The Asparagus Rush

The harvest team were assembling, as ever, on Tuesday morning.

“So, are we mining?”, asks Vi.

“Yes, we’re mining”.

Alok, one of our Salad Starters, might be wondering if there’d been a terrible misunderstanding when he applied for the role. No one had mentioned anything about excavating the earth for mineral deposits, up until now. No need for alarm though: the “mining” in question was the extraction of Miners’ Lettuce, Claytonia montana, from the depths of the glasshouse.

As discussed here in “Miners Support” (April 13th 2011), this juicy-leaved plant acquired its common name after achieving popularity with gold miners rushing to the west coast of the US in the 1850s. Now it gilds our salad bags with its subtly sweet sparkle. For the migrants, it must have been precious indeed: a vital source of vitamins and minerals in a rocky, inhospitable terrain devoid of farmers and markets. It was green gold, a wild vegetable salvation. Nowadays, we cultivate it, or rather, attempt to: this year we’ve fared better than most, producing an overabundance, but the species remains highly feral. It grows best not where we’ve carefully sowed, fed, planted and nurtured it, but in the “wrong places”, where it’s managed to set seed the previous year and has risen up free as a weed.

This does inevitably lead to the slightly ridiculous spectacle of growers at Hawkwood carefully weeding around the Miners Lettuce in one bed, before going on to ripping it out of the next one. So even organic gardening, for which “work with nature not against it” is a guiding maxim, can lead you to do things that verge on the contrary: we humans are crazy.

Its rebellious nature does, however, qualify it not just as a totem plant for gold miners, but all miners: the Free Miners, who have earned the ancestral right to freely unearth coal and iron in the woodlands and commons of the Forest of Dean; and our coal miners, those underground upstarts whose flowering spirit waves of state repression could not stop self-seeding. The links between miners and veg growing are also literal: miners were amongst the most fervent of allotmenteers in the during the “Golden Age” of allotments; and it is said that the shorter handles of British gardening tools, in relation to the rest of the world, lies in their evolution from mining tools, where people dug on their knees.

The emerald shoots, of Claytonia, and more besides, flooding the glasshouse and bursting out, declare the end of the latest Winter of Discontent. Like so many good things, Spring takes a thousand bated breaths, an age of anticipation, to arrive, and when it finally does, it comes yesterday, stares at you like it’s been here all along. The gage trees that envelope the glasshouse, now in bloom, have always been jaw-dropping; the litany of leaves that sprout from eternities of seed, bud and branch, is always a miracle: Spring just pings back our eyelids to see it raw.

Such romantic observations are of little interest to the supermarkets, for whom this moment of the year is defined by the battle to increase market share by being the first to get UK-grown asparagus on the shelves. The Guardian recently reported that, whilst traditionally St. Georges’ Day – 23rd April – marked the start of the season, Marks & Spencer have gone as far as cultivating the space-costly spears in polytunnels to have it ready for Valentines Day. The rest  rely on the breeding of ever-earlier varieties:  the latest great green/ white hope is “Jubilee”, which hit Tesco shelves on the 9th April

Whilst for OrganicLea such commodification and competition ought really to be beneath us, it’s also true that we could pick a fight with supermarkets in an empty room, so I can’t help wading in here. With asparagus, and some of the other eagerly anticipated seasonal fare (strawberries, broad beans, wet garlic) we don’t lag too far behind, though our prime aim is to be timely, rather than first, with everything: we began cutting asparagus on Friday 15th April. As a footnote to the myriad benefits of growing food in London, this can be added: the city provides, through its radiant heat and thermal mass, a microclimate that advances and extends the growing season impressively. Community Food Growers’ Network have done great work with Just Space to campaign for a greater prioritisation of food growing in the London Plan, in time for the local election. The link to their petition calling on London mayoral candidates to support food growing can be found here https://you.38degrees.org.uk/petitions/london-mayor-protect-and-provide-land-in-london-for-food-growing.

