Kitchen Garden Field
Last night I took a trip with my mum and my daughter in tow to a neighbouring village to visit a family friend. Now in her 70s, this family friend has been working land for the last 10 years, turning what was once a portion of grass field pasture into a huge and thriving kitchen garden. It was so inspiring and has really got me thinking about our own little patch and what is really possible. If I can get Rich to let some more lawn go!

The field was once a flat expanse of grass. Today it’s a maze of orchard, soft fruit beds, vegetable gardens, flowers, native woodland trees and everything else in between, including a wildlife pond and hen coop. Small wild birds flit between the gigantic plots, helping themselves to a berry here and there, and the chickens softly cluck away in their run, content to be living in such a peaceful place. From the bottom of the plot, you can see for miles over rolling hills. 

It really is just wonderful. It’s testament to years of hard work and it really invigorated me to pick up my garden tools and make the most of what we have here. 

Blackcurrants - grow your own

Our family friend spends every day up on her field, working away to produce pound after pound of fruit and vegetable. She sent us off home laden with freshly picked courgettes, a homemade blackcurrant crumble and for my mum, her friend of almost 40 years, a jar of honey from the small cluster of hives in the adjacent plot (the blackcurrant crumble was beyond simply delicious). My mum has vowed to go up and spend some time helping her friend work the land, as she’s always so generous with giving away things and never asks for anything in return.

Over the years, this giving of fresh produce is something that mum and I have begun to use as a form of currency, something that, in my frugal years now, I have come to appreciate more and more. At the moment I’m trading gooseberries and blackcurrants in return for a bucket of bird seed, as I can’t justify the spend on a whole sack out of my current spending budget. Earlier in the year, my currency was homegrown strawberries, and soon that currency will change again to homegrown raspberries. We might even trade some Charles Ross and Blenheim Orange apples and homegrown blackberries when autumn comes around.

It’s funny, in a way this kind of trade with homegrown produce makes me feel a little bit rich. Even though I am so very far from the traditional perception of it. I would like to increase the amount of soft fruit in particular that I grow at home. Blackcurrants are top of the list – we only have two small bushes (Ben Sarek and Ben Lomond, I think) that are slightly shaded by the fence. I hope to get some more planted in over autumn and winter, incorporating some flowers to attract pollinators, and maybe even extend my no-dig bed, where the strawberries have gone rampant this year. We have the space, and I hope we can find a way to use it!

Back to School… Almost

Leeks planted in the potager in August

Well here we are in mid August and it’s been a busy one for me. Just over a week ago I returned to work after maternity leave and have been getting back into the swing of working life, albeit in a very reduced capacity (next month’s pay cheque will be interesting,  as I readjust to getting by on less than half the hours I was on before. Childcare costs are just so prohibitive… life is expensive yada yada…). Mum has been recovering well after major surgery but still needs help around the house for simple but more labour-intensive tasks – and is still waiting to be able to drive again – and we’re currently in the throes of finally laying down the last of the flooring in the kitchen and utility room. It’s only been 11 years since I ripped up the old flooring and 2 years since we bought all the replacement flooring…

I think we will have to actually go out and buy some celebratory fizz once the last piece of flooring is in place. Seriously.

As predicted, I’ve lost my not-so-firm grip on all things horticultural and agricultural. We were subjected to a fortnight of deluge after deluge, and with all the aforementioned distractions, I’ve had to watch from the sidelines as the grass grows out of control, the hedges explode, the borders go over and the bindweed swamps and romps away.

But if motherhood as taught me anything, it’s the art of ‘f**k it, let’s just get on it now whilst we have the chance’. So one afternoon as E took her afternoon nap, I leapt into action.

My plot is small, but it’s enough to keep me busy for now. Out came the garlic, which was distributed on drying racks before it goes into storage. I mulched with a generous layer of organic compost before setting my new Musselburgh leeks into place. They’ll hopefully be big enough to harvest over the winter, when steaming bowls of homemade leek and potato soup will keep our bellies warm and full.

I worked quickly, and weeded and heavily mulched a small strip of the plot that had been unoccupied so far this year, and threw in a few seed potatoes that had been soaking up the sun on my kitchen windowsill since about January. I’ve been told on good authority that it’s still fine to get potatoes growing now… maybe we’ll have some fine freshly dug spuds ready for roasting at Christmas?

Lastly, I’ve managed to start thinning out my wonky rows of Autumn King carrots, which have been thriving alongside my nasturtiums, chives and shallots. And what a delight… the baby and I both enjoyed freshly cooked baby carrots for dinner that night. Already bursting with flavour, they’ll be ripe for pulling for the table from September.

I won’t lie; I’ve been having a really tough time recently, probably mostly self-perpetuated but nevertheless it’s left me feeling like I’m struggling to tread water. The garden has helped me get back on more of an even keel. I’m very much aware of still how much I need this in my life – the pottering, the planting, the harvesting. Perspective.

Cambridge Favourite strawberries

The little patch of strawberries are starting to ripen and I’ve got my very first crop of strawberries to enjoy this year.

Cambridge Favourite strawberry crop

I started off with four little Cambridge Favourite strawberry plants, bought for about £1.29 each from my local independent plant nursery. I added a couple more freebies that were sent with a plant order earlier this year, and with a little (and I mean, minimal) TLC, the plants have thrived, flowered and fruited. We now have a small but vigorous strawberry patch that has endured despite the late April frosts earlier this last spring.

It seems Cambridge Favourite have proven to be a successful strawberry variety, which need only a little love and attention to produce a decent yield. I’ve given mine a couple of liquid seaweed feeds, and an initial mulch of general peat-free organic compost at the beginning of the year, when I divided the plants and runners. Our sandy soil also helps with drainage, and with a regular water every few days the plants seem happy and healthy.

It’s now a question of beating the birds and woodlice in a race to see who can enjoy the ruby-red spoils this summer!