Something to Sprout About

“March comes in like a lion and goes out like a lamb”, so they say. This year, the lion has been lying down with the lamb a lot. Over the glasshouse salads, the horticultural fleece has been going back and forth like a turnip hoer’s elbow, as gladdening sun rapidly rotates to wild wet and bitter cold. Yet the spring tide takes, irresistibly.

My biometric diary entries are heavily concentrated into March, April and May; the Firsty Times. All the great debuts occur here: the first blackthorn blossom; the first bee; the first hoverfly:  through to the premier bluebells and mayflowers. All bring the news we all need to hear: we can start again.

In the garden, a series of firsts crests the ridge between bright and dark side. It is not uncommon to sow the first seeds (tomatoes always tomatoes) indoors whilst the world outside freezes over. Even so, Wednesday was remarkable. Having issued notice to the winter compost heap residents that normal management operations would commence, we spent the day turning a good few tonnes of partially decomposed matter a few metres to the left. We moved a mountain. The day warmed a little, and the heat rose from the centre of the windrow. We were sweating and some of us stripped to T-shirts , as we dug on in the face of the blizzard.

Short sleeves in the snow. This is a tough month. A friend who worked through winter on farms in the Arctic Circle in Finland once told me that the real horrors – the suicides, domestic violence and narcotic oblivion – peak not in the depths of midwinter, when dark and ice have everyone in their absolute grip, but during the meltdown, just as the colour and warmth appear, but are not quite in grasp. Just a kiss away.

The labour, hope, movement for something better, which is in sight but still has to be worked at: this month deserves its own verb, Marching. As the rich ramp up their attacks on our lives, our communities, and our sweet earth, there is much to March about right now, in the streets…and in the fields and gardens.

In the latter, here at Hawkwood, there is glory. There are few more awesome sights in horticulture than the current two highlights; the pink stems of blanching rhubarb rising in the darkness of our Cockney Blanching Benders, fists of clenched golden leaves; and the almighty hatching of the tiny seed. We’ve taken to celebrating this time of germination by making spring our beansprout season. Beans, lentils, sometimes alfalfa, mustard, clover, are germinated indoors en masse, for inclusion in our weekly vegeboxes. Of course, we – and you – could be sprouting all year round, as many people do: but for us, sprouts’ great niche is that they are a very quick-growing and nutritious something to help fill the looming Hungry Gap. In turn they help tune us in to the underlying energy of the moment, that of birth, renewal, awakening.

Later, we March out.

Fresh Pickings

This week, normal sevice is resumed: our box scheme members, stall supporters, and five catering partners will once again be enjoying Hawkwood salad.

There are many reasons why mixed salad leaves are our flagship product here. As a labour intensive, highly perishable and high value crop, they are the obvious thing to grow at a small community-supported market garden a mere cycle trailer’s ride from its marketplace. Ecologically speaking, they allow us to dispatch commercial quantities of one thing whilst side-stepping the dead end of monoculture: last year forty three different species of plant passed through the mixing trough.

The mix evolves through the seasons, summer blend giving way to hardy leaves, enabling year-round supply. I say year round, but everything needs a break some of the time. Our corn salads and chicories get annual leave in January, when, for all anyone knows, they take long-haul cosmic flights to the Underworld and the Venetto. Then we commence picking before we leave Aquarius.

The best laid plans. This year, winter came hard and late, like Paul Scholes on one of his bad days, nipping new growth. Frustrating, but the flip side has been seeing the eagerness with which a range of folk have been asking after it, and the cheer with which last week’s first slim pickings of rocket were greeted.

Absence makes the heart fonder, I guess; or “you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone”, as Joni Mitchell chirped in that 1970 song of dawning environmental awareness. I found myself gnawing ravenously at the “graded out” leaves as I sorted them last week, as if I too was starved, not only of the flavour and texture, but of some vital element held in these fresh raw greens.

More broadly, the hunger we are seeing in the cities, for food with vitality, grown with integrity, hints at a yearning to retrieve what is gone or going: that natural fibre that threads us to our place in the world.

Yet always, after a going, a return. This week, our freshly engraved bike trailers will be “Pedalling London grown food”, satisfying at least some hungry people with one joy of a returning spring.