As the CFGN slogan goes “Our City, Our Land”. In April in the South of England, the people return to the gardens, and the gardens return to the people. In the city as in the country, on a bright day, the cool breeze carrying wafts of nectars, to dig is golden.

 

 

Making The Gardens Grow

“All those long shadows,
Your joy and pride
Was making the gardens grow again”
Robb Johnson, Making The Gardens Grow
The darkest hour comes before the dawn, they say. Just as we skid into Spring, a thud of wintry weather has stilled wind and time, so we sow our first seeds whilst frost lays on the ground. And in the last week, two gentle men who are part of the OrganicLea story, pass on. They’ll not meet the glimmer on the horizon: the warm spring breeze nor the apple blossom.
Campaigning journalist David Ransom was a mentor to Clare, our intrepid Training & Outreach Worker, when she was being intrepid in other ways and places. He came to interview us for a feature on Permaculture in New Internationalist magazine in 2007. In doing so, he validated our, at the time, outlandish belief that community food growing could have a role to play in the movement for global justice. The Food Sovereignty Movement, as it is now, was but a twinkle in his twinkly eyes. Later, he lent his weight and wordsmithery to the Foreword for our book, “Seedlings FromThe Smoke”. The last time I saw him was at that book’s launch, September 2014. He likened Hawkwood, with its gardens, glass temple and popular army, to Byzantine: it was a memorable image, an extraordinary speech.
Fred Whiting, my grandfather, is known at Hawkwood as the man behind our “Kondine Red” tomatoes (see “You Say Tomato”, March 6th, 2010). He taught me from an early age the value of just getting outdoors, and the possibility of holding independent ideas. He was a perpetual dissenter, but he also knew which way the wind blew. Post-War, he left London for one of the emerging New Towns, for better air, space and opportunities for his family. He also left the work he loved, seeing that the emerging industrial model of agriculture had limited need for his class, the agricultural labourers. These were wise decisions that, in my life, I’ve senselessly reversed. Though not without his tacit understanding. Everything cycles, after all.
Sometimes life cycles touch, though their beginning and end can appear poles apart. We are still unearthing the Jerusalem Artichokes – which have been fabulous croppers this year – as the time comes to plant them again. On Jerusalem Drive last week, Vi and her team were planting within seconds of lifting: if we’d been any quicker off the mark the whole thing might have descended into farce (albeit this would be a minor syllabic change to what this tuber commonly descends to). The remains of the tomato and chilli plants, carted off either side of the solstice, had barely cooled on the compost heap when trays of their embryonic descendents appeared on the propagation staging this month. A day without tomatoes is like a day without sunshine, and there are precious few of those here.

Alex sowing new seeds, 2015. Phot: Martin Slavin

Alex sowing new seeds, 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

Maybe, just maybe, this year will be the year without a “Garlic Gap”: our remaining dried stores continue to seep out into the farm stall and Wednesday lunches, whilst our early Spring Garlic more and more looks good enough to eat. In general, stores have scored: for the first time since records began – all of seven years ago – Hawkwood Harvest Hands have provided something for Box Scheme and stalls throughout January, the darkest month. These Tuesday mornings Gary or I have the treat of rifling through clamps, where our Beetroot and Black Radish are kept, needled in stacks of coconut fibre. Herein lies all the excitement and tactile experience of a Lucky Dip, with the weird twist that all the prizes are from a limited range of root vegetables. I always come away feeling lucky, millions wouldn’t.
It’s the tradition here to insinuate to all and sundry that we will be producing salad in early February, and then do nothing of the sort: they like a lie in, salad beds, so it seems. This year though, we were as good as our word: on the ninth of February, we opened for restaurant trade again. And rocket and mizuna are germinating, so here we grow. After the darkest hour; the burying of loved ones, the horizon shifts still. It’s only in our power to rake over the soil, to make the gardens grow again.

