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!
This hit-and-miss weather is certainly keeping us on our toes: one minute hot and sunny, the next pouring with rain and windy. Still, at least there’s something for everyone there, and even though the temperatures are dropping, things are still growing well. Plus the late-flowering plants and herbs are putting on a nice show of flowers (the nasturtiums are going for it again, having recovered as I knew they would from the blackfly attacks in mid-summer – thanks ladybirds). These flowers are great for morale, as well as useful for selling, and for wildlife to enjoy too: there’s nothing like a splash of colour, or some dainty flower to cut through the mess of muddy-ness in wet weather.
The pinky-yellow sunflowers are finally doing something, and providing a bit of a windbreak for the polytunnels too, as well as providing some much-needed food for bees and other insects once they venture out after the rain showers. White garlic chives are also now flowering, yummy, fragrant and delicate, and beloved by bees, hoverflies and butterflies. Beautiful blue borage is still going strong, as are the shungiko flowers (chop suey greens) which have been producing flowers in the Little Tunnel all summer (an edible chrysanthemeum, some say they taste a bit like gin…) They all look and taste great in the salad bags, as well as being essential for wildlife.
While mowing and strimming the Old Field headlands (hopefully for the last time this year), I also stopped to move this handsome toady fella to a more secure patch of grass – great to see him in the field, it’s the first I’ve found there for several years (not that I’ve been looking too hard). Hopefully he and his pals will keep the slugs in check over the winter.
There also seem to be tons of ladybirds around – and not just round the nasturtiums – which is great. I keep pulled weeds round the edges of the polytunnels, to dry out & provide a habitat for frogs, toads and ladybirds (among others, such as beetles). I discovered one that seemed to be incredibly small too! As long as it eats a few aphid, it is welcome here.
Just before this latest bout of windy wet weather, I collected some garlic chive seed heads, since the seeds looked like they were bursting to be collected. I simply pulled off the whole heads and popped them in a paper bag upside down; and have now tied this bag up in an irrigation-free polytunnel (the Little Tunnel), out of the way of mice and other nibblers. I did leave some seed heads on the plants though, as there were so many – and I’m sure the birds (and other wildlife) will be glad of a piquant garlicky treat when all other food has gone.