In the Celtic calendar it is Lammas, the festival of the grain harvest and of ripening fruits. This is the time that the garden and glasshouse should be at their verdant peak. After a bit of considered gazing around this week, I concluded that, happily, we have risen to that air of abundance.
The tomatoes are coming thick as passata; getting good reviews and flying off whatever stalls we put them on. Now I wish we’d planted more, though if you catch me waxing lyrical about peppers in a month’s time, you’ll know I’ve revised this view.
Many gardeners have reported this as a “bad year for beans” [french and runners]. The obvious explanation would be that the dry spring left soil moisture levels deficient well into the summer: beans don’t ask for much except water. But even our trickle-irrigated glasshouse climbers, and late planted outdoor dwarves, have been somewhat pest-prone and lacklustre this year. Still we’ll be picking our first french ones this week and I’m expecting a reasonable harvest over the coming month. The “Kew Blue” under glass are finally resplendent in elegant dark leaves, indigo flowers and deep purple slender pods: even a poor crop would be forgiven in the light of this yield of eye-candy, a trade-off I rarely buy in to.
We’ll let them climb, Jack and the Beanstalk like, above the top wire and through the glass ceiling if they care to. But the tomatoes, cucumbers, melons and gourds are now having their vertical growth terminated at precisely the height at which our six-footers, Ed and Jonny, can reach to pinch. Not long ago I could have lost these plants, like the dream of a community plant nursery, in a gust of ill wind or a tight fist; now they, and the garden they star in, is bigger than me every which way you look at it. Days pass and you find yourself only able to utter the very cliches that elderly relatives annoyed you with as a child: my, haven’t you grown…
Up until now, it’s been a fine season. Warm, not too hot; and a decent amount of moisture: after the parched spring, accumulated rainfall has pulled itself back to last year’s level. OK, the peppers are asking for more heat, but you can’t please all the plants all the time: the temperate field veg is giving good feedback, and the salad leaves are holding up.
Mid to late summer is a difficult patch in the grower-supporter relationship (supporter being a preferable term to customer when talking about our produce recipients). Just as the lean times give way to abundance, half the people you’ve grown it for seem to disappear to some far-flung festival or holiday destination.
From the supporters’ perspective, the hot months drive a change in palette, in favour of light, cool, “wet” foods: surely, if there was ever a time to relish ultra-fresh local salad leaves, this is it! Yet, this is exactly the moment when I begin issuing dire warnings about the “salad gap” (see blog post 31 August 2010).
This year, thanks to the aforementioned weather conditions, the winter salads should be off to a flyer, whilst the veterans of spring hold up well. This doesn’t mean there won’t be a salad gap, but, with a bit of luck and judgement, it should be narrower and shallower than might be the case.
Meanwhile, our Open Day this month will feature the first of a series of public workshops exploring different ways of preserving “surplus” produce. So perhaps growers and supporters alike will make it through the bumpy patch wasting not and wanting not.
Nicole, Stefan, Ed, t’other Ru, and I, got the garlic up, out and in last week. The are beauties, big fat bulbs the like of which I’ve never grown, or even seen grown organically. Now they lie in the warm dry refuge of the glasshouse. Safe. There, the reified sun will dry their bones, preserving them into next spring. As a by-product of this curing process, they freshen the air with the sensuous aroma of Italian restaurants. It’d be far-fetched to claim that they are keeping vampires, rats and aphids at bay, but they surely can’t be encouraging them. All in all, it’s good having them around.
There is a deep sense of security in having a crop in for store, and garlic provides this early doors in July, whilst farmers sweat for a few more weeks until the grains; and maincrop spuds and roots are ripe. For the grower though, the relief is fleeting and fractional: the bulk of what we do is fresh produce, straight off the land. A risky business.
The care given to this weeks golden and “striped” beetroot, for instance, is repaid fleetingly, with a wistful gaze back at the colourful crates before they are cradled into the van or bicycle trailer to their next destination – the organic grocer or the Slow Food restaurant. Then, we turn to the immediate task of bringing on the next beetroot sowings. It’s like a succession of one night stands, whereas cut-and-come-again salads; and fruiting vegetables (e.g. tomatoes) are akin to a proper affair.
However short or long the fling, right now is the summer of love: vegetables are sweet, juicy and infinite, in the ground and on the vine. The garlic in the glasshouse is but an echo, yet prophecy, of the cold comfort of winter stores.