Storing Seed And Freezing Fruit

“The past and the present live alongside each other in our working lives, overlapping and intertwining, until it is sometimes hard to know where one ends and the other starts. Each annual task is also a memory of the many times we have done it before and the people we did it with.”
– James Rebanks, The Shepherd’s Life
December 2015 was the new warmest, most un-Decemberly, December on record. It took the time-honoured rituals and routines to provide reassurance that the world still turns, which is half the point of them I suppose. The customary midwinter feast followed by the midwinter break, punctuated only by Vi and Gary “beating the bounds” to make right any loose crop covers; then annual tool clean and renewal; the seed inventory and seed order.
Our seed store has, since our arrival here, shared a curious cupboard with the electrics: the fuse boxes, solar intake, meters, back-up generator. It was a temporary storage solution that now claims permanent status by virtue of customary use. It’s taken a while to realise it, but we couldn’t have provided a facility more fitting for the core of our sexual propagation efforts, had we spent days in the design and build. It is dark, cool, little disturbed, unglamorous, slightly industrial: in short, seedy. We’ve knocked up a couple of shelves, on which sit a frightening assortment of biscuit tins. Inside each tin, a choice selection of packets, housed according to family or “allied crop”. It is a shocking thought that the entire garden and its vast feast erupts from the nucleus of this closet, like a laughing Jack-in-the-Box.
This month the bean tins saw more action than usual, as we kept getting requests from members of Heritage Seed Library for the Climbing French Bean “Cherokee Trail of Tears” (see blog entry June 24, 2010): in the end Vi, Kate and Sandra were threshing the new crop to order. And gladly, as this means the bean, and its story, continues to live and breathe. We were reliant on the same network a few weeks ago, to replenish the carelessly depleted stocks of our rare local tomato “Essex Wonder” (see blog entry March 2, 2011). Whilst the latter day ritual of spending the Christmas period pouring over seed catalogues has its particular magic, the swapping of seeds is something else. It can have that spine-tingling quality, a sense of being wrapped into the thread that reaches back to the birth of cultivation, and the human exchange that cradled it.
Now, finally, frosty nights: the cold comfort of Winter. And in the nick of time: a fraudulent Spring had begun in the Lower Lea Valley, bringing snowdrops, daffs and wild plums into flower. Here, blackcurrant buds brought to bursting point, whilst Marco and Craig, his successor to the Vineyard & Winery Worker post, had to abort the winter pruning in early in the month as the sap was rising, the vines bleeding. In the second week of January we picked rhubarb for the box scheme. This is unprecedented (usually the blanched “Champagne” crop is ready by the end of February, and we wouldn’t start on the “maincrop” until a month later) and possibly unnecessary: Rhubarb relishes freezing conditions, but even the hardiest of souls can get frost-bitten where a lush spurt is suddenly pressed into ice.

Grapes ripening in the Hawkwood vineyard, September 2015. Photo: martin Slavin

Grapes ripening in the Hawkwood vineyard, September 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

We hear a lot about how climate change may benefit the wine industry, a lot less about those foods the land might lose. Blackcurrants, a mainstay of allotments and kitchen gardens, require a period of sub-zero temperatures to precipitate fruit production. Rhubarb, like Parsnips, Brussels Sprouts and Kale, has long been regarded as “improved” – sweetened and tenderised – by a good spell of winter cold. I was pleasantly surprised, then, to find our “fruit”, though virtually unblessed by the white sparkly stuff, was neither stringy nor sour: good, in fact.
On the market garden, as elsewhere, the New Year is a time for looking backwards and forwards. Last week, the first harvest of the year: digging up Artichokes at the top of the Entrance Field with Gary and Vi. Peering down at the field, the glasshouse, the Lea Valley, London, and the future: the wavering uncertainties of the climate, the political economy and the wheel of fortune; and the bolstering certainties of a hard-to-shake faith in nature-as-teacher; and the power of community. It’s touch-and-go, but on a diamond-cut ice blue day, evening sun just lit, things look a bit better.

