Getting ready

Buddleia in summer

It’s been a long time since I last posted, not that you’d know it by looking around my patch. August has been so devoid of rain here in East Anglia and we’ve slowly gone from the lush greens of July to crispy, ochre tones of a long, dry summer.

Lucy

I have rapidly been expanding and am now four days off my due date. A couple of weeks ago I was in and out of hospital for monitoring, scans and all sorts, but so far we are OK. I was doing well, keeping active and busy, but the last few days have been a real struggle. Lack of sleep, nausea, funny tummy and general emotional wobbly-ness have all played a part. I thought I’d got away with no stretch marks, but no, with half a week to go, they’ve started creeping in. I am so heavy and cumbersome now that rudimentary weeding on my hands and knees, and a bit of pruning here and there is about all I can manage.

The peas have finished, the carrot supply is dwindling and thanks to a lack of rain, my bean and potato harvests are looking modest at best. The onions and garlic have been left on the drying racks in the greenhouse, and grabbed when needed. Despite a much better blackcurrant and gooseberry crop, I know it won’t be a stellar year for harvesting. Even the raspberries look fed up.

Large veg patch

For the summer of 2016, what will be will just have to be as we’ve been focusing on getting the house ready for our baby girl. I still can’t quite believe she’s on her way, despite being woken in the early hours as I’m booted about internally and wondering if every little twinge, niggle or pang is the start of her arrival.

But back to the house. It’s been a family effort to get ready. We lived with holes in the ceiling for a few years, and bare walls knocked back to brick and plaster. Now, with the help of my mum and sister, we have a freshly plastered and painted dining room (open plan) with refreshed painted woodwork and are no longer living under what felt like a dingy cloud. We opted for beachy/coastal colours to try and lift the blue and grey tones from this room that’s a little starved of light. Today, Rich is even attempting to finish the kitchen floor – a job that’s been on the cards for the last 2.5 years. I’ll finally be able to move our big old kitchen table back into the kitchen and reclaim the dining room as a cosy reading room. It won’t be completely finished but I’m starting to accept that fact, and be OK with it. The nesting instinct is still strong with this one.

Hopefully in a few weeks I’ll be back to some semblance of physical normality – that is, I really miss being mobile and being able to just potter for half an hour or so in the veg patches and just do what I need to do. No huffing and puffing, taking half a minute to get myself up off the floor and feeling like everything is such an effort. And I am so looking forward to meeting my little girl and showing her the world. Sharing our little slice of it with her. It might be far from perfect right now but that’s OK.

You can’t beat homegrown garlic

Garlic on drying rack

I’ve been banging this drum for years; you simply cannot beat the flavour of homegrown garlic. That’s why every year we plant some bulbs, grow them organically before harvesting enough to get us through a few months without having to resort to sub-standard supermarket fare that’s been flown halfway across the world.

This year we tried two varieties; Cristo (one of our favourites) and Solent Wight. We did have a pretty bad case of rust, but it just seemed to affect the leaves and not the bulbs (and it means we won’t be able to grow any allium on that patch for a few seasons). The Cristo definitely outperformed the Solent Wight in terms of bulb size, but I feel like we didn’t have enough of a cold snap at the beginning of the year to promote bulb growth and division.

Regardless, we’ve seen got a few decent sized bulbs, and crucially, they smell just amazing. Last year I lost a lot of bulbs as I harvested them during a prolonged spell of rain and damp weather, and they went soft and mildewy very quickly. This year, we’ve had the intense heat and lots of sun, so the bulbs have been drying out nicely on a rack in the greenhouse. I’ll wait until the outer layers of the bulbs are papery and crisp before transferring them indoors to store somewhere cooler but with plenty of air circulation.

Garlic growing in spring

Garlic growing earlier in the Spring

One of my simple pleasures in life is to make homemade vegetable soup from homegrown ingredients. The addition of homegrown garlic and onions brings a new level of flavour and fragrance to my cooking and just takes it into a realm of its own. Rich is more of a fan of homemade garlic bread, and we both enjoy the zingy fresh flavour in homemade pasta sauces too.

After eating slightly disappointing shop-bought garlic for a few months, I really don’t realise what I’m missing until I take that first taste of homegrown. Next time, we’ll grow even more to get us through the year. And if you haven’t tried it, you should. You’ll never look back.

Little Harvests

harvesting pea pods

The harvesting has begun – we’ve already got a fridge full of calabrese and during the last fortnight I’ve been picking fat pods of peas every other night. I only put in a handful of plants, but they’ve thrived, carefully planted at the back of the veg patch so as not to overshadow other crops and happily scrambling up some old metal grilles that were used to protect the old chicken ark from Mr Fox.

I love podding peas – it’s intensely satisfying, opening up pods of neatly packed chubby green globes of goodness and popping them out. I hope that next year I’ll be able to feed my daughter freshly podded peas to encourage her to enjoy tender homegrown, organically produced fruit and veggies.

freshly podded peas

The calabrese has taken on a life of its own, and where I harvested big florets off the top of the plants, smaller shoots of tender stems have sprung up, willing to give us just that little bit more before the plants go over.

The garlic hasn’t been so virulent; with lots of rain this year we’ve had our worst bout of rust, so not sure how the bulbs have fared. We’ll see… as long as we have something to use I won’t mind too much as homegrown garlic is just unbeatable. The downside though is that we won’t be able to grow any kind of alum in that same patch for three years.

And on my two tiny apple trees, we have some fruits appearing. The Blenheim Orange must be on a dwarf slow-growing rootstock, but it’s managed to produce a few fruits this year. The Charless Ross is much more vigorous and the offerings are looking so much better than the lone fruit produced last year. I’m already thinking about apple crumble!

There is a definite kind of peace in wandering about the veg patch before dinnertime, picking and harvesting fresh, homegrown food before preparing it for dinner. It’s like a piece of life’s puzzle that just slots in and makes you feel a little bit more satisfied, a little bit more complete. I might not be the world’s best food grower, but it doesn’t matter. Because next year, I can always try again.

growing peas