Food for thought

I’ve been working in the garden: clearing ground, digging over, picking out stones and forking in muck. Straightening up for a few minutes to stretch my spine and watch the robins feed – it’s amazing how quickly they catch the whiff of worms! – I scan the garden and realise just how higgeldy-piggeldy it is.

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I am in awe of classic showcase vegetable gardens. You know the ones I mean? All straight lines and right angles, beds and borders clearly demarcated with manicured edges, perfectly-planted produce standing proud in precise rows, proper paths wide enough for a wheelbarrow, caged soft fruit bushes, trained fruit trees, three-bay compost systems, sparkling greenhouses . . . ah, the stuff of dreams. It’s not going to happen here any time soon, that’s for sure. One of the reasons is practicality: graph paper designs work well on flat land but try smoothing and creasing them down a steep slope and it’s a different matter. I’m beginning to realise the best we can hope for here is that enough soil manages to cling on long enough to give plants the chance to get their roots down. Gravity might be a relatively weak force but it certainly has the upper hand here and I really could do with spikes on my wellies.

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The other reason is, in all honesty, that I actually like the jumbled, jostling nature of this garden; true, the haphazard planting was born of necessity this year but it has a gentle (if slightly chaotic) charm and doesn’t take itself too seriously. Organised geometric gardens remind me of the Romans: precision, discipline, control. Okay, so ‘straight line thinking’ got them a long way but I prefer something more random, curving and flowing, with odd plants popping up in unexpected places next to unlikely companions. Does it matter if I have to wade through broccoli, tiptoe through leeks and rummage under Swiss chard just to pick a bunch of parsley? No: in fact, it makes life less predictable and more interesting.

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We gave up on proper paths several gardens ago; now we just dig the whole lot and, like ancient trackways and drovers’ roads, let paths develop where our footsteps take us. It’s muddy and slippery in winter, but isn’t that what wellies are for? If the ground becomes compacted, then next year the path will take a different route anyway; the garden’s structure and shape change and evolve with the seasons. Lovely.

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So we aren’t going to win any prizes for appearance but that’s fine by us because our garden is about one thing really and that is food. Fresh, abundant, wholesome food grown in fertile soil, warmed by the sun and watered by the rain. No packaging, no labels, no standardised shapes, weights or measures, no pesticides, herbicides or chlorine baths, no ‘best before’ date and no food miles: simply a decent selection of seasonal vegetables we can base all our meals around.

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It’s late in the year and we are enjoying squash, onions, beetroot, parsnips, leeks, cabbages, broccoli and salad leaves but the stars of the patch at the moment are undoubtedly the leaves (I hesitate to say ‘greens’ as there are other colours there, too). Steamed, stir-fried, in salads and soups – what a delicious, nutritious bunch they are. Take a look.

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Mizuna

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Golden mustard (local crop, self-sown)

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Mustard kale ‘Golden Frills’

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Komatsuna

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Golden pak choi

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Ruby chard

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Sutherland kale

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Cavolo nero kale

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‘Turnip greens’ (local crop, self-sown)

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Radicchio

Break over, it’s time to get back to digging more strange little patches for planting; I’ve gone way overboard with seeds for next year already (well, why stick with one variety of pepper when you can have six?) so I need to find somewhere to plant them all. The garden grows ever quirkier, ever more chaotic . . . but the bottom line is: no matter what our garden looks like, we won’t be hungry. I consider that to be a blessing. 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Food for thought

  1. Amen to that! It’s so wonderful to grow and eat one’s own food – who needs all the pretty and uniform veg? Seeing them always makes me wonder just how many others were classed as waste. We’ve been adding quite a bit of wild rabbit to our diet recently (possibly the most sustainable meat source) and it really complements the veg. I think we’ve given up on paths, too. It’s amazing how much you manage to get from that small plot. My beds also look like that: parsley next to broccoli next to rocket next to cabbage (just wherever there was space available at the time of transplanting). It makes it quite hard for visitors to weed! How do you rate the golden pak choi? I’ve usually had the purple one, but am just about to order a whole lot of seeds from Real Seeds and was thinking of trying the golden one. Are you going to terrace a bit of the land? We have a couple of ‘terraces’ right next to the house and they are very useful.

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  2. I think there’s much to be said for not being able to answer questions like, ‘Where’s the parsley?’ too easily, it’s much more fun having to hunt things down! You have visitors who do weeding? Do they fancy a stay in Asturias?! The golden pak choi is great, certainly a good doer – hence you can’t see the purple stuff I planted with it. It is a Real Seeds variety (talking of which, their Sutherland kale is doing really well, too). Terracing is definitely on the cards once I can drag Roger away from his current ‘el carpintero’ role in the house, I don’t fancy tackling it on my own. I’m having enough trouble stopping myself from doing a weird reverse moonwalk thing down the slippery slopes! Definitely need some welly spikes. 🙂

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    • We put most of our visitors to work! Though weeding is one of the most skilled activities (you have know what’s a weed and what not), so usually guests gather up mulch, split and stack wood, cook, that sort of thing. I like to do the harvesting myself. Some of our friends nearby had a visiting relative harvest the broad beans and she proudly announced she’d picked all of them. Pity most of them weren’t anywhere near ripe… I’ve got four kale varieties planned for next year (they’re all like separate veg to me), plus the perennial Daubenton’s kale. Jim was actually mowing the middle paddock today – he’ll still be mowing the grass in December!

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      • Kale is a fantastic veg, we were certainly growing it years before it became so trendy. That said, I can remember it taking ages to search through all the frills of very traditional curly kale for late season caterpillars . . . it’s good to have a wider range of varieties on offer these days. One of the best we grew was in France, a slightly frilled purplish variety from seeds Sarah gave me . . . can’t remember what it was called, more’s the pity. Mowing the grass in December is quite something! The farmers here are still scything grass for their stock but then it is 17 degrees and the grass just hasn’t stopped growing. Looking at frosty photos Adrienne sent us from West Sussex today, I’m very glad to be here!

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