Not-so-hungry in the gap

We are currently in the time of year known to vegetable gardeners at the ‘hungry gap’ – when we’ve planted our seeds (or at least some of them) but there’s nothing to harvest yet.

However, we  don’t seem to be suffering too much this year… the purple sprouting broccoli and kale are both doing well and there are still leeks to be harvested. In addition, as we prepare vegetable beds for future planting, we keep finding overlooked potatoes – not enough to supply all our needs, but still a welcome addition to our supplies. We are also starting to be able to harvest some leaves – blood-veined sorrel seems to have established itself around the garden and the Claytonia is growing in profusion in one of the planters… in combination with some young kale leaves, these make a very acceptable leafy salad. Indeed, combined with hard-boiled egg and the surprise potatoes, I have been able to rustle up a meal or two completely out of the garden.

Because I was careful to store as much as possible from last summer’s harvest, we are also enjoying a wide variety of home-grown produce. There are still bottles of apples and a few frozen raspberries and blackberries. Plus, in the freezer I can find roasted courgette, passatta, pesto, vegetable soup, roasted squash, chilli and redcurrants and there are more bottles of passatta in the cupboard. We are by no means close to being self-sufficient, but I love to be able to eat something we have grown at least once every day.

However, it is the promise of crops to come that really excites me. The herbs are starting to perk up now – mint, chives and lemon balm producing fresh shoots. Plus rosemary and sage beginning to wake up and grow again. I’m restraining myself from picking any rhubarb yet – but there are now lots of tender shoots. The lettuce and mizuna seeds that I planted a week or so ago are germinating and the chilli and pepper plants need potting up. Some more compost translocation is required before we can plant potatoes and various seeds directly into the garden, but the weather forecast for this weekend is good and my labourer is home, so we should be able to achieve something.

I’m also delighted  to report that, although Anna is still doing more sitting down than usual, she is no longer limping. At 3.1kg she is a big chicken, so physical injury (literally falling off her perch!) is a distinct possibility. I think she’s even laying again, although distinguishing eggs is quite a challenge… and Lorna keeps sitting on them whether she’s laid or not!

Anna and Tiffany enjoying the sunshine

Anna (l) and Tiffany enjoying the sunshine (yes, there are two hens there)

Winter veg

A time of plenty... courgettes growing by a Boston winter squash

A time of plenty… courgettes growing alongside a yellow Boston winter squash

Yesterday brought beautiful August weather, with lots of sunshine and a breeze to keep the air fresh. It does feel like the end of summer, though, with the mornings a little cooler and a slightly different smell in the air. It’s a time of plenty in the garden… something to harvest every day. However, we also need to think about the future… we may be awash with fresh vegetables now, but things will be different in the winter. So, even as we harvest, we should also think about sowing. And that’s exactly what I did yesterday afternoon.

Newly planted seeds surrounded by abundant capsicums

Newly planted seeds surrounded by abundant capsicum growth

I sat in the garden with compost and seed trays and planted a range of vegetables that, I hope, will help us through the winter. In the seed trays I planted kale, spring onions, red mizuna, komatsuna, kai lan and namenia. I discovered that I had very few plant labels just before I started, so I cut strips from a plastic milk carton and wrote on the rough side – it seemed to work well. Next, I cleared the bolting lettuces out of the strawberry planter and fed these to the chickens. In their place I sprinkled seeds of Claytonia and a lettuce called ‘Winter Marvel’. I also potted up some sweet pepper and chili plants. as they seem to be growing really well and it looks like we have a late-season mountain of capsicums to look forward to.

I will be planting more seeds over the coming weeks, including coriander, rocket and several more varieties of oriental greens. If you want ideas about what to plant now, the best resource I know is the Garden Organic website. They have pages for ‘what to do in the garden this month‘ which include planting suggestions… do check it out, it’s great.

Full of eastern promise

Ever year we manage to produce some crops over the winter. We extend the pepper season  by bringing some of the plants indoors (and hopefully keep them going over the winter to fruit again next summer); we grow kale and purple sprouting broccoli; we plant leeks (unless, like last year, a family disaster intervenes); and we grow oca, which is harvested as the days grow shorter and into the early winter. This year, however, I have decided to try to make more effort, so I have also sowed winter lettuce and miners lettuce (Claytonia) seeds to give us fresh salad leaves over the winter, plus we have salsify and root parsley coming along nicely.

A new book and some seeds

However, my big experiment this year is with oriental vegetables. I have recently bought a copy of Joy Larkcom’s Oriental Vegetables: the complete guide for the gardening cook. It’s my perfect book really, not only does it have information about cultivation, it’s also got history of the different vegetables plus recipes. As usual, I decided to buy my seeds from The Real Seed Catalogue, but in this case felt somewhat overwhelmed by the choice, so I plumped for their Oriental Explorer pack. I’m experimenting with different ways of growing these plants, both outdoors and in the greenhouse, and hope to report back as I reap the harvest (or not).

Blue pipe and net cloche

On Saturday (a glorious sunny day here in west Wales) I cleared the bed that had contained the potatoes and broad beans and planted six different oriental vegetables: Komatsuna Japanese Greens; Mispoona  oriental greens for salad or cooking; Tai Sai White Stem Leaf Pak Choi; Sobi Chinese salad cabbage; Yukina oriental leaf greens; and Hot Mustard Greens. I imagine that all of these would make tasty treats for chickens, so the bed is protected with a net cloche. This structure has hoops made from blue water pipe… a classic material in permaculture gardens, as it’s cheap, readily available and remarkably versatile. As well as keeping rampaging chickens out, the cloche should increase the temperature inside a little (it’s a degree or two warmer in our fruit cage in the winter, believe it or not). Of course, we can always convert this into a more traditional cloche by covering it with polythene, but I don’t think that’s going to be necessary.

My next task is to sow some seeds in trays in the greenhouse, so that we will have some completely protected crops too… oh and to settle down and read all of Joy Larkcom’s book (along with the dozens of others that surround me in my office).

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