Midwinter Bonfire, December 2015. This New Year of growing we are more likely to produce unfamiliar outcomes. Photo: Martin Slavin

Midwinter Bonfire, December 2015. This New Year of growing we are more likely to produce unfamiliar outcomes. Photo: Martin Slavin

Look Back Entangled

Cumulatively, gardeners spend five years of their lives entangling and disentangling hosepipes, wire, string. At least that’s one estimate (mine), not exactly based on a statistically valid methodology, but extensively peer-reviewed. Reviewed by many a supportive volunteer as I utter it from within a giant quadruple-knotted web of despair at the futility of it all. But looked at from another perspective, what is life – eating, sleeping, working, learning – other than a process of making a mess of things, then tidying them up again to make a mess of them again? Shouldn’t this be cause for celebration, these pendulum swings that lie at the heart of the human drama, behind the magic backdrop of the seasons?
It’s surely not that long ago that we rolled down the thousands of strings in the glasshouse to support the leagues of climbing and clambering plants in their journeys to the sun. French Beans, Cucumbers, Tomatoes, Sweetcorn, Cucamelons, Morning Glory, Cape Gooseberries, Chayote. And all the while cursing those before us who hadn’t tied the twine last year with the “Hawkwood Hitch” slipknot, so that we had to spend time we didn’t have on impatiently unpicking fractions of the whole trellis. These last few weeks, under this November’s grey fug, we’ve been unpeeling the once-lithe mass of dessicating plant matter from the redeemable polypropolene weave, freeing up ground space for winter salads and summer earlies. “Solemn days”, Martin, the Apprentice Grower, called them. Especially solemn for him, as his dedication to the cordon Tomatoes this season has seen his name morph into T’Marto. The garden party is over: all tidied, bare. This is why our land-based forebears created the Festive Period: to remember. And to forget.

 

The Ghost of Hawkwood Just Past: winter sun on the last of the tomatoes, December 02015. Photograph: Martin Slavin

The Ghost of Hawkwood Just Past: winter sun on the last of the tomatoes, December 02015. Photograph: Martin Slavin

My solemnity these days is compounded by finding it hard to get “into the spirit” due to this warm, dull, bland mediocrity of the late autumn/ early winter. You can’t warm a cockle that isn’t cold in the first place, is my Thought for the Day, and seeing slugs and glasshouse whitefly bound around like spring lambs whilst all their predators, and the plants, lie sleeping due to low light levels, is perfect justification for muttering “Bah Humbug”. Any of us that might have quietly thought that climate change might have a bright side are being shown up as fools on a number of levels.
All this, as our world governments meet in Paris for the COP21 climate talks, trying to address the matter but falling short, because the way the world’s economy is organised presents such a huge barrier to cooperative action for climate justice. Meanwhile outside, members of OrganicLea are amongst those forging, in the heat of resistance, counter-summit and street food, a different way of doing things.
Triumph and despair, swings and roundabouts, are the headlines from this year, in case you had to ask: austerity and anti-austerity; climate change and action for climate justice. At Hawkwood, a great year for Cucumbers, up to Number 1 in our annual “Top Of The Crops” chart of yields; a terrible time for Sweetcorn and Peas, both popping out of the Top 30. Potatoes and garlic improving on last year, whilst Beetroot and Broad beans set back, for reasons known and unknown. Cavolo Nero and Florence Fennel placed disappointingly, but got rave reviews from colleagues and chefs. Perennial vegetables and fruit – Rhubarb, Artichokes, Blackcurrants and Oh, the Apricots! – are starting to come into their own, repaying years of faithful labour, but then the Perpetual Spinach, in the end, didn’t have long for this world.
All in all, we made a mess of quite a few things, untangled an awful lot of string then tangled it up again, and wound up smiling. A decent year. A joyful, jinking orbit of the sun spent raising plants and letting them go, gaily swinging our eggs in all manner of baskets. In my more hopeful moments I like to imagine we can be chalked up as another example of “the resilience of diverse systems”. I think we need more of these now.

