Sundry on storage, processing and preserving, recycling, wildlife and livestock
Growing the most divine fruits, herbs and vegetables is only half the fun. If like me you grow your own because you love good food then the harvesting, storage and cooking must also be first rate. It is no good spending all year working hard to cultivate those prize crops if you eat them when they have gone past their best, or cook them with poor ingredients that spoil their flavour!
There are many reasons why we wish to encourage more forms of life to live in our gardens in greater numbers. Most importantly they interact to more effectively prevent any pests from increasing in numbers than we can by direct means. Usually overlooked is the fact that they contribute much fertility in their daily droppings and dead bodies. They are also a great pleasure to behold in their daily goings on.
With nearly an acre of garden; forty raised vegetable beds, almost a thousand different species and varieties of plants I rarely have time to have visitors. But there are some questions those few visitors inevitably ask and the most common is "How do you look after all this?" They find it hard to believe that I do not have several under gardeners to help me. Sure I would be only too pleased to have help but it's hard to find, and especially when you don't want to pay, or delegate.
My approach is not about the preservation of breeds, or production on a commercial scale but simply that birds are pets that give eggs.
I keep poultry, as did my parents and my grandparents. It's a good job too as if I had just read books about poultry keeping I'd never have taken it up. They make it all sound so complicated, and difficult. Especially those that insist you make the hen hut to their exact proportions, or that you must give your birds this or that in precise amounts. And when you get to the chapter on Pests and Diseases it puts you right off.
Many of us are failing to make the most from our gardens. We would never plant a bed of onions or a row of potatoes, get a good crop and then not lift them would we? A major difference between tree or top fruit culture and vegetable growing is that the size of the fruit harvest comes pretty much of it’s own choosing and is not easily altered by us. We cannot intentionally grow much more of most perennial fruits one year or less in another as we can with annual crops such as potatoes or onions. We have to accept pretty much what the plants give us.
In many things timing is everything. “What is the difference between a good gardener and a bad gardener? About a month!” Or “There’s a right time for doing every gardening task; and for most it was a fortnight ago!”
Many of us grow a lot of fruit and naturally never wish to see any go to waste... Yet in too many of our gardens the bulk of some fruits are rarely eaten at all. Sure the first raspberries, the first apples, the first plums all are, but the last? As we get more and more fruits ripening we become careless. Summer and autumn produce massive surpluses which all too often merely go to feed the birds, when they could be feeding us throughout the rest of the year in so many different ways if we just make the effort.
One of the pleasures of gardening is that sense of righteous gratification in having grown your own. It somehow feels intrinsically right to have sown, raised, harvested, cooked and then eaten your own food. And in the same way when we complete a job, especially a well filled crop, or a new bed of beautifully growing transplants, we get pleasure from the achievement itself. Generally the more we grow and make for ourselves then the better.
Almost all of us enjoy sweet things, it’s in our nature, and providing we get a balanced diet in total there’s not much wrong with enjoying sweetness. Nowadays most sugar comes from sugar beet or sugar cane although much commercial sweetening is glucose and other sugars converted from starches and industrial fodder. As Kitchen Gardeners we may not think we need sugar but all our jams and jellies are half sugar, tomato ketchup, chutney and many pickles require sweetening and home made fruit squashes, syrups, sorbets and even such as sloe gin all require sugar in some form too.
With hard work and good weather this month should see your garden producing food much faster than you can eat it. Much of this surplus will go over very rapidly and become unusable. Worse letting it do go over may lose further harvestable crops from the same plants such as courgettes where they must be picked clean. It is neighbourly to give your surplus away -but it is also provident to store some, or all, away for future needs. And as you have to pick it anyway then better you reap the benefit.