A hardy, perennial, shade tolerant, self-seeding vegetable with a long taproot that can be eaten all year round. The best bit to eat though are the flowering shoots.
I have no idea why it is called Turkish rocket (latin name – Bunias orientalis) as it is nothing like what people typically think of as rocket (Eruca vesicaria subsp. Sativa) or wild rocket (Diplotaxis tenuifolia). All three of those rockets are, however, all part of the Brassica family. Bunias doesn’t look like the other 2 rockets and it doesn’t taste like them either.
How to grow
They can easily be grown from seed. As far as I know seeds are only available online but be careful and make sure you are buying Bunias orientalis because I’ve seen seeds marketed as Turkish rocket that look like they are just rocket. Turkish rocket can be slow to germinate so you do need to be a bit patient. I’d recommend starting them in pots indoors as they can look quite a bit like dandelion seedlings at the start with a similar rosette of leaves. This also gives you time to decide on a permanent patch.
The plants like a bit of sun but they do very well in quite a bit of shade. Our Turkish rocket patch is by the apple tree next to a tall fence. In the summer it sits in the dappled shade of the little apple tree in the morning and the shade of the fence most of the afternoon but in the winter I don’t think the low sun shines on it at all. They don’t do particularly well in pots because they have a deep taproot. However, they do very well in just about any type of soil. They have thrived in our heavy clay. This deep taproot can reach down many feet to get nutrients and water. This means it does very well in drought. This also means you need to choose your patch wisely because once it establishes itself it becomes quite hard to dig up. I haven’t seen it for myself, but I have read that if any of the root is left behind, the plant will return. It can also self seed merrily, but we’ve not really left any of the flowers.
Most of the leaves are in a rosette around the base. The flower stalks can extend up to around 80 cm tall. If left to flower you get yellow flowers with the four petals typical of brassicas.
The plant is very hardy and can survive a very cold winter and come back fine the next year. I found with the mild winter we had last year we still had the rosette of leaves at the base.
How to harvest
The leaves and the flower shoots are edible. Leaves are available all year round. I don’t usually harvest any over the winter as it doesn’t seem to have many leaves, whilst my perennial kales and purple tree collard do very well over winter. The flower shoots start in late spring (making it a good edible for the hungry gap) and can continue in flushes through the summer. If you don’t want it to self seed, it’s no chore to eat all of the flower shoots. They are best when the buds are still closed.
How to eat
I wouldn’t recommend eating the leaves raw. They can be a bit bitter especially in the height of summer. To combat the bitterness, you can blanche with some salty hot water, then drain and discard that water. Then cook again in any manner of choosing, e.g. frying in a bit of oil, boiling, adding to sauces or stews.
The flower shoots are the best bit and can be eaten like purple sprouting broccoli. They taste a little bit like a cross between purple sprouting broccoli and mustard greens. The texture doesn’t quite have the same bite as purple sprouting broccoli. It is more like the stems of the Chinese vegetable choi sum.
I only added this bit because one of the best things about this plant is that I have never seen any pests on it. It seems to be untroubled by my usual brassica diseases like powdery mildew. It grows like a weed and doesn’t need any tending at all. It’s true that I have only had it for 2 1/2 years but in that time after the original sowing and then planting out all I’ve done is harvest and eat.
Short version: A sweet and mild allium (onion garlic family), that is an invasive, self-seeding, hardy, perennial that grows fine in the shade in pretty much all soil. The leaves, flowers, seed pods and bulbs taste great. There is something to harvest almost all year round and most importantly it works as a cut and come again mildly oniony vegetable over the hungry gap.
I first saw the three cornered leek (allium triquetrum), also called three cornered garlic, in a foraging book and then came across it in a friend’s garden. Not knowing what it was, she despised the stuff. She said it was garlicky, but she had not identified it so hadn’t been eating it. I could see why she didn’t like it. It had completely invaded her lawn from where it appeared to have begun in a border. After a mowing it would be hard to visually distinguish from the grass. I begged her for some for my garden and she was happy to give me as much as I wanted, as long as I was prepared to dig it up myself. I wasn’t prepared, but I was totally willing. I ended up digging it out with a soup spoon. There may have been some choice words I would not repeat to my 4 year old directed at the particularly deep bulbs.
Now that I had learnt to recognise it, I could see it everywhere. I have seen it creeping out under many many fences in the area. I have seen it in the herb garden of the local park. I have seen it coming out between paving stones. I have seen swathes of it in Green Park.
