It’s the days of gluts. On allotments up and down the country, courgettes and bolting lettuces are being chucked onto compost heaps, or desperately thrust at relatives and into jam jars.
It might be argued that a skilled grower should be able to plan their planting and cropping schedules so as to avoid that heart sinking feeling, of nurturing plants to their prime only to realise that no one is expecting them. But it seems that the most experienced, acclaimed organic growers are every bit as gluttonous as the rest of us. One thing we all learn is that, what with all the weather and pestilence out there, it really makes sense to sow much more than you plan to reap. Bad things sometimes happen. The good news is, they often don’t.
Our main glut right now is basil. It needed some persuading to get growing in the glasshouse ground in early May, but it’s now a sight and smell to behold. With their brilliant green, glossy, convex leaves, the stand of bushes have a discernible aura; and when they’re picked for the stall on Friday the crushing of stems releases their incense throughout the building: close your eyes and you could imagine yourself in a kind of food-worshippers temple. Open them again.
However, the basil is looking so great partly because we’re not pruning it back as hard as we need to, to prolong the leafy stage of its life. Fortunately, there is the “Ethical Eats” network of food businesses, brought together by SUSTAIN, the alliance for better food and farming. A call out to them yielded a healthy response rate. As a result, for the first time Hawkwood produce is being traded outside of Waltham Forest and the Lea Valley bioregion – to Hackney’s Happy Kitchen; Islington’s The Alma; and Camden’s Mana restaurant. Not only has this ensured that one of the finest “Sweet Genovese” beds in London does not go to waste (though at least recycling nutrients via the compost heap means it’s never a total waste), it has also provided an opportunity to meet three more independent caterers who share our passion for good food, in its widest sense, and who we may develop a longer term mutually beneficial relationship with.
So, for all the worry, gluts have this social function too: for us, as for all the allotmenteers, they’re an opportunity to branch out, share, make friends – to forge community.