The final grab of fertility from the hay meadow this year is the last run over with the mower which has kept Nigel busy. He beetles up the field with barrows full of fresh grass clippings and we dump them straight onto the vegetable plot.
Grass clippings mulching over onion and garlic beds
Today I shoved in 20 garlic cloves (variety ‘Solent White’ ) and 40 onion sets (variety ‘Radar’) and on top of them we dropped a 4-inch deep layer of grass clippings . This forms a mulch which will feed the soil, suppress weeds and protect the soil over winter. The onions and garlic will love being under the blanket, growing their little sharp sprouts through it in a few weeks time, and next July we should get bumper crops of substantial bulbs.
Small perpetual spinach plants get mulched
Then we mulched the little kale and perpetual spinach plants which will give massive leafy crops in the spring – they are the most productive and reliable crops we grow.
This sort of enthusiasm for extreme mulching may seem weird for folks who are new to Permaculture or organic gardening. The secret of growing good crops is to feed and protect the soil, and a mulch does just that. What we are actually feeding is the soil life – it is a living system of invertebrate animals, and a vast myriad of microorganisms which are all working away underground. Those chopped up leaves you can see in the grass clippings will have vanished beneath the soil in a few weeks time, eaten up by the happy, hungry earthworms.
‘Cut and come again’ celery
Lastly the celery with which I am really pleased, got a mulch of cut grass. I have never had much success growing celery before, but this year has it has been remarkable. I sowed the seed in my heated greenhouse in February and put out 7 plants, keeping them well watered and mulched with compost. I have been able to cut celery all summer and just slice the sticks off 1cm above ground level leaving the stumps in. These are now re-growing beautifully with more sticks and I hope if I cover them with fleece it might go on over the winter. That is ‘supercelery’ or is it ‘soupercelery’?!
The overwhelming size of the autumn harvest can come as an unexpected challenge for new vegetable growers. Everyone I know who is a serious food grower like me, dedicates almost as much time to harvesting crops, cleaning them up, storing them and preparing them to cook, as they do to growing them. And right now it can take up masses of time. There is the fruit to get in now, with a huge crop of fabulous apples. To be a food grower requires dedication, determination, time and energy.
Food arrives in my kitchen
Every available shelf and space is pressed into service for food storage. Winter black Spanish round radishes are in an old enamel bread bin, main crop potatoes have been dried and put into cardboard boxes.
Many of my squashes are not ripe yet, so I picked them and in the summerhouse I hope they will ripen up there in the warmth.
Pumpkins and squashes gathered in
My gratitude for all this food is enormous, and as winter approaches I can see that my larder is full. I am happy to cook while listening to radio four – yesterday I made squash soup, today I made tomato sauce. The freezer is full, and I give away my surplus produce to friends. We have a willingness to eat whatever is available in abundance. The earth gives all this to us, but I am still always in awe of how it happens every year here – we are so blessed.
Tonight’s dinner of pasta with tomato sauce and stir fry
The second Stroud Permaculture Course is underway, and days out are always the greatest fun. The course is well lead by Sarah Pugh and attracts really interesting people, who all come with a wealth of varied experience.
The first visit was locally around Stroud. Learning about how a town size forest garden looks, what’s a medlar and why grow Amelanchiers.
Up the Slad Valley for Alena’s artful flower and herb garden. Community growing at the Stroud Slad Farm/Farm Garden Project. Amazement at how much ‘stuff and abundance’ can grow in a polytunnel, how very much humans can manipulate growing conditions. How much does a huge polytunnel cost and what are crop bars for?
Across the Vatch to the Slad side, and finding a hidden ecohouse embraced by the arms of a burgeoning foresty garden in the making. Slopes, views, trees all around.
Off to the next valley and Hawkwood, an adult education centre and a hub of things growing. Home to Stroud Community Agriculture – more gawping at the size of the polytunnels and the crops inside. Chicory growing for us as a green manure and a packing shed speaking of belonging, where members help themselves to their weekly share of the harvest.
A woodsmokey fire, courtesy of the Building Skills Action Group (part of Transition Stroud) in their wonderful barn, to sit round for a yummy shared picnic lunch. Complete with courgette buns and convivial conversation.
Finally, up and over across Edge to Brookthorpe to Days Cottage. Helen’s family have farmed orchards there since the 1600s and the whole place bursts with a renewal of the old ways. They started out growing veg, but soon realized the value of the ancient orchards around them. Now they are juice and cider makers of distinction, with immense expertise which came across with boundless enthusiasm.
Dave took us around the Forest Garden they have planted and behold, another polytunnel, this one dripping with grapes.