Having seen first-hand how invasive it can be I dug my new 20 odd bulbs into an enclosed bed in the front garden, under the roses. I didn’t want to keep the roses, but did because the little monkey loves them, they smell lovely and roses are apparently edible (something to explore this year maybe). Three cornered leek does fine with shade and grows very weedily so I figured it would survive regardless of rubbish conditions. Boy was I right. I left them fo r a year to acclimatise and didn’t harvest anything to let them establish. The next spring though there were plenty of new seedlings and the older plants have come back thicker and longer. This is a rampant self seeder.
How to grow
This is a non-native invasive plant listed on Schedule 9 of the Wildlife and Countryside Act so it is an offense to introduce it anywhere in the wild. Introducing it into your own garden makes it your own problem. You would think that, given that it is invasive, you would be doing someone somewhere a favour if you were to weed it out of your local park. However, it is not legal to dig up the roots/bulbs of any plant without the landowner’s permission. Besides there can sometimes be a fine line between foraging and stealing. Not to worry if you don’t know of anyone who has plants or who to ask permission from if you find it in a park, there are seeds available on the internet.
Based on where I’ve seen them growing, they can be sown or planted pretty much in any soil, with any light conditions. Most importantly, in a small garden, they seem to do well in shade. They can be used to fill up the shady areas of your garden that are less hospitable to edibles.
Once you have them though, apparently it is quite hard to get rid of them so make sure you put them somewhere where they can be contained.
If you have bulbs plant them deep as they seem to like being a good inch or two down. Seeds can be sown in early autumn as they would be naturally. The seedlings that emerge are tiny so make sure that you’ve labelled them well as they won’t look like anything edible till the next year.
How to harvest
Harvesting can begin from when the plant is a year old. Existing bubs start poking their leaves out of the ground around October. This is also when the seedlings start to appear. The over a foot long leaves are available for harvesting from winter to summer. This makes it a good one for covering the hungry gap. The flowers can be eaten when they appear from April onwards. The flowers give way to green seed pods the size of petite pois in May. When the plant begins to die back towards the end of summer the bulbs can also be eaten but they are small and fiddly, and I rarely bother as it means less plants to harvest from the next year.
How they taste
The leaves have a sweet, mild garlicy/oniony flavour. They are great raw or fried lightly. If you add them into any dishes, add them right at the end, otherwise you lose a lot of the flavour. The flowers are lovely and sweet in salads. They too carry the allium taste. The young green seed pods keep a lovely crunch when lightly cooked and are very sweet and almost fruity. It sounds terrible, but I thought of lychees. Yes… and oniony lychee sounds foul… if you’re expecting lychee and get onion. However, if you’re just expecting onion and you get a fresh fruity added flavour then it is lovely. Basically, the seed pod is the fruit of the plant, like a tomato or a berry. Sound less icky? The bulbs have a sweet mild garlic flavour.
I have read that eating too much can cause digestive distress. You would have to eat quite a bit. The same warning applies to all alliums anyway. In our 20s the husband (then boyfriend) and I ate a bulb of elephant garlic. It was huge – the name gives it away. It was not one of our better ideas. Also, of course if you have any sensitivities or allergies to alliums, this would not be a plant for you anyway.
A more important warning is not to grow these in areas where you have bluebells or other similar looking spring bulbs. They are around at the same time, look very similar but bluebell leaves are poisonous. Of course, the smell is a good indicator, but also three cornered leeks are so named due to the central rib of the leaf protruding out, giving the leaf a triangular cross section.
My method for novices deterred by the perceived effort, cost or time taken to grow seeds, though I’m probably upsetting experts with my inability to follow instructions.
Collect toilet roll tubes, tetra pack cartons and plastic tubs for free and environmentally friendly containers.
Choose seeds wisely
Fill with normal compost
In the recommended month sow 1-8 seeds (depending on plant) in each container, picking a suitable container for each plant.
Place on a windowsill / warm place and keep the compost damp.
When planting out pop the whole toilet roll in the hole so you don’t disturb the roots. When planting Tetra Pak you can cut off the bottom and put the whole carton into the soil to provide a bit of protection from pests.
It’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the information on different months
to sow, types and mixes of potting soil, necessary temperatures, levels of
light and water requirements, seeds that need soaking, scratching or a cold
spell in the fridge. Then after all that, planting those seedlings outside
requires another long list of requirements.
If you have the time, the patience of a saint and all the fancy equipment, like under pot heating, growing lights, a greenhouse, cold frame or even things like perlite and vermiculite then following all the guidelines could give you perfect results.