Heroes Of The Waste

The eleventh hour approaches. There will be a high level of interest and debate as to the colour of flowers, namely poppies. Hues include not just red for the British Legion, but also white for peace; and our local community textiles organisation Significant Seams are stitching green ones for mental health, and purple for the role of women in WW1.

 
Few poppies, few flowers, will be in full flush by then, in garden or field. Our poppies at Hawkwood have gone to compost, every one. They were Papaver somniferum “Sokol”, white breadseed poppy, an underplanting for tomatoes. Their petals fine and pale as confetti, and as transient, which is one face of the multifaceted poppy legend: that of short life, or eternal youth. As one of the War poets put it: “They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old/ Age shall not weary them”. The tomatoes above them matured, but were a way from wearing by the time we gathered in the crop of poppy seed, for which I can’t quite recall what the plan was, dishonouring another face, that of remembrance. The poppy seed “remembers” how to germinate, for at least forty years, over a century by some accounts.

 
Overlaying other ancient associations of the poppy with life and death is, of course, their dramatic surge across the fields of Flanders in the immediate aftermath of the First World War’s bombing and churning : nature’s first aid.
The poppy does not have monopoly on such symbolism. By the time of the next World War, aerial bombing had become a feature of combat, so death and destruction need not be confined to “some far-off corner of a foreign field”, but something to be endured regularly by civillians. In population and manufacturing centres across Britain, buildings and streets were decimated and, with rebuilding not a priority, renovation was again in the lap of the plants.

 
Rosebay willowherb, a plant that loves to follow fires, rose tall from the ashes, its light purple spikes giving many embattled residents a redemption sign. Blooms after the booms. A poll by the charity Plantlife found that, in 2002, nearly a half century after the end of the War, Londoners’ favourite wildflower remained Rosebay, or “Bombweed” or “Fireweed”, as it is equally well known.

 
A similar poll carried out in the eighteenth century would have likely got a different result. In 1666, the Great Fire of London blazed through the city’s streets. A major disaster, but the golden lining was that the inferno appeared to do away with the Black Death. The golden flowering was Sisymbrium irio, or London Rocket, appearing everywhere. Previously unrecorded as a weed, it was believed by some to have appeared spontaneously. A native of the Mediterranean, it is more likely that it had been around, coming in with grain or spice, and had quite sensibly lain low until something appraching warm ground was made available.

 
To this day, it smiles on the odd industrial site and road verge, and now at Hawkwood, where it is to be found “keyhole” beds on the West Bank Salad Terrace: an occasional addition to the mixed salad. It is smaller, tougher, but otherwise not dissimilar to the Wild Rocket that is a mainstay of our salad. Hawkwood wears its London Rocket with pride.

London Rocket,West Bank, September 04 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

London Rocket,West Bank, September 04 2015. Photo: Martin Slavin

The eleventh hour, the eleventh month. We realise too late how vital is peace, is harvest, are flowering plants. At Hawkwood, the Indian summer having burnt to a cinder, it is likewise the flowering plants that we look to for remembrance. In a matter of weeks the Entrance Field has changed completely: the potatoes, squash, celery, beetroot and lettuce that dominated the view all season, have left the stage, to be enjoyed by Londoners alongside the faltering fruit of tomato and bean flowers. In their place, bare ground; the rotted remains of the dead; and the just visible outline of an army of seedlings, as if by magic, stirring together, with their fragile promise of a brighter tomorrow.

A World To Wean

We savour the seasons, and from our Bird’s Eye Chilli view here at Hawkwood, we catch some of the intricacies of their turnings and twistings. On the black canvas of soil surfaces the hatching of the chickweed cock-crows Spring’s pale green dawn; whilst the splattering of worm casts like mushrooms murmur the mellow mulch of autumn. Yet there is a strong tendency to push everything to the two poles, the monoliths of Summer and Winter.

