All posts by Mark Abbott-Compton

Growing sweet potatoes in a hot bed

I should start by explaining the term hot bed , this is a specialized growing bed were we try and keep the temperature above 16°C/60°F, this is vitally important as sweet potatoes dont grow below this and prefer 24°C/75°C  to as high as 37°C/100°F for over 100 days so soil heat is the important criteria

That said if you can provide warm soil they are generally have few diseases or pests and are drought tolerant

Soil Requirements For Growing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes do best in well-drained, sandy, and fertile soil with well rotted organic matter incorporated with a pH of  5.5 to 6.5 (slightly acidic) is most favorable. If you can get local ‘Green waste ‘ this normally has perfect PH

How To Build Hot/warm Beds

There are 2 ways that have worked well for me

  1. a raised bed with wooden sides approximately 18inches deep, this was filled with fresh horse manure to the top, walked on to compress it down and the resulting 6inch gap at the top filled with a 50/50 mix of green waste and used grow bags.
  2. The sweet potato slips are planted into this top layer at 18inch spacing
  3. clear plastic top placed onto the the top of the bed this allows light in but traps the heat like a ‘warm’ cold frame or low mini greenhouse


  1. Create a raised bed by double digging incorporating fresh manure into the bottom spit and well rotted compost into the top spit .Rake this level and cover with clear plastic,this is important as the clear plastic allows the sun to heat the bed to the maximum but can incourage weed growth so its best to do this early in the year and then lift the plastic and weed before planting.
  2. Cut  slits every 18 inches down the middle of your prepared rows.
  3. Create a 12-inch diameter shallow depression at each slit.
  4. Plant a slip in each slit. Plant the slip so that 2-4 leaves are still visible above ground.
  5. For the first few weeks the slip will establish roots and it will appear that nothing is happening above ground.
  6. Fill the depression around the plant with sand so that the slit is sealed. Rainfall will now be directed to the base of the plant

Curing Sweet Potatoes

Sweet potatoes need to be cured for 1-2 weeks in order to taste their best. During curing, the starches within the tubor will gradually convert to sugar. Once harvested, washed, and dried, the tubers should be placed in a room with a temperature of 85-90°F/29-32°C

The curing process also help heal any nicks or injuries from harvesting, which will help the tubers store better.



Fresh tomatillo and chilli salsa


Cool Autumn days lend themselves to this  wonderful fresh salsa with the ngredients picked straight from the cool greenhouse

This salsa verde is all about the tanginess of the tomatillos, and the flavours of the chilli and we’re making the roasted version here, which makes the flavors richer and deeper but you can make it without cooking


  • 12 average sized tomatillos –
  • 2hot or 4 medium chilli jalapeno or cherry bomb
  • 2 large garlic cloves
  • Juice from 2 small limes
  • 2-3 tablespoons chopped coriander
  • Salt to taste



  • Cooking Directions
  1. Heat oven to hot
  2. put some oil into palms and coat tomatillos peppers and garlic
  3. Slice tomatillos across and peppers in half lengthwise and place onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Add garlic cloves.
  4. Bake about 20 minutes, or until the tomatillo and pepper skins char nicely. Remove from oven
  5. Allow to cool and remove seeds from chillis then add to food proce
  6. Squeeze garlic from their skins and add to food processor.
  7. Add lime juice,coriander  and salt. Pulse until fairly smooth.
  8. Taste, adjust for salt
  9. Cover and store a few hours for the flavors to develop, but you can serve it right away.

Perennial Kales

When it comes to ease of growing in the vegetable garden one of the things we could all think about planting would be perenial kales .

Perenial Kale as the name suggests are short lived  perennials and  five years would be average before it starts to grow more slowly but as they are easy to take cuttings from there worth considering as more permanent plantings in our vegetable gardens and potagers

They used to be a lot more perennial kales and brassicas but Edwardian seed merchants selected them for biennial flowering  so that they could sell more seeds

The two commonest perennial kales   you are most likely to find are Taunton Deane and Daubentons

The smaller of these is Daubenton rarely growing more than 3 feet high with the spread of about the same so looks like a low growing bush , this habit also helps it to propagate itself as roots will form were side shoots come into contact with the soil .

8 week old cutting

It’s thought to have originated in France and incidentally was named after the great French naturalist Louis-Jean-Marie Daubenton

It grew in his home town of Montbard in the Bourgogne region in eastern France and was described by him in his book, “Instruction pour les bergers et pour les proprietaires de troupeaux” (“Advice to shepherds and owners of flocks”

Daubenton is also the  same naturalist for whom the Daubentons  bat is named, this is the one you have probably seen feeding over a pond as they  specalise in catching insects above water

Daubentons kales although smaller will grow for years and years and there are reports of some being decades old.

Variegated Daubenton in French Potager

If you’re growing in a potager or mixed flower/vegetable border   there is an  even rarer but equally tasty varigated Daubentons kale with a delicate pale edge with can look very effective in a mixed planting, it is suppost to have a better taste than the normal one but I find them very similar



Taunton Dean

Taunton Deane is an altogether much larger perennial kale can easily grow to 2 m tall and 2 m wide  so in mixed plantings needs  placed at the back of the border.

