While we may well be into the hungry gap now, with winter crops finished and spring crops not quite big enough, there are still a few things around for a healthy meal. The overwintered salads are just about still going, although many have been pulled out now as they have bolted; perennial herbs such as lovage, chives and sorrel are tender and delicious; the overwintered chard in the tunnel has a new lease of life; and the early spinach planted in the tunnels a month ago is coming on well and ready to be picked.
I was given some dried elephant garlic bulbs just before Christmas, and we whacked the cloves in the small Acorn tunnel to see if it would do anything: and now it looks great! We will start picking and selling it as fresh stem garlic next week; it’s gorgeous milder flavour makes it perfect for using raw if you’re brave enough; otherwise lightly cooked or stir-fried, or used in pasta dishes. It’s also known as ‘wet’ garlic when picked this way and chefs love it – not to be confused with ‘wild garlic’ or ramsons, which are the broad-leaved plants with white flowers that adorn woodland floors and verges at this time of year, and have a less refined flavour. Try chopping fresh garlic into a salad with some spinach too for a feel-good spring treat: delicious with Tracklement’s mustard ketchup thinned with oil as a dressing, available from Hartley Farm Shop along with our produce!
Despite this freezing rain (is it me, or has it been weirdly consistently cold all February so far?), it was amazing to peek in the module tunnel this morning and see the first few shoots of rainbow chard poking up through the compost. Life! Poor little monkeys, they will get a bit of shock at the weekend when it drops to 0C again; still, fortunately chard is pretty hardy. I took this progress as a good omen, so promptly sowed 8 trays of early kale (1 tray of Redbor red curly kale, 2 Westland Winter green curly, 2 Red Russian & 3 Cavolo Nero).
Talking of Life, it’s also lovely to see the worm casts in the polytunnels, where the extra warmth and protection from winter has encouraged the soil biota to keep working, and the worms to turn the black woody compost and charcoal finings into ‘proper’ soil, by mixing it with the sandy clay loam I have. The black/brown effect is rather pretty, and indicates the amazing mass of life going on undergound which I’m mostly oblivious to, but which means the plants can grow.
I’m still (just about) picking the remaining kales sown from last year out in the field at the moment – the pigeons have a great time out there in the last few weeks, so I covered the PSB and some of the kale with a net, and have picked out the rest of the cavolo nero today. I thought I was going to get away with pigeon damage this winter and wouldn’t need to net, since they hadn’t really touched the brassicas even by mid-January. Just biding their time obviously, drat them.
Gah, come on salads and things: grow faster! At least this mixture of sunshine and showers is excellent groing weather; but May always sees that awkward change-over, where the autumn/winter-sown crops are finishing/running to seed, and the spring-sown crops are a little slow to catrch up and take over. So salad leaves are a bit thin of the ground at the moment; although there are some rocket leaves, pea shoots, bull’s blood beetroot, chard, spinach, last few claytonia leaves, leaf celery, parsley, chives, coriander, sorrel, chervil flowers and shungiko. The lettuces out in the field are doing to the equivalent of a horse bunching up their legs underneath them, before shooting off and producing lots of lovely leaves; so hopefully it will be only be a few weeks before they are good to pick. The crops drilled in the field in April are just starting to show now too (beetroot, chard, spinach, broad & dwarf French beans); although the carrots and parsnips are still hiding under the new flush of weeds. Fingers crossed I don’t get a repeat of sluggy 2012 and have no roots at all!
Meanwhile the module tunnel is full to bursting with crops nearly ready to go out in the field or other tunnels; the pumpkins and squashes will probably go out next week; and once the baby turnips are ready to pick, I can clear them and put the rest of the tomato plants in too. Then it will be harvest-time until next year!