The question is: ‘How much worse will it be if you don’t follow
instructions to the letter?’ Seeds may take longer to germinate. Fewer seeds may
germinate. Seedlings may be weaker. At worst, nothing grows, and you’ve wasted
the cost of a few seeds.
If you have a lack of space like me, I would advise starting most plants indoors. This provides a good start and ensures that something is actually growing before it takes a spot in the garden. You then also have spares for gaps as they appear. Planting straight into the ground can also lead to small stalks of nothingness – evidence of marauding molluscs. More mature plants are less susceptible or recover better.
Also, my neighbour reminded me last week that those new to gardening can find it difficult to distinguish between intentional seedlings and weeds. Once you’ve been growing a while, you’ll be able to tell the difference but until that time – by growing everything in separate containers you’ll have no issues with identification.
1. Find containers
Toilet roll tubes – great biodegradable modules that you pop straight into the ground. It doesn’t disturb the roots and it’s a good way to reuse waste packaging. These are only suitable for fast germinating and growing seeds like peas and beans as the cardboard can go a bit mouldy and fall apart if left damp for too many weeks. Name and date the tube in pencil.
Mushroom boxes – stack the toilet rolls in here so that they don’t fall over and have somewhere for their water to drain into.
Plastic pots – pierce the bottom. A bradawl is the easiest, or even a pin heated with a lighter will do.
Tetra Pak cartons – If you pull out the side tabs and flatten the top they cut easily. You can also cut a corner on the bottom to allow for drainage.
Make sure you wash the plastic pots and Tetra Pak cartons thoroughly before use. You can write names and dates with a permanent marker. Place these in the mushroom boxes or a tray of some sorts to avoid water draining everywhere.
You now have many randomly sized pots for free and even better you’re helping the environment. You haven’t bought a plastic pot, made from crude oil, that uses energy and creates carbon dioxide in the manufacturing. You are reusing something pre-made for another purpose and when you’re finished with it you can wash it and still put it into your recycling.
2.Choose your seeds wisely
Don’t be tempted to plant the seeds out of an apple you just ate or out of the butternut squash you had for dinner. Despite being an advocate of free or cheap growing, this is not usually a successful way to grow food. The first issue is that a lot of tasty fruit doesn’t provide you with seeds that are ‘true’. That seed will have the half the DNA of the mother plant but the pollen that led to fertilisation could have come from any of the species including crab apple. You might be lucky enough to get a tasty undiscovered variety, or you could get something sour and gross. This gamble would be fine if you didn’t have to wait several years for the first apple to find out. Your butternut squash may produce fruit (yes – squashes are technically fruit) in the first year but it, again, may not taste as good. If the original was grown in another country your new plant may also not be suited for your climate. It may grow but might not fruit. It also may not be disease resistant.
Buy from a reputable supplier. Spend time reading the back of
packs and choosing types of edibles and varieties that will work in your garden
for its conditions. It may be worth noting that if you live in a paved or concreted
yard – you could grow amazing summer squashes or aubergines. Generally, cities
are warmer than the countryside and when there is a lot of concrete absorbing
and radiating heat it can push the temperature higher still. You won’t, however,
be able to grow deep rooted plants like artichoke without a ridiculously large
Sow things that work for your soil and circumstances. E.g.
Seeds come in ridiculous quantities for small garden growers. I
would never be able to plant 15 courgette or tomato plants in a year. I’d
manage maybe 2 or 3. Kale comes in packs of something like 50 and at a push I’d
manage maybe 10 plants. A great way to lower costs is to swap seeds or even
plants with a neighbour. Seeds usually have plant before date, usually a couple
of years after purchase.
Sort your acquired seeds into the months to be sown in. Sowing at
the right time is something that I do believe is important. By sowing at
the correct time, you ensure the soil outside will be suitable (frost free and/or
warm enough) by the time your seedling is big enough to go out there. You also give
your new plant a long enough period to grow and fruit to ripen before the
weather turns cold. I.e. If you sow a tomato seed in January the plant will
have grown far too big and probably died before the weather is warm enough to
plant it outside. If you sow it in August by the time the plant has matured
enough to flower the weather will be turning too cold to set or ripen fruit. I’m
not too strict about dates though – if something should be sown February to
March, I’ll still merrily sow it in the first 2 weeks of April. I would just
maybe leave those plants indoors for a little longer so that they can catch up.
This is my crude, but effective, seed filing system. In early Jan before I start I sort everything into the month I’m going to plant in. If I sow something that I think I’ll want to sow again in a later month e.g. peas, beans and coriander rather than put it back into the original envelope I’ll put it into the next month I’ll want to sow it in. That’s why every Jan I need to resort.