 
Most of our crops we refer to as belonging to either Summer or Winter, their resulting meals being light summer fayre or “winter warmers”; our clothing is similarly annotated. As if every movement is triangulated with the two ideals. By this measure, we are now Winter. The box scheme’s veg bags have already featured a substantial proportion of that season’s hearty menu – Leeks, Kale, Brussels Sprouts – and there are only a few residual summer crops left to clear from our beds and our minds. Basil, cucumber, potatoes, celery, all gone. Gone, to muted last rites of soft sighs and muttered gratitudes, in the short while before the new, hardier plants – endive, watercress, early peas, perpetual spinach – are relayed in. “Don’t mourn, organise”, said Joe Hill, and this is what we do. I dreamed I saw Jerusalem Artichokes last night.

 

cavolo nero under its protective cover, September 2015. Photograoh: Martin Slavin

cavolo nero under its protective cover, September 2015. Photograoh: Martin Slavin

Cavalo Nero, a kale as dark and long as a December night, is being brought down from the Old Kitchen Garden, by Eddy and Martin, in dense volumes now. In the Glasshouse recline the squash, having slipped from the Field and the jaws of the first frost. This week, our tricolour stand of beetroot will undergo its unusual metamorphosis from Summer to Winter food: pulled from the Entrance Field, shorn of their bright leaves and tucked into their cosy winter clamps, they somehow manage to beet around the binary: from tender bunches of superfood to robust roots for roasting.

 
Only the salad harvest continues, ever onwards to victory. Twice a week, all year round, bar our religious midwinter hibernation, salad bags stream out of our bit of the Lea Valley and into the wider Thames Basin. But there is a sweet sleight of hand, a trick or treat, to this feat. Since the Solstice, every week has seen us replace beds of Summer leaves [sic] with “Winter” ones. From July, the latter begin to infiltrate the mix, little by little, week by week, tweak by tweak. So that the change is almost indiscernible.
But by the time Gary, Vi and Susanna set to picking this week, the revolution was all but complete. A mix governed, in June, by the soft tones of lettuce and heady fragrance of basil, is now sharply in the gloved hand of mustards’ heat and chicory/ endive bitters. A precious few – wild rocket and chards chief among them – manage to swing with the swing.

 
My son Blake, in the sixth moon of his weaning, has taught me much about food and eating along the way. And that weaning is not just a chronological path between the diametric diets of liquid and solid. Right now, those of us who try to really eat, not merely consume, are in the midst of a gorgeous, nostalgic, sometimes sad, epic journey from one pinnacle to another, in time to turn around and head out home again. We are in the middle of a Big Wean. It’s called Autumn.

A Ballad to Salad

This week, we again find ourselves in the finals of the Urban Food Awards, run by SUSTAIN’s Jellied Eel, the essential journal of ethical eating. A change of format this year sees the award categories based on product, so there’s recognition for the best cheese, sausage, beer, bread; whilst growers’ interest will be focused on the “London Leaves” contest.
In recent years, we have seen the emergence of the mixed leaf salad as a concept and a product, from supermarkets to farmers’ markets, from gourmet restaurants to pub grub. This new thing is, as is often the tradition with new things, in essence bone-creekingly old. The earliest humans, and their primate predecessors, grazed on a range of edible leaves: for the earliest Britons, these would have included wild celery, chervil and cresses. As we shifted from hunter-gatherer to cultivation, salads were among the first cultivated plants: here, beet leaves and sorrel would have been key parts of the diet, whilst Romans later introduced lettuce and endive.

