Wednesday, 26 April 2017

The Comeback Gardener

One of the many wonderful things about gardeners is that when a crop fails or a plant turns up its roots, we dust ourselves down, work out what happened, and look forward to next year when conditions will be better. We might be in this optimistic state of waiting for an improvement for several years until we reluctantly call time on that crop or plant and move on to a more reliable substitute. This happened to me with a whole group of plants: the brassicas. Sick of slugs, snails, pigeons, caterpillars, greedy hens, ugly netting and dangling CDs, I ruled out pretty much every brassica known to gardenerkind and welcomed other edible lovelies onto my veg plot. 

Broccoli Harvest Circa 2008
This year I have reneged on my anti-brassica stance and depending on the outcome, I have The Blogosphere to thank or blame for this. After all, there is a limit to the number of seasons that a gardener can sit back and watch glistening white cauliflower curds and beautiful broccoli florets paraded across a computer screen before a toe is tentatively dipped back into the brassica pond. So far this gentle return to brassicas has involved seventy broccoli raab plants, more red cabbage than there is the spirit to braise, four varieties of brussels sprouts and a whole bed dedicated to swede or rutabega. I say so far because turnips are waiting in the wings along with kale, cauliflowers and winter cabbages. 
Red Cabbage and Scarlet Kale
I am embracing nets in a manner I had never previously thought possible - not physically obviously, that would make for a rare sight in rural Norfolk, or anywhere else for that matter. The chickens have been given a stern talking to and the slug pubs are stocked and ready to welcome their first guests. 

In the unlikely event that these brassicas should make it to harvest, there will be a glut to manage so I have been scouting around for delicious recipes. Love Your Greens is a site dedicated to brassicas and I am salivating in an unseemly manner at the prospect of swede cake and swede ice cream (not necessarily together, but I am happy to give it a go). 

Perhaps it's time to sow another bed of swede... or three.

Love Your Greens may be found at:

Wednesday, 5 April 2017

Kitchen Gardening and Mingling Springs

At last! The propagators are fired up and churning out seedlings on a daily basis; the cold frames, reassembled and reglazed after Storm Doris took them for a spin around the orchard, are stuffed to the gunnels; and the soil is warming up and looking as welcoming as it can, given its history. 
Living on a former farm in rural Norfolk means that I have land on which to grow food, but the soil is riddled with flint, chalk and hulking lumps of clay muddled with detritus from centuries of building and farming. Last winter, the notion of a flowerbed was redefined when I unearthed a bundle of bedsprings. Every time I pulled at a spring, it either stretched and refused to budge from the soil, or it attached itself to a fellow spring. Knitted together they were lethal and I found myself under attack from all sides as springs already exposed and languishing on the soil rose up and propelled themselves towards me. They made untangling a hosepipe look like child's play and the never-ending spaghetti of bindweed roots seem benign. I will never complain about weeding again (at least not this year). Whoever thought that it would be a good idea to bury a bed? 
The Good Old Days... a barrowload of stones circa 2011.
I thought this was bad at the time (little did I know)
It is a few weeks since my last run-in with mingling springs. The pile of masonry dug from the soil continues to grow, but progress is being made and every so often I am treated to the delights of sowing into something akin to friable.
Hyacinth enjoying some better soil
- that really is her happy face
My favourite gardening task for a rainy day is the allocation of crops to their place in the kitchen garden. I stick to a basic rotation plan, but I like to mix things up in each bed because the kitchen garden is the one place where I feel free to experiment with different plant combinations every year. Of course, I could do that elsewhere in the garden, but an annual shift of perennial ornamentals is beyond me and I suspect that the plants would vote against the whole shenanigans by turning up their roots.
Aubrieta is definitely not rotating anywhere
In a sense, there is a secondary rotation happening on my veggie plot because it is circular. Although there may be an argument for maximising light to individual beds, I arrange them in this way because I like the idea of sitting in the middle, surrounded by food. That said, the crop circles have been there for over half a decade and I have never sat down in the kitchen garden.
The area is bordered by fruit and nut hedging with views through the food to various focal points. One focal point is an oak, another is the pear tree under which I plan to put a seat on which I will probably never sit, but I do like to have a selection of benches to not sit on. Is this complicated arrangement of crops necessary? Of course not! It just amuses me to grow them in this way. Gardening should be fun. Crop circles make me smile.