28 September 2015
Reaping the rewards
Last week saw the very last day of our organic kitchen garden course which has been running right through the growing season and based in the kitchen garden at Allt-y-bela. It was with mixed emotions that we faced that last day; on the one hand it is a great relief for me to no longer have the monthly scrutiny of a very professional grower in the course leader James Clapp, who is currently head grower for Raymond Blanc at Le Manoir aux Quatre Saisons in Oxfordshire, along with a group of very talented course participants. On the other hand I was genuinely very sad to say goodbye to the many good friends I have made over the past 8 months. The insight they have had into the garden and especially into the kitchen garden is a very personal one, and they have shared the ups and downs that I have experienced in my first year of vegetable growing. Without exception I have received huge support and encouragement, which have certainly helped sustain me when things have gone wrong.
When the greenhouse arrived a few months ago it was like welcoming an old friend who has come to help you out of a tight corner. I have grown quite a lot in greenhouses over the years - although no vegetables I have to admit! The key with keeping a greenhouse healthy seems to be controlling the temperature and humidity. In practice this usually simply comes down to knowing when and how to ventilate. Because our little greenhouse is relatively sheltered and the summer so gloomy there was never really a need to shade to keep the temperature down so that simplified things further.
By the time the greenhouse was installed it was getting rather late and so more by optimism and hope than any great expectation we filled it to bursting point with tomatoes, peppers and cucumbers. The young plants very soon got underway and before I knew it I was twining the stems of the cucumbers ever higher up makeshift string supports towards the apex of the greenhouse roof. We tried two varieties, one of which was Melen, an F1 variety that produced abundant really tasty fruit for months on end, and another White Wonder, a light skinned, oval shaped cucumber which produced huge amounts of bitter and almost inedible fruit!
The tomatoes too were a mixed bunch, we trialled 12 varieties in all, of different shapes, sizes, colours and flavours; all have produced good fruit but some have certainly been tastier than others. My personal favourite was Vialli, a lovely cherry tomato with a balance of flavor I find just divine. As for the peppers, well they are steadily ripening and this little spell of dry warm weather will do them the world of good I'm sure. There is again a real mixture of varieties and I'm hopeful that I will be able to report success in some cases at least.
My little greenhouse has definitely been my piece of comfort in a part of the garden where I feel that I am still struggling to find a real connection. That said there have been some successes, we have had more salad than we could possibly eat, the broad beans and potatoes were really very good and the brassicas have survived the cabbage white onslaught miraculously unscathed. I have also managed to double crop on a decent number of the beds, which for a first attempt isn't at all bad.
I'm not sure yet if we will run another vegetable garden course next year. I've certainly learned a huge amount from this one. Despite the horrors of having your work critically appraised in front of a group I have no doubt that without James and the many friends that I made on the course the garden would look and certainly feel much poorer.
Words: Steve Lannin, Head Gardener at Allt-y-bela
Photographs: Britt Willoughby Dyer