Renaissance gardeners developed new varieties of salad, and in the seventeenth centurythe herbalist Culpepper made much of the health virtues of “salading” plants. John Evelyn, one of our earliest garden writers, wrote Acetaria: A Discourse of Sallets in 1699, committing to the posterity of print the oral tradition of the cottage garden, a cornucopia of plants intermingled, with no sharp distinctions between ornamental, vegetable and medicinal, neither in the garden nor on the plate.
It’s unclear to me at what point the decisive shift from saladings came. What can be said for certain is that, by the 1970s, one particular salad combination had become utterly dominant. This is, of course the trio of crisphead lettuce, tomato and cucumber. Note that the latter two items are not leaves but fruit, and form the basis of Lea Valley glasshouse production from before the War to the present. Note also that, whilst this three-piece band may well be considered a classic, their period of hegemonic power coincides with the relegation of salad from a dish in its own right, to a side, treated by many as a garnish to be left uneaten.

Hawkwood's hand-crafted salad mix, september 2015

Hawkwood’s hand-crafted salad mix, september 2015

Turn and face the strange: I believe London, our increasingly unfair city, does right now happen to be one of the most exciting places in the country for salad, though I do realise that using “exciting” and “salad” in the same sentence may seem a little contradictory, even to those this side of  the Garnish brigade. That’s why, whoever wins this week, to paraphrase the football pundit’s cliché, “at the end of the day, salad growing’s the winner”.
Whoever wins, Growing Communities, one of the other nominees, deserve much of the credit for London’s salad growing renaissance. When I arrived there at the turn of the millennia, salad leaves were already recognised as their key product, in terms of impact if not land area. I assisted Brian Holden, to whom the salad bag was so much a vindication of permaculture gardening; and was encouraged and directed by (appropriately enough) Director, Julie Brown. Her application of the permaculture concept of zoning to food production, posited, amongst other common sense things, that urban growers could and should concentrate, first and foremost, on highly-perishable, highly intensive salads and leaves, whilst the right place for bulky field veg is, naturally enough, the hulking fields of the “rural hinterland”.
This schema, the “Growing Communities Model” of legend, prompted, in 2014, a reorganisation of the GC’s Urban Market Gardens, so that they grew almost entirely salad leaves. This required me to devise a salad rotation, to seek out new leaves to fill that rotation, and trial and error a range of approaches to cut-and-come-again, successional sowing and relay cropping. Almost as breathtaking as such horticultural jargon were the advances in techniques and blend recipes. When Hawkwood happened, I tried to take all the learning up the Lea and continue to push on there, where our 89 varieties of leaf and 42 edible flowers that made up the mix last year, only tells half the story. Meanwhile, Sara; Paul; Sophie; the Patchwork Farmers and the committed volunteers, have made GC salad a firm fixture in their box scheme and many shops in and around Stoke Newington, and last year scooped a national Soil Association award.
Spreading like wild rocket, now all community gardens that have an enterprise element, and many that don’t – from Sutton to Acton, from Crouch Hill to Enfield – have drawn inspiration from these East End pioneers, or from a broader zeitgeist, and developed their own methods and mixes which, arising from their particular soils and situations, have resulted in salads the same but different, all as unique as the boroughs they grow out of.

London Rocket. September 04 2015 Photos: Martin Slavin

London Rocket. September 04 2015 Photos: Martin Slavin

Here at Hawkwood, we welcome in the autumn equinox , and the winter leaves: the chicories, mustards, baby kales, begin to replace some of the softer summer offerings. Our range and proportion of different types has stabilised since the early exuberant days of experiment and discovery, though there’s always another trial or tweak: Sculpit and Caucasian Spinach here, an extra bed of watercress there. Our salad bags span the entire history of salads, from the Chervil and Celery leaf of prehistory, through the Romans and renaissance plants: the endive and rocket, to recent introductions such as Texel Greens and Shungiku. From the well-known lettuce to cult classics like sorrel and corn salad. From “exotic” novelties like ice lettuce and ceylon spinach to London peculiars like Walthamstow Yellow Cress, London Rocket and Amaranth “Tower Hamlets”. It’s a vegetable item, then, that is broad, deep, rich, deep and dynamic. Salad days need never end again.