For every season

There are many reasons to eat local and seasonal – reducing food miles, accessing really fresh produce, the anticipation of a certain food becoming available, supporting local growers, growing your own…

Of course, growing your own food is likely to be associated with ups and downs: hungry gaps and gluts. This means that a gardener needs to be thoughtful about supplying food throughout the year and careful to store crops for later use. For example, I’ve previously mentioned that it’s been a good year for courgettes (we’ve harvested over 10kg from our small plot so far and there are more growing), so we have eaten them more often than if I hadn’t grown them; but knowing that we like to eat soup, I have converted many of them into soup for the freezer. Our glut will help to fill a hungry gap later in the year.

If you Google a phrase like ‘seasonal eating’, you will be presented with thousands of web sites, telling what to eat when. For example, if you are in the UK, you could look at ‘Eat the Seasons‘ and find that this week, the vegetables in season are:

artichoke, aubergine, beetroot, broccoli, butternut squash, carrots, celeriac, celery, chillies, courgettes, cucumber, fennel, french beans, garlic, kohlrabi, leeks, lettuce & salad leaves, mangetout, marrow, onions, pak choi, peppers, potatoes (maincrop), radishes, rocket, runner beans, spring onions, sweetcorn, tomatoes, turnips, watercress, wild mushrooms

a helpful list if you are off to your local shop. But beware – just because things are in season at the moment does not mean that the versions for sale are from a local source. I am appalled when I see apples from all over the world available in supermarkets in the UK in October… and apples rotting on the ground around trees because no one has bothered to pick them.

Immature Boston squash in September... it's never going to get the chance to develop a hard skin for storage

Immature Boston squash in September… it’s never going to get the chance to develop a hard skin for storage

However, if you have a garden you can, to a certain extent, beat the seasons. Be a little bit daring with your planting times, or make use of a greenhouse, polytunnel or cold frame, or even your kitchen windowsill, and you can extend seasons, or even crop completely out of season. Big commercial growers can’t afford to take risks – they need an income – but you can. Try planting at a different time, or bringing plants indoors and you may get an out-of-season crop that provides a real treat. With home growing, it doesn’t really matter if you don’t get the size or quantity of produce that you might at other times of the year and it can add much sought-after variety. In some cases, a plant starts producing at an unfortunate time; this often happens with pumpkins and winter squashes, when fruit sets late in the season so there will not be time for it to mature. In this case it’s possible to be creative – just harvest them and use them immature like you would a summer squash or courgette.

September strawberries in the greenhouse... I think we'll have Eton mess

September strawberries in the greenhouse… I think we’ll have Eton mess when these are ripe

Sometimes, an out-of-season crop can be a fortuitous accident… take my strawberries for example. I have two hanging baskets of strawberries (the idea was to keep them away from slugs and chickens). They produced quite well in their season (around June), but then I moved them to a location where slugs found their way to them and the leaves started to get severely eaten. Not wanting to lose all the plants, I hung the baskets in a convenient location to keep an eye on them… inside the greenhouse. Once there, they perked up and started flowering again. This is why we are now enjoying a second small strawberry crop… and most delicious they are too!

Rhubarb, rhubarb

I’m pleased to report that Gytha is on the mend: she has started objecting to being given antibiotics at 9am (it’s a bit easier at 9pm because we wake her up to do it) and she’s shaped more like a rugby ball than a soccer ball now, which must indicate an improvement. So, my mind is turning to plants…

This is the time of year known as the ‘hungry gap’ (at least here in the UK). It’s spring – seeds are germinating and seedlings are growing, but there are precious few crops ready for harvest. My kale has started flowering – the pollinators like it, but it’s not much use for me to eat now – the purple sprouting broccoli is battling on and providing one fresh vegetable from the garden, but the current star is the rhubarb.

Rhubarb this week – with sage in front of it and blueberries to the left

Rhubarb is really a vegetable, but we treat it like a fruit. It’s great stewed with a little water and some sugar and served with natural yoghurt or vanilla ice cream. Even better with the addition of waffles and maple syrup. Some people mix it with orange when cooking, but my favourite combination is rhubarb and strawberry. It’s not strawberry season here yet, but they will soon be available from Pembrokeshire (not too far down the road) and after that we should have them from the garden too (if the chickens don’t get to them first!). And then we will be having rhubarb and strawberry spongeĀ  – delicious and made with eggs from Esme and Lorna (sadly not Gytha for a while – we have to discard any eggs she lays for quite a few weeks after she’s finished her antibiotics).

As well as providing lovely fresh food early in the season, rhubarb just keeps on giving – it likes a good application of compost each year or two and benefits from watering through the summer, but as long as you keep picking it, it keeps growing. Some years it decides to flower, and if you allow it to do so, you get statuesque flower heads, but precious little to eat because all its energy goes to the flowers. However, if you cut the flower stalks back as you notice them, you will have your harvest.

Admittedly, by the end of the season, you may be fed up with rhubarb, but don’t fret – it freezes well, just raw sliced into chunks or stewed (which takes up less space). You can also make it into a variety of preserves, although I have never tried this approach. This year, however, I do intend to have a go at bottling it, since the apples were so successful preserved this way last year. But now I’m thinking of it, I think I’ll just look up rhubarb preserves in a few books…

%d bloggers like this: