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St Patrick’s day – the spuds are going in!

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Spring….decisions, decisions.

I don’t make New Year’s resolutions….as such. Why would I want to make decisions, change things, shake up my ‘norm’ on a cold, dreary day in the middle of winter? No. My new ‘resolutions’ start with spring.

Spring, like my choices, life decisions, creeps up slowly….and then, one day, BAM!….it’s here. I do not need a calendar or a news report or an ‘app’ to tell me it’s spring….I see it and I feel it. I see it in all the snowdrops and daffodils that shake their pretty heads at my feetalone-2…..the first big dollop of colour in months. I see it in the fattening buds on the trees that I walk past on my way to the garden. I hear it from the birds, brazenly staking their claims to the bud ridden branches. I see it in my soil……I am convinced I even smell it in my soil.

But, most of all, I feel it.

It is unquantifiable….but there is something about spring that stirs me, deep inside. It actually messes with me. This is the time of year (not New Year’s) when I start to wonder about past decisions, begin to make new ones…..when I begin to feel the need to stretch my wings, inhale deeply and take off with possibilities. And soar.

I find it hard to make changes, to make big decisions but, somehow, being on the soil makes it easier. I don’t know why I experience such clarity of thought when I am in the garden…but I do. Perhaps it is the alone time. Perhaps it is the perspective gained by watching nature do its thing…… by watching and trusting in the cycle of life…. Spring is a time of massive change. But it is a positive change…it is a time of new growth, new vigour, new life. It is a time of optimism. Time in the garden rubs off on my soul and makes me more brave…..to embrace newness and change.

Happy springtime to you all. And may your spring gardens inspire clarity for your difficult decisions and for your ‘new year’s resolutions’.

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March in the Kitchen Garden

Last month we were under starter’s orders……this month the tape is finally up and we’re off! But still at a sedately pace.

I love March in the kitchen garden as it’s the month when I finally start sowing seed in earnest and get back onto the soil after what feels like the longest time. It is still far too cold in my garden to be sowing anything outdoors but indoors I will be starting my tomatoes, celery and leeks in the second week and, towards the end of the mosam_0839nth, I’ll start the squash and cucumbers. The window sills will be heaving under trays full of little paper pots…..and I shall bound out of bed each morning to see what, if anything, has germinated and I’ll squeal with delight at every little head that pops up.

The real work, though, will be happening on the soil; a busy month when I’ll be harvesting all the last of the winter crops…..carrots, parsnips and the brasicas…..they’ll come home and be processed for storing (mostly in the freezer). Once the beds are clear of veg I’ll start adding fertiliser, digging trenches, sifting soil and raising mounds. The grass paths will get their first trim of the year. I’ll mark out the beds with sticks to remind myself where to sow according to the plan I made over winter. If I had been able to get the green manure in last autumn it would be getting dug in now too.

It is tradition to get the potatoes in on St. Patrick’s Day, the 17th of March – I’ve never been organised enough to do it on this date until this year – so we’ll see if I get a better yield for getting them in earlier. They have been chitting away for the last four weeks and have lovely, short, sturdy chits on them. Don’t worry if yours aren’t ready – I have sown mine as late as early May and still had good results.

And if we get some decent sunny days the shed will get a lick of top coat….and maybe a tidy.

Happy March soil time and seed sowing.

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February in the Kitchen Garden

Are you managing to contain your excitement? Are you resisting the urge to start too soon? Are you resisting temptation as the garden shops start to fill their shelves again?

I find February one of the toughest months as a kitchen gardener; it’s hard to get on the soil because of the weather, it’s too early (cold) to start the vast majority of the sowings, the seed catalogues have lost their appeal after the 17th reading and, besides, I don’t need any seeds.

It’s also the toughest month for me as a scoffer of fresh hosam_0749me grown veg; apart from a few greens and root veg I’m now relying heavily on stored produce….the bottled toms are serving me well and I’m so glad I put in all that hard work at the end of last summer to get them stored but…..every February is the same……at this time of year I start to long for fresh versions of the summer veg; a fresh tomato, fresh (not frozen) peas, fresh beans, fresh fennel……the list goes on……

So, yes, I find February the toughest month. I will busy myself with jobs away from the soil; the fence still needs building, the pots and trays need cleaning with a solution of tea tree oil for its anti-microbial properties, the paper ‘pots’ need making from discarded, scrounged newspapers….there is much still to be getting on with.

I may even sow just a sprinkling of seeds. This is very early for me – I normally don’t start until mid-March – but I’m trying celariac and sweet peppers this year and they need to go in now. I won’t use artificial light or heat but rather rely on the the light and warmth of a south facing window…..and hope for the best.

Hang in there folks……we’re under starter’s orders!

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January in the Kitchen Garden

I love January in the Kitchen Garden – a whole new year to play with and get excited about. The days are short but there are still plenty of things to be getting on with.

This month I shall continue with some of the structures and landscaping. I’ll do some tool maintenance: get edges sharpened, oil hinges, fix loose handles etc. When I visit the garden I’ll keep an eye on the crops still in the ground and remove anything that looks diseased…….I’ll also do the same with my stored harvests……a quick, weekly, check over to remove spoiled veg now will save heartache at an entirely ruined store later on.

