Food & Wine

Notes from the Kitchen Garden: silverbeet, spinach and what to do with your green tomatoes

Bronwyn Richards and Helen Lynch5 April 2021
Leafy greens

Leafy greens can be established now for winter harvest. Photo: Supplied.

The autumn season is continuing to be wet and cool following a summer that was also wet and cool.

This means many of our favourite summer vegetables are taking their time to ripen.

This is particularly the case for tomatoes. Certainly, vine ripened tomatoes taste the best but the weather this summer and the cool, wet start to autumn most likely means that we will not be enjoying many of our tomatoes ripened on the vine.

It is possible, however, to ripen tomatoes off the vine. Temperature is the important factor – the warmer a tomato fruit is the quicker it will ripen.

The most common method is to hang the whole plant upside down some where the temperature will remain fairly stable between 15°- 21° and ripening will take about 2 to 3 weeks.

Lower temperatures will slow down the process and temperatures below 10° will yield poor results.

Otherwise there is always green tomato chutney and the classic from the southern states of America – fried green tomatoes, sliced and coated with cornmeal.

Given that we have a glut of green tomatoes we have been searching for interesting recipes and came across green tomato soup with smoked ham. Truly a wonderful soup and a new favourite.

While our summer tomatoes may not have been the best crop we have had there are still many wonderful vegetables that can be planted in the autumn garden.

This time of the year is the best time to plant spinach.

Spinach, silverbeet or chard? Is there a difference? There is always some confusion.

Spinach or silverbeet is often used as a generic term for leafy green vegetables.

Whether you use the generic term silverbeet or spinach tends to be pre-determined by the state you grew up in – particularly if you are over 40.

This generic naming is not as common as it once was, but does still occur.

Yes there is a difference.

Silverbeet and chard are one and the same vegetable. The word chard is originally of French origin, while silverbeet reflects the plant family’s close association with beetroot and sugar beet (sea beet) from the coastal regions of the Mediteranean.

Spinach, however, has a very different origin in the cool high altitude regions of Nepal and China.

Silverbeet and spinach require slightly different growing conditions.

Silverbeet, can be sown and grown during most times of the year in temperate parts of Australia.

In our cooler areas it is generally sown from spring to autumn, being somewhat more heat tolerant than frost tolerant.

Silverbeet can struggle in our long frost season and growth can be stunted and the stalks damaged. To keep your silverbeet producing over winter you need a nice sheltered spot and for the plant to have reached maturity before late autumn.

Spinach on the other hand is far more cold tolerant than silverbeet requiring a cool soil for seed germination.

It is a winter vegetable usually planted in late autumn and winter and in very cold areas like ours, can also be planted in early spring.

Spinach generally has a far shorter picking season than silverbeet.Both silverbeet and spinach require a rich well-drained soil high in phosphorus, nitrogen and potassium and of course plenty of compost.

The most common varieties of spinach grown are Bloomsdale and Winter Giant, and the most common variety of silverbeet is Fordhook Giant.

What else can be planted now?

  • Autumn is a great time to fill the garden with garlic (from the Turban group), brassicas, and root vegetables and all these things grow well together.
  • It is best to plant brassicas in the garden as seedlings at this time of year including cauliflower, broccoli or broccolini; cabbage, Asians greens – Wombok, any of the chois; and Japanese greens such as mizuna, mibuna.
  • Root vegetables that can be planted out as seeds include European turnips, Asian turnips, swede, carrot and parsnip. Beetroot can be planted out as seedlings too right now.

Happy planting and harvesting!

Bronwyn Richards and Helen Lynch run Wynlen House Artisan Village Farm and Learning Centre, a small village organic market garden in Braidwood, NSW. They grow and sell fresh vegetables, eggs, preserves and garlic since 2006, and teach others to do the same. www.wynlenhouse.com.au

Original Article published by Bronwyn Richards on The RiotACT.

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