rape (the vegetable greens) have a big PR problem, starting with the name that brings to mind a horrible crime.
There's also the fact that if you live in the US and UK, you've probably encountered rape as a big commercial crop grown for its biodiesel seeds or chicken feed. Sorta introduces the "eeew factor" when you think of it as human food, don't you think?
Except, rape is a very tasty green from the brassica family. It has smooth, bluish green scalloped leaves that have a mild flavour remniscent of kale and the texture of lettuce.
We grow it every couple of weeks as a succession plant that provides us with a never-ending supply of greens. Rape grows very fast and you can start munching on it in weeks, though it takes 80 -90 days to mature.
I was first introduced to rape by a friend from Lesotho. He nagged me for months to grow rape and at first we couldn't find the seeds. Then one day I found them at one of the major retail stores and well.. the whole family loved it. So it has now become a standard crop in our garden.
Soil preparation: My soil is clay doctored with manure and compost, in a well-drained area.
The planting process: Rape grows to around 30cm/one foot in height and has large leaves , so I plant it among vegetables that I know don't mind a bit of shade. I generally plant the seeds 13mm (0.5in) deep and 38cm (15in) apart and keep the well-watered.
Caring for the plants: When the seedlings are around 10cm (6inch), greedy us start cutting them to eat in salads, sandwiches and to steam and mix with mashed potatoes.
The seedlings also transplant very well, so you can spread them out to 30-45cm (12-18in) apart and allow them to grow to their normal size, though treating them as cut and come again greens doesn't hurt them at all.
One of the reasons I like rape is that unlike its cousin the cabbage, it's not as prone to disease, so I mostly just keep the beds well-watered and weed-free and they perform very nicely in return.
Harvesting: We usually overplant rape, then thin it by harvesting some of the seedlings while it's still young and tender. You can also treat it as a "cut and come again" green for a while, as long as you make sure to leave the smallest leaves at the centre intact. Or you can also allow it to grow to its full size of around one foot before you start cutting leaves off it, depending on your preference.
Serving suggestions: I love to use rape as a green in my panini sandwiches. I cut and wash a couple of rape leaves, wipe them and then line them up on top of half a panini bun. I then add shredded leftover meat (mince with tomato, chicken, beef, whatever) on top, a lot of salsa/relish depending on what I'm in the mood for, a bit of mayo and then two slices of cucumber. If you love chilli, add a bit of fresh shredded chilli on top of the mayo. I could eat like that every day :)
BTW, if you've read my post about the kiwani that I found growing in my garden, you'll be happy to know I finally found out what to do with them: make jam and jelly. A big thanks to the ladies at Simple Living Forum for their suggestions.
A kiwani is a cucumber-like vine whose fruit are round and yellow and covered with very sharp spikes. I harvested around 40 kiwanis on Saturday and used a couple of them to make a tester jam. Wow! I just found my new favourite jam flavour. Move over strawberry!