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!
These sunny days are great for our colleagues gathering in the traditional wheat harvest and other crops from the fields; but they are also good for us veg growers too. The chilly mornings of late have meant that the early pumpkins are ripening well as the leaves die off naturally from cold and mildew, exposing the green fruits and encouraging them to turm orange. We will start bringing them into the polytunnels over the next few weeks, to finish off the ripening, and protect them from any really old nights before Hallowe’en (and allow the green manures to completely take over the patch before winter). The squash will soon follow, but their foliage is looking more robust, so they will be fine out there for a few more weeks.
This time of year is brilliant for veggies; not only have you got the summer crops of tomatoes, peppers, chillies, courgettes and cucumbers still producing (or finally really hitting their stride in the case of tomatoes and peppers), but we also have autumnal crops of fennel, leeks, coriander, parsley, dill, kale, spinach beetroot, leaf beet… So it’s easy and fun getting healthy and tasty veg inside you and stock up on vitamins and freshness, ready for the darker winter months ahead.
As well as picking and gathering on this bountiful harvest, the salads are still producing really well – the nasturtiums as ever have recovered brilliantly from their inevitable attacks of blackfly in the summer (thanks ladybirds), and have a great second flush of leaves and flowers on the go, swarming with bees and hoverflies – who are also enjoying the flowering of all the herbs, especially garlic chives. Plus this is the time for getting the polytunnels ready for their autumn and winter crops of celery, winter salads, herbs and chard – so it’s a really busy time. Fortunately the next batch of outdoor weeding and mowing/strimming will (hopefully!) be pretty much the last of the year, as growth slows down from now. The Persian clover has now been incorporated in the Vole Tunnel, more woodchip for the path put down, and Mypex pinned down to keep moisture and warmth in and weeds out; and this afternoon I’ll be planting out endive, radicchio, Oriental and mustards in there, ready for continuous production throughout the winter months.
Happy New Year one and all – SEEEEEEEEEEEEEDDDDDDDSSSSS!
Ahem. Sorry about that, just slipped out. I am currently flicking through my seed catalogues and trying to dissuade myself from growing hundreds of tomatillos, novelty cucumbers and 17 different types of mustard this year. Venting excitement here may help rein in the extravagance. Maybe just 12 different types of mustard then… fingers crossed for another good season!