cultivar and they have rooted well.

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – fruit on bush

The flowers are small, borne in pairs in the leaf axils and are in bloom very early in the year. Although cross pollination is said to produce better crops, our plants are flowering at different times, perhaps this is the reason that ‘Duet’ is not producing well. Next year with L. ‘Gerda’ for company and plants raised from cuttings we should have the flowering seasons well covered and we can look forward to bumper crops…maybe enough for jam, honey berry jam, sounds nice!

Lonicera caerulea var. kamstchatica – mashed and sugared , a fresh jam on home made bread – delicious!

June 26, 2012

Nasturtium Oatotto (risotto made from oats) -Recipe

by Ciaran Burke

“Oatotto” – low food miles version of Risotto

Nasturtium Oatotto with strip loin steak

This is a low food mile version of Risotto using nasturtium leaves. We replace the arborio rice which is used for risotto with pinhead oats, this reduces our food miles. We can’t call it risotto if we don’t use rice so we call it Oatotto! This is something we have been experimenting with recently and we love it. Rice cannot be grown in Ireland but oats are. Pinhead oats are not as common as oat flakes but are available from health stores. As with risotto, the possibilities are endless…

Pinhead oats are also called steel cut oats in the United States, they are whole grain oats, the inner kernel of the oat that has been cut into pieces. Apparently they also known as Irish oats, but they are relatively uncommon in Ireland, perhaps they are more widely used in Northern Ireland as they are in Scotland. Pinhead oats have a slightly nuttier flavour than oat flakes, they are high in fibre and contain iron.

Pinhead oats can be used for porridge producing a coarser texture, they do, however, take longer to cook, as much as 35 minutes, making them ideal for “Oatotto”  I think they could be more widely used in cooking…

Nasturtium Oatotto Recipe


  • I cup of pinhead oats
  • 2 cups of chicken stock
  • 1 red onion –finely chopped
  • 1 clove of garlic crushed
  • 20 Nasturtium leaves – chopped
  • ½ cup of finely grated Mature white cheddar cheese
  • Oil for frying

Tropaeolum majus -Nasturtium foliage and flowers (orange)


  1. Saute the onions in oil until soft, then add the garlic and cook for a few minutes more.
  2. Stir in the oats and cook them for a few minutes
  3. Add the chicken stock, do not stir continuously, if you do the oats will turn into a porridge. Instead move them around occasionally to stop them burning.
  4. Continue cooking until the stock in mostly absorbed, 20-30 minutes. They should be soft but with a little bite, al dente!
  5. Then add the nasturtium leaves and cook for a few minutes.
  6. Remove pan from the heat and stir in the cheese.
  7. Serve garnished with a nasturtium flower.

Serve with fresh garden salad or for carnivores, a nice organic striploin steak.

Tropaeolum majus -Nasturtium – flowers and foliage are edible and both have a nice peppery flavour!

June 24, 2012

Growing A Stir-fry part 2 – Chop Suey Greens

by Ciaran Burke

Chop suey greens

Chop suey greens are sometimes called chrysanthemum greens. They have a nice aromatic flavour, the leaves can be eaten raw or cooked. The young stems and leaves are great in a stir fry.

Chop suey greens are types of Chrysanthemums, botanists have done a bit of chopping and slicing of the Chrysanthemum genus and the chop suey greens are now classified as Xanthophthalmum coronarium, quite a mouthful! They are quite hardy annuals that can with stand frosts and tolerate low light levels in winter and grow best in cool conditions. They can be grown in tunnel in winter and are also suitable for containers  They will grow about 15cm high and wide in their leafy stage and attain 60cm in height when flowering. The flowers are yellow, daisy-like and quite pretty. it could be grown as much for its flowers as for its aromatic flavoured stems.

Growing Chop Suey Greens

Site and Soil type

Easy to accomodate as they will grow in most soil types, their growth will be more vigorous and lush in soil with higher fetiltiy. they grow well in full sun but will tolerate some degree of shade.

Sowing and growing

First sowing for very early crops can be made undercover and grown on in tunnel. As soon as oil warms up in Spring and the soil is workable sow outside, in mid March in our garden.

Autumn crops can be sown towards the end of summer and winter crops can be grown in tunnel if sown in autumn.

The seed is small so do not cover thickly or sow in shallow drills outdoors. You can start early crops in trays or module for transplanting later. For direct sown crops in drills thin the seedlings 10-13cm (4-5in) apart and transplant plants from trays at the same distance.


The first harvests can be made after 4-5 weeks when shoots are 5-10cm (2-4in) high, young leaves and shoots are more tender. You can treat them as Cut and Come Again and plants will re-sprout after cutting. We use not onluy the leaves but the young stems too. Leaves can be used raw but stems are better cooked. Over cooked leaves have a tendency to become bitter.

Leaves wilt rapidly after harvest to use immediately.

Flower of chop-suey greens- Xanthophthalmum coronarium

Do not let the plants go to flower, unless you want to use them as ornamentals or to collect seed for the next year Plants left to flower will often self-seed in their plot. To prevent flowering chop back plants when they start to become woody and the plants will often regenerate.

June 23, 2012

Growing a stir fry- Pak-choi

by Ciaran Burke

Pak-choi stems

Quick, easy, healthy and tasty, stir frying retains the goodness of your freshly harvested vegetables and with the addition of chili, garlic and spices you have a quickly prepared and flavoursome meal. This year in the garden we have grown pak-choi. It is a cabbage relative, Brassica rapa Chinensis Group with distinct wide white midribs which widen towards the base to give the plant a wide rounded bottom. The stalks and leaves are both used. They are easily grown and can be eaten raw or cooked.

Pak-choi stems

Growing Pak Choi

Soil type and situation

Fertile moisture retentive soil in an open sunny situation. As with all brassica family crops they dislike acid soil conditions so lime the soil to achieve a pH of 6.5.

Sowing and growing

Sow directly into soil. Early crops tend to bolt and bolting often happens if pants dry out. We often sow in modules or seed trays in the tunnel  and transplant into outdoor beds without any problems. Pak-choi can be used as cut and come again crops where you cut the leaves away as you need them or you can allow them to form heads.

BOLTING: this is where  vegetables produce flowers prematurely and go to seed before forming heads or completing their vegetative growth phase. It is often caused by dry conditions, sowing too early in the year or by transplanting of certain types.

Pak-choi can be sown repeatedly throughout the summer to ensure a supply. last sowings can be made outdoors about 6 weeks before the last frost.

Space plants about 15cm apart. When sowing in rows you will need to thin seedlings. Thinned seedlings can be used in salads.


Pak-choi can be used at any stage, seedling leaves mature heads or even flowering stems.

When using the leaves only treat as a Cut and Come Again (CCA). Cut leaves when they are between 4-13cm high, often first cut can be made within 3 weeks of sowing. CCA treated plants can remain productive over many weeks or even months, especially when grown in tunnels.

For heads they can take at least 6 weeks depending on the season. Cut across the base of the plant and they often re-shoot, otherwise you can pull up the whole plant.

When cooking, trim off the leaves from the wide midrib. Cook the midribs first then add the leaves at the end as the leaves cook very quickly.

Pak-choi leaves

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