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Being a contrary sort I have always sown my garlic in the spring time, and it's an approach that has served me well over the years. In fact, it has worked so well that I never really saw the point of winter garlic sowing and I always felt very clever indeed for holding off until spring. This year however, I got caught out by mild spring weather. Garlic needs a prolonged cold snap (4-8 weeks of sub 10 degrees Celsius) to yield nice big tasty bulbs, and the spring weather this year didn't supply the conditions needed. The result? Puny little garlic bulbs and a dollop of humble pie.
This week I spent some time at either end of the food growing cycle: at one end, up to my neck in compost, turning the heaps at the end of the garden; at the other, up to my neck in a mountain of pears in the kitchen, turning them in to a pickle for the winter larder. When it comes down to it, you have to be willing to invest time at both ends of the cycle, if your food growing is to thrive.
After a couple of quiet weeks it’s time to get busy in the veg patch again, this time with harvesting. Our onions are ready to pick so it’s a job for a quiet Saturday, if the weather plays ball. Gathering onions and getting them ready for winter storage is one of the bigger harvesting jobs of the year, but I love it.
French beans are, I think, one of the most underrated of vegetables. Of all the legume family, they are my favourite to eat, more desirable to my mind than runner beans, broad beans and perhaps even peas.
It’s hard to believe that we’re now in the sixth month of the year already, and that the longest day of the year is a mere three weeks away. At the risk of getting a slap in the head, let me say this much: it will be Christmas before we know it!
There is a wonderful Ted Talk by New York-based chef Dan Barbour about a small farm in Spain that produces foie gras humanely (without the force feeding that the product is often lambasted for). Raising his geese in a natural environment, farmer Eduardo Sousa re-discovered that if geese are allowed to forage at will, they will naturally gorge themselves in the autumn to build up fat for the winter. The result? A ‘natural’ foie gras. The important word there is “re-discovered” because there is nothing new in this.
A few months ago, I was giving a talk about growing things (as you do) to a GIY group and was discussing the growing of spuds when a woman put up her hand to comment. She told us about a tradition in her family when the first new spuds of the season were being harvested. Her grandmother would always take a small batch of new spuds and put them in a biscuit tin, throw in a small covering of soil, put a lid on top and then bury the tin in the garden.
Tomatoes have a long growing season so to get good fruit you need to get the plants started early (if you are growing from seed). I sow my tomatoes on a heating mat in the potting shed in mid February, so by early March they have germinated.
2015 is the UN FAO’s Year of Soil. The year-long project aims to raise awareness in society about the ‘profound importance’ of soil for human life and promote the sustainable management of soil. FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva said that we are not paying enough attention to soil, our ‘silent ally’, which I reckon is an understatement – as a society we’re paying no attention whatsoever to our soil.
New Year's resolutions sometimes get a bad rap, because they seem to represent the folly and flightiness of the human spirit. We start off the year with grand intentions to eat only salads, walk/run/swim 100 miles a week, and to do Bikram yoga in a sauna until we weigh as much as a baby sparrow. But then by the end of January we've quietly abandoned our good intentions and reverted to guilty, bloated type.