It has been a busy time since my last blog post and how the garden has changed! The weather has been typically British, from unseasonably warm to icy cold (for Somerset) and back again. Mornings are misty, deciduous trees almost entirely without leaves now and anything frost tender has died.
The polytunnel has frozen a few times now, I love the patterns on the frozen polythene, although it is still reaching 30˚C in there some days. I have electronic thermometers in the greenhouse and polytunnel and it’s so interesting to see the extremes of temperatures undercover, compared with outside in the garden.
I know it has been a while since the previous blog post, but as you have no doubt guessed, that’s been because I’ve been so busy since the arrival on November 5th of The Creative Kitchen. I knew it was coming sometime on the day but hadn’t been given an actual delivery time. We thought it would probably be in the afternoon, so I was busy re-arranging cupboards – I was too excited to sit still and get on with things (!) – when a huge lorry pulled up outside my house.
I’d arranged with Charles for him to come over and help carry the books from the pavement where they would be delivered up the steps and across the front garden into my house. He lives about a 10 minute drive away. But the best laid plans and all of that…. for various reasons he didn’t get the message for ages so by the time he arrived I had carried all 50 boxes (1000 books!) into the house myself. A passing neighbour helped me carry the two pallets down the side of my house – they’ll be useful this winter in the garden.
I’m storing most of the books in a bedroom upstairs, my house is not very big, so Charles carried those up for me. And then we went to a local restaurant At The Chapel for a glass of celebratory champagne. I enthusiastically recommend champagne before lunch 🙂
Then it was back to Homeacres for Charles and to my home office for me, to start packing the many pre-orders from my shop. Thank you so much! I’ve been sending books as far away as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Russia, United States and Thailand (thanks, Dad!)
At my allotment, I have planted all of the garlic and most of the broadbeans. The rest will be planted this weekend because it looks really chilly next week. Planting is quite a slow moving job, so I’m saving all of the warming a person up jobs for next week, such as sawing up my pile of wood for the woodburner and mulching.
This bed has broadbeans in, and the garlic is next to it covered with enviromesh to protect it from birds as it emerges. Some of the garlic is already up. The tallest is “Sprint” from Tamar Organics, with “Germidor” and my home saved also sprouting. I need to get the mulch around this garlic soon.
Most of the overwintering brassicas are growing at home. At the allotment now I have parsnips, celeriac, some celery, yellow and chioggia beetroot, some experimental late sown chicories plus the garlic and broadbeans. The sweetcorn stalks still need clearing (another lovely cold weather job) – I think they look so beautiful on frosty mornings.
There’s a bit of a myth that spreading squashes can suppress weeds. Whilst this may be true of some annual weeds which fail to germinate due to lack of light, it does not stop perennials such as the couch creeping into my allotment here. And strawberry plants sneaking in from my allotment neighbour! I hand weeded this area, chucking everything into the compost heap (yes, even the couch!) in anticipation for a very special delivery.
Shortly after I had finished, I heard the rumble of a tractor engine as George arrived delivering his Marvellous Manure. George is well known in this area for his fantastic wildflower meadows and pastures and so has a quantity of well rotted cow manure that he is happy to sell to local allotmenteers. It’s bought by diggers and no diggers alike.
This cost me £30 and is enough for my plot plus the three front garden raised beds and some of the polytunnel too. Some of the manure is less rotted than other parts, I’ll pop this into my compost heaps over the next month or so, as I mulch.
The mulch provides a great home for so many creatures as well as feeding the soil, including black beetles. They are very speedy and tricky to photograph with a phone camera, but I managed to snap this one.
Last year I didn’t mulch my allotment at all. I’ll write a blog about my experiences of this soon.
At home, two of the front garden beds are full of brassicas. Some are cropping now (broccoli, an over enthusiastic purple cauliflower far too early…) whereas the rest will be cropping soon, such as the Brussel Sprouts. They are smaller than they should be, a legacy of a too-dry summer. These raised beds are on top of builders’ rubble and dry out much faster than my no-sides allotment beds. Looking on the bright side, the front garden is high up and exposed so the small brassicas are less likely to blow over and the sprout tops are divine!
