It was bound to fall. The broadleaves’ autumn display has been extra rich, and run for weeks, but just one big gust can be enough to bring the decoration down, just in time for December’s artificial decorations to go up.
Lower key, as the leaves settle into the soil, is the release of the annual Hawkwood Plants & Produce Review. Uncelebrated, but not without highlights: for example, for the second year running, our heritage tomatoes are our most successful cash crop, pound-for-metre. Cash is dirty, and like soil, one of the vital oils that keep our crazy idealistic venture going: the others being people power and fair trade caffeine.
This week, the frosts penetrating the glasshouse means the tomatoes’ swansong: after almost six months of cropping. But salad, our staple, will carry on regardless. Constantly changing but always there, for stall customers, restaurants and box scheme members, our mixed salad leaves are the only rival to tomatoes in terms of their impact. Not that all the feedback has been glowing: most commonly, people express disquiet at the high proportion of herbal, hot or bitter flavours present. This is something we will try to address in our planning for next year, but as ever it’s a fine balance: if we were to exclude all “strong” leaves,it wouldn’t be the same fragrant bag of tricks. The impossible dream remains the perfect blend that will just about please everyone: a lightly dressed nirvana where strong and mild flavours, soft and crunchy textures, are in total harmony to everyone’s delight and satisfaction. An apparently utopian aim, yet according to Hannah, “we’re getting there”.
The perfect blend is as elusive as utopia, because of the surprising unfathomability of people. Take mustard, for example: we grow “Giant Red” and “Green In Snow”, and they grow best through the winter. Mel, our herbalist in residence, notes that this season co-incides with when we most need the warming effect of mustard. Given this, and the fact that Roast Beef & Mustard is one of Britain’s few prized culinary gifts to the world, it’s surprising how many folk round here aren’t that keen on mustard in leaf form.
We’re still picking some lovely mustard leaves; and lambs and miners lettuce; endive and salad rocket, are especially vibrant now, abiding whilst change and decay in all around we see. The once great – always great – tomato plants join the chillies on the compost heap, and attention shifts from growing plants to the dormant season’s tasks: woody plants, repairing, and laying the land. Last week’s task list had a strong wintry taste: path laying, bed filling, gravel shifting, single digging.
Basically, Simone and I observed, we spent a day either making holes, or filling them in. After all the rich complexities of nurturing vegetables, funny it takes a year to remember that there are few things in this earthly existence more satisfying than making holes, filling in holes being one of them.
Making holes and filling them in during dark recessions is, of course, the detractors’ parody of Keynesian economics. But at the real risk of getting tangled up in allegory, and depending on where the holes are and what for, it’s not a bad way to run a winter garden.