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!
Gotta love the Kubota tractor & 5ft rotovator: it may only be a small tractor with something like 22hp, but it does such a great job when it comes to getting my fields ready for action. Wednesday saw me walking several miles with the pedestrian Honda Izy lawnmower (also brilliant) cutting down the remnants of last year’s herbs, spinach, fennel plus inevitable grasses and other weeds that had started to perk up; to prepare the way for a session on Friday afternoon on the tractor. As windy and cold as ever (it takes a while to stop shivering after several hours in the cold wind without a cab for protection), I just managed to beat the incoming rain after a 3-hour session of shallow rotovating. The field will sit there and wait for a couple of weeks, then we’ll go over it again, knocking back any missed or re-growing weeds; before a final pass a couple of weeks after that which will give it a lovely friable tilth ready for sowing and planting into. I can only try and imagine how long this job of ground preparation would take by hand…
The good thing (actually, one of the many good things of course) about early spring is that those winter crops that were pretty much picked out have magically put on another flush of growth, just when you took your eye off them for a few weeks. Those mustards, lettuces and claytonia mixes in the tunnels have suddenly sprouted a whole new flush of fresh leaves; and the kales out in the field are also growing on again strongly. On a sunny still early March day, they whisper promises of further bountiful veg to come from their just-sown relatives, in summer and autumn: brilliant!