In the middle bed I’ve planted different spare plants, as an experiment – most have gone in a bit late, so I’m going to see how they grow. This bed would be empty over the winter otherwise and so it’s an interesting use of the space. There’s just enough room left in the front garden beds for some dwarf broadbeans and over wintered peas. Once these have gone in, I’ll cover the bed with fleece to keep things cosy.
I started these plants in the greenhouse. The Florence fennel is for the polytunnel along with some of the peas and broadbeans. The rest are for outside planting, including my kitchen garden at Roth Bar and Grill. Starting the peas indoors like this reduces the risk of them providing a tasty meal for mice.
The front two trays on the right are left over from pricking out over wintering brassicas a few weeks ago. I left them to grow on and will cut them soon for a tasty stir-fry. When my house rabbit Bunny was still alive, I would allow trays like this to grow on for her and sometimes sow trays of seeds just for her to nibble on. She loved them, healthy fresh greens – perhaps she imagined they were her own garden?
In the polytunnel, almost all of the summer plants have been cleared now. Hard frosts killed all of the remaining tomatoes and aubergines, fortunately after I had harvested the last fruit, and frazzled the chillies a bit, although they are still hanging on. This weekend I’ll dig up and pot on the Lemon Drop chilli and lemon grass, leaving a little lemon grass as an experiment to see if I can over winter it in there – last year the cold killed it. Almost everything has been planted except for the last peas, broadbeans and Florence fennel.
Some of the new plantings have bolted, fortunately not many, only around 8 plants, probably because of the extremes in temperatures in there some days: -4˚C to 30˚C in one 24 hour period. Every day I open the tunnel to allow any foraging insects to visit the calendula so for now I’m leaving them to flower – useful food for something, I am sure.
At the back of the polytunnel, growing happily, is my Magical Florence Fennel. Last winter after planting I put down trays of the last few plants of fennel and another of curly parsley, to let it grow on a bit to use as a one-cut salad before composting. For one reason or another, they remained there all winter and in the spring had rooted into the soil beneath so I left them. Both are cheerfully continuing to grow, the fennel plant regrowing smaller bulbs a few months after I have cut it to the ground after it bolted. They are in the pathway beside the door and seem determined to remain there! I’m amazed they survived the summer heat.
Just shows that there’s always something new to learn. I have had Florence fennel produce baby bulbs after harvested roots were left in the ground outside but did not expect this to survive the high temperatures and lack of water in a polytunnel this summer. The bulbs are not as big as individually grown but for a “free” meal, that’s fine by me.
Meanwhile at Homeacres, most of my work there now is picking on a Thursday with Charles (he has two other helpers there on different days). As the days shorten and the mornings are often cold, we start to do most if not all of the salad picking on a Thursday rather than Friday mornings. So far most of it is still from outside, except for Grenoble Red lettuce in the polytunnel.
The indoor spaces are full of different kinds of salad plants, quite a contrast with my polytunnel which is planted with a wide variety of different kinds of vegetables. That’s one of the key differences of growing in a domestic garden and a market garden. Charles has to use the undercover space to focus on his key winter cash crop – the mixed salad. He grows a huge amount of veg in the garden of course and over the next few weeks will be harvesting and storing for winter use. My focus is providing as wide a choice as possible for my family and for my work, experimenting with different crops and ingredients for recipes, too!
The next blog is a seasonal recipe for a salad that’s proving to be very popular at our courses. I’m off outside now to clear the rest of those dead plants from the polytunnel.
Just in case it seems as though all I do is work, and it certainly feels like that sometimes (!) here’s a photo from a recent trip to Cardiff – nothing to do with veg, I went to see David Byrne. It was amazing, totally recommend it! It’s been some time since I’ve been to see a concert inside a venue (usually they’ve been outdoors) and was surprised how many people “watched” it via their phones. I took a few pics to show my family, but mostly was too busy dancing to want to hold a phone.