Fresh Garlic

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!

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Feeling the Chill

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The obligatory hilarious carrot
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Tasty turnips, parsnips & leeks

My motivation is currently dipping slightly, especially when surveying the fields and their mix of weeds and mud, and decaying summer plants. This time of year is always tricky when it comes to the outdoor stuff: the weather isn’t cold enough to kill off the fleshy weeds, or pests, and no hard frosts to make the mud hard to walk on (just nice and slippy when carrying heavy crops around); plus the moisture and occasional sun means that grass, chickweek and other weeds are hanging in there and even making a determined comeback. However, at this time of year with the end of outdoor leafy crops such as salad and spinach in sight, and frosts around the corner (hopefully) to take care of some weeds, it just doesn’t seem worth it to make the effort of weeding – especially as all the leafy crops would end up covered in mud at the end. So at the moment ir’s a case of averting your eyes, or looking at the weeds and mud as a sign of health, and habitat for wildlife (although this does take a time to adjust your perception).

20161026_115620 20161024_093036Fortunately there are some good-looking crops to cheer us up: the beetroot has done well over in the newer back field this year, as have the leeks again, and parsnips are also looking good (despite accidentally sowing too thickly, I’m going all-out for baby parsnips to roast whole this year!). There’s still plenty of wildlife around too, for good or bad: I’ve spotted several of these leopard slugs around, and the one in the picture spent pretty much the whole day lasy Monday hanging around the outside of the module tunnel in the drizzle. Apparently they only eat dying vegetation, and even other slugs: although I find it difficult to trust any slug to do what it’s supposed to.

20161019_100004There are still lots of signs of pesky roe deer around too; just when the latest leaf beet crop was looking super-lush and ready to pick, the following day both ends had been attacked and scoffed by deer, with footprints and droppings in the soft ground giving them away. They’ve also been having another go at the late lettuce outside, drat them. Roll on the tunnel crops in a couple of weeks I say…

Changing Seasons

20160902_094137Ahh September: the time of lingering summer, chillier nights, and also when you get a bit of a chance to keep on top of all the veg. The courgettes and cucumbers are now starting to slow down; and while they are still producing well, they are giving us a sensible amount of food rather than the crazy gluts of August. The tomatoes however have now taken off instead, and we’re picking around 15-20kg three times a week just to stay on top of them. The peppers and chillies are starting to turn red; and perhaps most excitingly of all, the pumpkins and squashes in the field are turning orange, woohoo! Soon we’ll be having a Pumpkin Picking Party to help bring the harvest in – if you fancy a few hours of picking and moving these beasts to the safety of the snug polytunnels, in return for some tasty lunch and a pumpkin to take home, let us know – more details to follow shortly…

20160902_094639Lettuces and spinach that have done so well are starting to go to seed and are being cut down; they will provide some kind of ground cover over the winter, while mowing ensures the weeds don’t take too much hold. Successional sowing and planting has been key to continued supply of salads and spinach over the summer; and while we had the odd mishap due to slugs hoovering off trays of seedlings at a time, or deer having a good old munch, we’ve done this pretty well this year. The last lot of outdoor spinach and salads went in last week; after that we’ll be relying on tunnel plantings.

20160831_143235Meanwhile Marmalade tunnel’s green manure of Persian clover has done very well (and smelt amazing – also beloved by hundreds of bees), and has now been strimmed and mown down, ready for incorporation into the soil, to give the next lot of salads a great start to life. Sowing winter salads in August and September is always a bit bitter-sweet: it means the craziness of the summer is coming to an end; but the tastiness of mustards and winter salads is on the horizon…