Chinese Amaranth 苋菜(小米菜)

I’ve seen Amaranth growing in gardens in my neighbourhood as ornamental plants. They reminded me of my childhood years when we had Chinese amaranth as vegetables stir-fried or worked in salads. They were very popular edible summer vegetables. My mother used to blanch amaranth in fast-boiling water first; drain them afterwards and put them into a dish; she then dressed the blanched amaranth leaves (stems) with a hot sauce made from soy sauce, sesame oil and a locally made chilli paste. Heaven!
I enjoyed the flavour of the amaranth very much, but hated the red-coloured soup. My mother sometimes stir-fried the tender shoots with some fresh ginger and some garlic. Back then, there were two types of amaranths on the market: we called them white amaranth (white stems, green leaves) and red amaranth (actually purple-green-coloured leaves). My mother ended up buying always the red ones. She must have found the coloured one pleasing her eyes.

Chinese Amaranth, also known as ‘Chinese spinach’, grows very well in warm regions; but they do perfectly well here, as proven this year in my vegetable garden. Sow them only when the temperature gets warmer, I did it this year in May; broadcasting the seeds directly in the pre-prepared raised bed, not too deep as the seeds were quite small. They were really fast-growing veggies once germinated. I started to pinch out the main stems when the plants were about 10cm tall (the pinched-outs were stir-fried, of course). They began to develop side shoots. Harvest when the shoots are still tender, this can mean picking weekly in the summer. Repeat this pinch-and grow process until late summer when tiny pink colour began to appear on the tip of the shoots. I then stopped harvesting just to allow the plants set seeds.
The dark purple flower heads hanging down above the yellowish green leaves are an eye-catching feature in any autumn vegetable garden.

I regard this a valuable leafy vegetable for my family in the summer months when I normally have only fruit bearing crops to harvest at this time of the year (beans, tomatoes, chillies, courgettes etc.); moreover, unlike some oriental veggies such as Pak Choi, when stir-fried, they tend to release some juice in the wok, resulting in ‘cooking’ the veggie rather than ‘stir-frying’ it; amaranth has this ‘dry’ character that when stir-fried, they tend to absorb the juice or the flavour of other ingredients in the wok, giving the veggie stronger flavour, which is exactly what stir-fry all about.


Pumpkins 南瓜

I sowed 2 varieties this May:
1) ‘Uchiki Kuri’ from SomElite seeds. This Japanese variety should produce relatively smaller fruits with golden orange flesh, sweet chestnut-like flavour. I find this plant rather vigorous.
By the time each plant produced 4-5 fruits, I snatched off the growing tip of the plants to allow energy going to the remaining fruits. The very wet and mild summer might be the cause of so moderate harvest now in September, with an average of 3 fruits per plant; but the sweet and tender taste of the pumpkin is beyond words. I baked them in the oven (skin on), made soup from them. They are simply delicious! It definitely is worth planting a few of this variety next year.

2) The second variety is from China, seeds given by my mother. Funny thing is: she could tell me no more than ‘these are pumpkin seeds’. There was no better way to find out than just sow them, wait and see. This pumpkin is relatively vigorous, but set fruit rather early; they are green in colour, oval in shape, the size and shape of an American football.
By end August, the fruit was completely ripe, and the skin turned slightly golden. I couldn’t wait cutting it open and taste. The taste is not significant, a bit sweet, but very watery, ok for in the soup, but not suitable for pumpkin cake or mashes. I might consider growing it next year though, for their seeds! These are fat, big seeds that come off the flesh very easily. I have roasted some in the oven. Jammy!


Sunflowers and Sunflower Seeds 向日葵 / 葵花籽

I love sunflowers; they bring smiles to my face. I also love roasted sunflower seeds. Because of their decorative and culinary characters, sunflowers have always earned a place in my garden every year.