It has a darker purply midrib and larger green/blue leaves which are quite architectural in the flower garden and is thought to have originated in the West countries were there are also local varieties like ‘Woburn’ kale (wiltshire) ‘Egloskerry’ kale (Cornwall)

Perenial kale is very hardy both these are extremely nutritious as I can accumulate lots of minerals from the soil because of there extensive root systems

interestingly both kales are said to be  far less prone to attack from pests and diseases, but in my experience are still attacked by slug, caterpillars when young plants and  Pigeons during the Winter

Taunton Dean needs to be replaced around every five years as after this time it slows down noticeably but it’s quite easy to take cuttings

This ability to produce endless replacements and long harvesting season could be one of the other names you see these plants referred to as cottagers kale as they were a staple of these productive vegetable gardens

Take cuttings any perennial kale simply pinch off one of the sideshoots roughly 4 to5 inches long which will have knobbly ridges these are incipient roots , trim off any stems leaving just the top two small leaves insert this into a pot of gritty compost and keep moist you should notice routing In about four weeks. They seem to take an root better if cuttings are taken from May   through to October so it’s quite easy to replace your tiles once you have them in your garden.


Pick leaves from the plant once it is well-established and growing well,they will soon be replaced and can be harvested again.Harvest can often continue through the winter especially when the weather is mild as they will continue to grow

kales can lose quite a lot of its leaves in Autumn  so stop harvesting for a while if regrowth seems slower than normal .The flavour of  the leaves become sweeter and tenderer as the weather gets colder


Courgette and Mint Linguine with Pecorino

The addition of mint to this dish brings a wonderful freshness to the courgettes and as it takes less than 15mins it a great quick dinner straight from the veg patch, I like to use Pecorino but a aged Manchego is another great sheeps cheese that works well you could use Parmesan if you have that handy

Quantities given are just guidelines as its a recipe which every family will adapt to suit there tastes  add more/less garlic/oil/cheese/mint according to taste.

2 large courgettes
1-2 garlic cloves
100-200ml extra virgin olive oil
500g  Linguine
100g pecorino or a good Manchego ,grated
Salt and black pepper
A good  sprig of fresh mint, leaves torn into little bits


Wash and slice the courgettes into 2-3mm thick rounds. Peel the garlic. For a milder flavour, crush it with the back of a knife so it splits, but remains whole. For a stronger flavour, slice. Bring a large pan of water to the boil in preparation for the spaghetti.


Fry the garlic gently in the olive oil over a medium heat until fragrant, then use a slotted spoon to scoop it out – it will burn otherwise and turn bitter.



Working in batches, fry the courgette discs on both sides until they have become lightly blistered and golden, then use a slotted spoon to lift them on to kitchen towel to blot. Sprinkle lightly with salt and keep the remaining oil in the pan.


Once the water is boiling, add salt, then the spaghetti and cook until al dente. Either drain the spaghetti – keeping some cooking water – or use tongs to lift it directly into the frying pan and toss in the leftover courgette oil it will sizzle




Tip the glistening spaghetti into a warm dish or bowl






add half the cheese, a grind of black pepper and most of the ripped mint and toss.




Arrange the courgettes on top and finish with the rest of the cheese and mint. like lots of wonderfully tasty Italian food this is not the most elegant food but it is fantastically full of flavour




Sugared Victoria plums

Soft, sweet Victoria  plums in sugar syrup is a simple indulgence thats perfect   with ice cream, crème fraîche or thick yogurt. You only need one or two of these little taste bombs  per person and this is the perfect way to preseve them when you have a late summer glut

Keep them in the fridge for an occasional treat. Makes enough to fill a large preserving jar but trust me you may need more than one and of course you can use other varities of Plum or Gage


granulated sugar 350g
water 200ml
lemon 1
plums 900g, just ripe




Put the sugar into a large, deep saucepan, pour in the water and let it come to the boil





Remove three strips of lemon peel with a small knife or vegetable peeler and drop into the syrup, letting it simmer for 10 minutes. It should be clear and quite thick, and should smell sweetly of lemon.


Wash the plums, halve them and remove the stones, setting four or five of them aside.




Lower the fruit into the simmering syrup, then add the reserved stones and leave at a gentle bubble for 3 minutes.



Turn off the heat, cover with a lid and leave overnight, unstirred and in a cool place.



Using a slotted spoon, gently lift the fruits from the syrup, placing them tenderly in a bowl so they don’t fall apart.



You will be left with a pale-pink syrup. Return the pan of syrup to the stove, add the juice of the lemon, bringing to the boil



and letting it bubble furiously for as long as it takes for it to come to 108C on a sugar thermometer. If you don’t have one, then stop boiling when the syrup will set almost instantly on a fridge-cold saucer.


Pack the plums carefully into a sterilised Kilner or other preserving jar (a few minutes in boiling water will do the trick.) Once the flurry of bubbles has subsided, scrape off any froth then pour the syrup over the fruit and seal tightly. It’s worth taking care not to drip any syrup around the rim of the jar, otherwise you’ll never be able to open the thing.

The fruit will keep in a cool place, but it’s much better to keep them in the fridge where they can remain chilled and ready to serve.