Unless you have lots of experience for now avoid the seeds that need scarification (scratching the surface of the seed) or stratification (a period of cold).
3. Fill containers with Compost
The cheap and lazy me uses whatever giant bag of compost I happen to have open at the time. I feel it’s more efficient to sow everything in 30 pots in one go once or maybe twice a month. E.g. early March I may sow 5 containers of runner beans, 5 sugar snaps, 5 fine beans, 2 tromboncino, 2 pumpkin munchkin, 3 cherry tomatoes, 2 thai basil, 3 basil and 3 coriander. I’m sure each type of plant would have its own ideal type of potting soil but it’s so quick, easy and cheap just to fill all the pots with the same soil. Let’s face it – if it can’t grow with the decent compost I provide indoors, then it sure as hell isn’t going to make it in my terrible clay soil outdoors.
4. Sow your seeds
I don’t believe in thinning. The idea that you sprinkle lots of
seeds into a tray of compost, wait for them to grow and then prick individual
seedlings into their own pots sounds like an inefficient use of time and
resources. So many seedlings get squished or die in the process and roots get
tangled. I also don’t have the heart to kill a food plant when the books say
sow 2 or 3 together and pinch off the weakest 2.
How many you sow in each pot depends:
Things that will grow into tree/bush type things and you want to keep indoors for as long as possible like tomatoes, artichoke, pumpkins and other squashes, physalis, etc I’d stick to one seed per larger container.
Things that you just want to make plug plants for like kale, swiss
chard, rocket, nasturtiums, you can do one seed per small container.
Things that grow tall and thin like cucamelons, peas and beans I
tend to do 2 or 3 to a container.
Tender herbs that get cut down quite quickly (basil, coriander, dill) and so don’t get chance to grow very large I’ll sprinkle maybe 5 or 6 seeds in one.
I’d suggest planting a few more containers than you need in case
you have a couple of dud seeds. You then also have a spare or two if you do
plant out your first seedlings and they get ravaged by the slugs and snails.
You can always give these away or do a seedling swap.
Label them so you know what you have. If you’re fastidious: plant, variety and date. If you’re me there’ll be an unintelligible scrawl on the side naming many different plants after I’ve used the same container a couple of times.
5. Leave to grow
Windowsills or any sunny spots will do. Keep the soil damp. Some seeds germinate almost immediately whilst some take a little longer. There may be containers that continue to look barren. Not all seeds within a pack are viable. Some plants are just harder. I’ve failed to germinate perilla, tomatillo and pomegranate this year. Following instructions to the letter may have led to success. Then again, it may not have. If you think something hasn’t grown pop something else into these pots. Because I like to keep it easy, cheap and avoid anything too time consuming I give up on the harder to grow things. There will be some things that are better (though more expensive) bought as plants.
6. Choose a spot suitable for your plant
You can ‘harden off’ your plants by putting the containers outside during the day and bringing them back indoors for cold evenings. If the nights aren’t freezing, I have often skipped this step with little or no damage. You will have to see for yourself how necessary this is for your garden. If unsure plant one straight into the ground and see if it’s doing OK a couple of days later.
Ensuring enough sun, space and supports if necessary, gives you less work in the long run. If your plant is susceptible to slugs and snails, then you can cut the base off the container so you have a couple of inches of container as a barrier, but the roots still have soil access. You can put slug tape around the container or cover with the top half of a bottle to stop them getting in. I only bother with really precious plants that are very attractive to critters.
After all that it’s worth noting that carrots, beetroots and turnips are best sown in situ. Because they are easy small plants grown in larger quantities, they are just a faff to put in containers first. Beetroots will need thinning no matter how careful you are as each ‘seed’ is actually a cluster of seeds.
Then after that has been said, by growing perennials or self-seeding varieties you cut out all the above work. However, perennials usually take much longer to establish themselves and become productive. To get self seeders into the garden of course you need to sow them first. Things like peas, beans and squashes don’t have a perennial version and they can provide you with food as you wait for your perennials to get going.
So, being end of June, there’s still time to sow some kale or Swiss chard for eating in spring, or peas (including sugar snaps and mangetout), beans (runner or French), beetroots, kohl rabi, , quick growing herbs (like basil, dill, coriander) or salad leaves for something yummy this year.
Today, out of that list I’ve only sown peas, but I’ve also sown an array of edible flowers that should hopefully make it into the lawn (more on that later). All of those would germinate in situ in this lovely weather, but the lawn flowers seedlings would never survive being trampled and I’m sure those little slimers are just waiting to take the growing tips of my beans! Grr…