My big job for January, though, is to sort my sam_0648seeds and make the plan. Ooooh – I love it and get overly excited at the prospect of all the new veg to eat as the year progresses. Being something of a nerd this a highly organised exercise…..I start with a plan of the garden and write in where each veg will be grown – quite an easy exercise as it follows on from the previous years successes just moved a bed over…..and anything I didn’t enjoy gets dropped. Then I start to go through my seeds, in order of the beds they will be planted in, to see if I need to buy anything.

Over the last couple of years as I have learned more about my plants I have been able to save more and more seed…..so the shopping list is quite small. I buy organic seed from three small companies who have full trace-ability for their growing conditions etc…..I also buy seed from plants grown in the UK…..not only because they should be more acclimatised but because there will be less miles involved in getting them to me (I am passionate about trying to reduce the use of finite resources such as petro-chemicals). I never have an excess of seed – just the amount I need for my own eating needs – but, if I do have a really good harvest of seed I exchange them with friends and double the joy.

Once I have all my seed and my plan the rest is simple (!!)….I make a list of times to sow (indoors or out) and stick it on the pinboard at home…….and then practice patience. I generally start to sow indoors about mid-March to time my plantlets to our last frost at the end of May. I don’t use heated propagators or growing lights for the (eco) reason above – I work with Mother Nature and she generally rewards me with yummy things to eat.

Happy January planning folk and, when you can, step out into the garden and enjoy the blasts of fresh air and birdsong.

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I’m alright Jack

I read. I read a lot. I love my books. I read to escape, I read to fall in love, I read to be challenged. Recently I read a book which floored me…..it was as if I was reading my own words……as if the author had read my private journals. The book was called, very simply, ‘Spinster’. Ugh. Such an ugly word (thoroughly explored in the book) with connotations of bag lady, of cat lady, left-on-the-shelf-ugly lady……a difficult woman that no man would go near…..

….but this book was, in fact, a celebration of the single woman making her own way, the single woman being complete.alone

So, now you get the picture. Spinster: be afraid……she’s a witch, a hippy, a lesbian, a freak with no kids or husband (for goodness sake!)…..she has an allotment but there’s no man to help her….she’ll give it up before the new year……or she’ll just grow flowers..

As a woman I have had, throughout my whole life, to do the most basic things, the most normal things with defiance…..and that includes my kitchen garden. When I first got my plot I worked (as a nurse) every Sunday and when I did get down to the garden I was either on my own or with a friend (female)……the rumours soon went around that I was a lesbian preacher!!!! Hahahaha……let them think what they will…I will not be defined by religion, politics or my sexuality!

Over the years my plot has become my lover – in so much as it is the thing I want to give all my time and energy to – it repays me with moments of joy and wonder, with moments of quiet and sadness…..it loves me back as much as I love it…..the more love I give it the more it repays me. I am not single….I am a girl attached to the land.

The soil does not judge me. The soil does not question my life decisions……the soil accepts me and allows me my alone time to think, reflect, smile, cry, laugh…..I love the freedom my kitchen garden gives me……the freedom to let my mind ramble, the freedom to be myself with no questions asked.

Whoever you are, whatever stage in life you are at, whatever question you are asking…….I hope your soil time leads you to your answers. By the way….I’m a proud spinster.

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Is it autumn already?

A couple of days ago, as I was swishing my way down the hill towards my kitchen garden (swishing is my word for walking fairly quickly, with purpose but also with a carefree air), and humming a tune to myself that was not a tune I or anybody else would know but which somehow came out alright, I thought to myself ‘gosh, I do love this time of year’……and I carried on swishing and humming until a few moments later I said it to myself again ‘oh, I really do love this time of year’…….hum, hum, hum I went……swish, swish, swish I went until, in a sort of Winnie-the-Pooh moment, I stopped in my tracks and thought, ‘hang on a minute… I said this last month……..and the month before……and I’m pretty certain I said it last January’…… and so it was that I spent the rest of my swishing time trying, very hard, to think about which time I actually do love….

……and I decided that it is possible to love all the times. The garden is ever changing and as each change creeps in, I see new things, experience new excitement, feel new pleasures. The summer was beautiful……I appreciated every sun soaked, lazy, dreamy, languid moment…..but just as I was about to be complacent….about to snooze and dream some more the garden shook itself into a new phase. Someone flicked a switch. The evening darkness came quickly and the morning air had a bite to it. I had to put on a jumper. And whsam_0617en I looked at my little patch of soil I saw that it was bursting with gorgeous vegetables…..ripe from all the sun, fat from all the growing, tall from all the sunlight……somehow, overnight, it had become harvest time. So, snug in the aforementioned jumper, I have come to terms with the passing of summer and have started to harvest in earnest…..

…..in recent weeks I have spent more time in the kitchen than in the garden. I pod until midnight…..I bottle until midnight…..I chop, I blanch, I freeze….
.it does become a labour of love……but I know that come the new year I will be so glad I put the work in when I cook up another week’s worth of food from my stored veg…and snub the supermarkets. And even in deepest winter there will be fresh food to harvest and munch on. So I really do love this time of year…it’s hard work…..harder than any other time of the year…but the way I see it is my garden has worked hard for me until now so what’s a bit of effort on my side?

So I answered my own Winnie-the-Pooh conundrum……I love all the times of year in my kitchen garden……in different ways and for different reasons….and I will swish to the garden whether it’s high summer or deep midwinter…..a-swishing I will go.

The garden never stands still……it renews itself over and over…..and each time it renews itself I feel a renewal in myself. Happy swishing to you all……and love every minute.