This year, I sowed two varieties directly in the ground in May: one with white seeds (variety name not noted, seeds brought home by my daughter from school) and the other one with black seeds (seeds from China). Both are supposed to produce tall plants with giant seed heads. I had grown the white one last year with success. This is an amazing variety with either huge seed heads 30 cm in diameter with big, full white seeds; or produces lots of side shoots with pure yellow flowers.
One of the plants produced more than 36 side shoots last year, an absolute record in my sunflower growing history! The black one is new to me. Both varieties turned out to be really fast growers. By mid July, they had grown to their full size of 2.5-3 m tall; producing bunches of side shoots with beautiful flowers. I thinned some side shoots out (flowers in the vase of course), hoping to get bigger single seed heads. It didn’t help much, the heads remained small, the size of only a football or smaller. There were a few exceptions though for both the white and the black varieties, those produced giant seed heads the size bigger than a basketball with big seeds. Some of them have been harvested last weekend:

As far as the flowers are concerned, I consider it a successful year. The glorious blushes of bright yellow flowers on the plants and their side shoots brightened this year’s already gloomy and cloudy summer days up for a very long time. But on the seed side of the story, it’s of a disappointment really. I blame mainly the constant rainy weather and cooler temperature this year for their poor performance, and hope that they would amaze me the way the white one did last year if we are to be blessed with drier and sunnier days next summer.


Success with Coriander 香菜

Coriander is my favourite herb, yet I’d never had luck growing them well in my own garden; with the 2 varieties of seeds I bought from a garden Centrum, they either produce little leaves or set seeds too quickly.

This June, I obtained some seeds from a friend of mine who received his seeds from China. I want to do everything correct this time with these seeds. I first went online to search for tips on how to grow corianders successfully. To grow them well, I need: well-drained humus soil, a sunny and open site (a friend told me, she grew them in the shade with success), and (during the growing season) moist soil but not over water the plants. Armed with the info, I set myself out to work. I started off by building myself a raised bed with timber. The raised bed was 120 cm /70 cm / 15 cm in size. I then filled the raised bed with 2 parts of garden ground, 1 part of garden compost and 1 part of all-purpose potting compost. I sowed the seeds in drills on the 30th of June. The seeds germinated 10 days later. From then on, I kept the soil moist, this was not difficult to do since July was a wet month, and I had to water the seedlings occasionally. By the 27th of July, the seedlings had grown into 15 cm tall plants. From the 2nd of August on, I was able to harvest lots of green shoots daily to use in the kitchen.

I had never in my wildest dreams expected my corianders to be this abundant! They were strong, they were leafy, they did not bolt at all, and they were just gorgeous. I kept picking, giving them away to friends; we even made dumplings with corianders. I’m so very grateful of the friend who made my coriander dream come true by giving me the wonderful seeds. I could not hide my happiness. I did it this time!

Lessons learnt: sow them in successions every 2 to 3 weeks to ensure longer harvesting.


Chillies and Peppers 辣椒 / 柿子椒

This is my first time growing chillies! Not because I planned to, I was given some seedlings early in the spring by my neighbour’s dad. Having thought that chillies were grown in greenhouses in our region,
I had never thought of growing them by my own in the open. “I will give it a go”, I thought. After preparing the soil with manure and compost in late May, I planted the seedlings in the full ground and forgot about them all over until one day in July when I walked by, I noticed long, thin green chillies all over the then bushy plants. What a delight to see! I started picking the tender ones for stir-fry from early July onwards, they tasted super. By beginning of August, from the 5 plants I had, I'd picked 5 times, each time at least 15-20 fruits. The riper ones became hotter so I left them on the plant to grow on. Some of them are already ripe, they look now like this:

One-way my mother always does with red chillies: tie them up and hang them dry, which was exactly what I did with my harvest yesterday. They would serve me well the whole winter through in dishes. Other things my mother would do with red chillies include preserving them in jars with salt and spices or making chillies paste.

Despite the mild and rainy summer this year, they turned out to be such easy and fruitful veggie to grow! I would definitely grow them from next year on.

The same goes with sweet peppers. The seedlings came also from my neighbour's dad. It seems that all chillies and peppers are doing very well this year. The sweet pepper plants bear at least 4 fruits each;

each plant produces at least 2 very big fruits and 2-3 smaller ones.
The big ones are bigger in size than the average ones from the supermarkets, but thinner in flesh. The sweet peppers are in 3 colours: red, yellow and green. The yellow ones are sweeter in taste, the other 2 produce healthy and shinny fruits as well, definitely worth saving seeds for next year.