Normally on a summers’ morning, you would find me out in our garden, pottering among the borders or weeding in the veg patch or inspecting the latest flowers to bloom. My green fingers would be itching to get out and do something, perhaps a bit of deadheading, or picking sweet pea flowers, or collecting herbs for drying. But today I’m inside, at my computer, staring at the outside world and shaking my head in disgust. It isn’t that it’s cold outside – it’s just wet. And it’s not even as if it’s what you might call ‘proper’ rain – it’s that miserable cross between rain and fog, where the clouds seem to be touching the earth and giving up all their moisture at once – the wonderfully named Scotch mist. Everything is damp and dripping and grey, and even the most hardy gardeners would surely be tempted to find jobs indoors.
I’ve already been in my greenhouse this morning, sowing seeds to provide us with seasonal crops over the autumn, winter and early spring. Kale, sown with seed taken from plants that cropped last winter and flowered a few months ago, will soon germinate, along with lettuces, spring onions and corn salad. I’ve also got hops and cyclamen seeds ‘on the go’ at the moment, to hopefully provide vigorous climbers to cover a large garden fence, and beautiful spring flowers respectively. But steadily germinating seeds don’t really need much babysitting and the cucumbers and tomatoes can grow without much assistance, so I can’t lurk in the greenhouse for very long.
I’m growing lots of salad crops but there has to be a certain ambiance to make salad eating an enjoyable activity. A cold salad lunch when it’s wet and miserable and grey outside does nothing to inspire the taste buds, not when all I’m craving is a hearty and warming stew of meat and root vegetables.
We’re all accustomed to having all manner of vegetables available at all times of year, thanks to the supermarkets and their tendency to ship produce from all corners of the world. But having grown up with this, I now find that I crave foods that are inappropriate for the season, and it feels more than a little inappropriate for the gardener to be heading off to the supermarket in search of winter cropping foods at the time of year when the summer crops are heading into their most productive periods.
It’s well known that seasonality is vital for good health and for the continued viability of farming and market gardening. But in saying this, it’s only since I’ve started properly growing my own food that I’ve begun to take real notice of what’s in season. At the moment in my garden and greenhouse I have some early kale, some late begun-to-heart spring cabbage, kohl rabi, cucumbers, lettuces, spring onions, peas, various salad herbs, strawberries and raspberries. Along with my garlic harvest from last week, which should give me 6 months supply, these are the things that are ready to pick, ready to eat and ready to enjoy.
Other gardeners may be lifting carrots and onions this month (I tried onions from seed this year and managed no more than a small jar of pickles from the whole row!), or taking the last crop of rhubarb or asparagus or picking the last of the spring broccoli. Next month and the month after, August and September, bring the glut of the harvest, when every meal is a fresh one and the list of possible vegetable harvests seems to incorporate almost every category in the seed catalogue index.
Come next January the harvests will tell a different story. The kale will still be going strong, there may be a few brussels sprouts left from Christmas raids, the winter cabbage will be begging to be lifted, hamburg parsley and parsnips will be providing nourishing roots and one or two leeks will be able to be taken from where they’ve grown among the summer flowers. Hopefully I’ll still have a little garlic, and a few herbs from overwintered pots stood in the greenhouse, along with winter greens planted in grow bags in the greenhouse, in the same space where my tomatoes and peppers currently sit.
Seasonality in meals should reflect seasonality in vegetables. Thus if I do succumb to the temptation to make a warming stew today to chase away the cold, it will have carrots and kohl rabi and new potatoes and lots of fresh herbs in it. The same stew pot filled in January would (or should) contain hamburg parsley, parsnip and leeks and maybe a few fresh herbs, but mostly dried ones. Only the meat, the black pepper, the gravy and the garlic will be the same, and thus the meal will be a different one even if the same method is followed. This is what I mean by seasonality – thinking about what could be harvested or eaten from store in your part of the world, and cooking accordingly.
I guess I shouldn’t moan about the rain. The vegetables are getting watered and are growing well. The pumpkins are swelling and the beetroot is pushing forth leaves at a tremendous rate and the green beans are reaching for the sky. But I just want to get out there and I can’t, since tromping around in the mud is a sure fire way to damage more things than I help. But if I’ve learned anything about living my entire life on the West coast of the UK, the one thing you can say for certain is that lots of rain certainly can be expected, no matter what the season!