April: Planning, Planting & First Crops

seedingsOur wonderful gardener, Andy, has cleared and prepared all of the beds ready for planting – planned for this week (and the weather is being relatively kind, so we are on track). In order to keep the soil well nourished and healthy, it’s important to partake in a little crop rotation each year, so we’ve planned the beds with great thought and I’m excited to see the garden evolve with lots more variety this year. I love the anticipation of it all.

Last year we planted everything in one go as there was a lot of building work going on to the house and other gardening and repair work to be done. The downside of course was that we were overwhelmed with so much being picked at once (there was too much to share and I hate to waste anything), plus some veg are very short in their season so we were only able to enjoy them for a few weeks.

The focus this year is to stage the planting so that we can achieve more manageable harvests: the first batch of planting starts now and we’ll do the remainder in June so that we get a second harvest. If we plan well, the garden will keep on producing right through autumn and well into winter.

bee
First and foremost, the best spot in the garden is reserved for the bees and the butterflies (aka garden royalty) – we’ve lots of native flowers that self seed each year and we shall be seeding more, ensuring a full spectrum of colour. We’ve also a bed reserved for cutting flowers – cosmos, peonies, dahlias.” 

Herbs are next on the list for me from English lavender, thyme (lemon thyme is one of my favs), basil, mint, sage – all the usual suspects – and I’ve included some unusual ones, too, to experiment with like stevia and lovage.

The remaining beds will be divided up into dedicated beds for legumes, salads, root vegetables, winter produce etc and a bed for summer berries. We’ve a lovely sheltered south facing spot next to an old red brick wall which absorbs the heat and I’ve popped the lemon and olive trees here. Just along from there is a fig plant and I pray we get some fruit from that as figs are a clear, outright favourite of mine.

We are blessed to have a wonderful greenhouse – aside from nurturing all the fledgling seedlings – we are looking forward to housing tomatoes (there are so many varieties to choose from so I shall be experimenting again this year with deep purple varieties to sunny yellows), cucumbers, chillies and bell peppers.

The garden is organic – naturally! This of course brings added challenges which I’ll post about as the season gets underway but it’s definitely worth the effort to ensure that produce is chemical free – and there are lots of tricks to shoo off the pests such as companion planting, but more of that another time. We source many of our seeds from kingsseeds.com as they have good organic stock.

I think it’s vital that we experiment with as many varieties as possible, not least for colour, flavour and nutritional benefit, but also to secure the depth and breath of varieties so that they aren’t lost to archives.”

Roots

Eat The Rainbow & Eat In Season!

We have chosen the widest spectrum and variety of colours and vegetables as we can (see my article on Eating the Rainbow and head over to my Eat in Season posts). In place of green mange tout I have opted for the Shiraz variety which is a beautiful deep purple (purple & blue veg and fruit are perhaps the most important group providing anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory, cognitive, heart, skin and liver health nutrient support) and I’ve chosen a purple carrot variety for the same reason. I love bright yellow Orelia courgettes for vibrant summer dishes, rainbow chard and Romanesco broccoli. I also love the Chioggia beetroot as it has beautiful, candy like stripes. When winter arrives, so too will our purple Red Bull Brussels sprouts. As for the squashes, pumpkins and gourds – these are like multi-colour gems.

What’s in the garden now?

pepper_dipThe asparagus has started to pop up (you can’t miss it in the ground – it phallically salutes spring). The wonderful thing about asparagus is that it doesn’t need to be newly planted, it comes back year after year. Sadly, the asparagus season is short, hence such a delicacy. How do we plan to eat it? I’ll be lightly steaming it and using it in salads (especially lovely with poached salmon) and I’ll try a chilled asparagus soup. I’ll also be making Boy George’s raw pesto to eat with it (Cook. Nourish. Glow. page 40-41) and I’ll definitely be dipping it into my eggs.

Another early grower is rhubarb – it will be ready to start picking and stewing in about 4 weeks. I’m determined to think of more things to do with it beyond puddings this year. I may try a dairy free ice cream (it’s delicious with ginger, of course, to spice it up) but mainly I’d love to find more savoury ways to eat it – perhaps pork or oily fish? I hear it goes brilliantly with saffron and the colours of that combo would be fabulous. Either way, it’s a great early springtime treat as it shoots up so quickly in an otherwise relatively bare garden.

The garden doesn’t stop at providing food, it is also gifting us medicine in my eyes – a vibrant colourful array of protective and health enhancing nutrients. I can’t wait for the growing season to get going so that I can get harvesting, cooking and eating (and sharing!).

With all this chit-chat of the garden, my wellies beckon. I’m looking forward to the summer when I shall be reporting back in my flip-flops. Not long – just a few months away but LOTS to do!

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