Cold At Bay

Last year a sharp snap, this year an easy gentleness in November’s setting. There will be no mad, doomed rush to hold back the tide of frost from sun worshipping crops. The peppers have been permitted to fully ripen, and will this week join their squash, tomato and sweetcorn sisters in the compost heap of rest, after fruitful lives well spent.

The borderline “winter” salads – “Lattuginho”, escarole, parsley – have already given of enough leaf this clement autumn to justify their selection, whatever happens from now on in. The outdoor sowings of beans, field and broad; garlic; and agricultural mustard, have all been permitted to lift their heads above the parapet, a reflection of their roots’ extension. This will allow them to protect soil structure and fertility from the coming cruel months.

Especially enlivening has been the rich river of glistening veg that has continued to flow from the Great Outdoors and settle in the packing station – the central reservoir between the classroom, kitchen, tool shed and office – before flowing out into the unnumbered kitchens beyond. Rainbow chard, perpetual spinach , Chioggia beetroot, kales black and curly, cabbage, jerusalem artichoke – it has been a delight.

Urban market gardening is but one element of the “alternative food system”, and the emphasis is naturally on “just in time” ultra-fresh produce. Consequently, the low season means lean pickings, and a welcome opportunity for rest, reflection and planning; the provision of winter supplies, from store or large field, has been the preserve of those hardened hands out in the sticks. But as I ponder the draft planting plans for 02012, I can see an emotional, as well as an economic, case for extending our cold menu range.

In doing so, we may rediscover again that there are degrees of hardiness. Last year the Red Russian kale froze to death at -10, whilst Pentland Brigg, from the Scottich uplands, stood as unruffled as curly kale can.

After a quiet year, the mild damp has brought the slug multitudes out from all over the terrace. A few hard frosts should see to them, soon. But not yet. Not. Just. Yet.



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