Garden diary

A bonfire on a frosty morning


It was -7°C when I arrived at Allt-y-bela on Wednesday morning and it looked like winter had arrived at last. The deep ruts on the drove were frozen solid and sheets of ice an inch thick sat in each of the many footprints that led to the bonfire heap. More in hope than expectation, I took a barrow full of paper, kindling and dry wood up to try to light the fire. Bonfires are wonderful things, they seem to at once connect us to our ancient past, to comfort us and, I always find, are great places to think.

The work of keeping a bonfire going becomes automatic and my brain soon wandered off to thinking about the jobs I needed to get done in the garden, when of course the hard frost had lifted.

My attention this month is beginning to focus on the kitchen garden. Last year was my first real year of vegetable growing and we ran an 8 day course throughout the year led by 'Organic James' (James Clapp), who helped us all not only to grow more successfully, but also to really analyse and think about what is going on when we grow.

Last year's course started with the group of us walking the gardens at Allt-y-bela and digging test pits to examine the soil structure and composition and think about what implications these factors might have on our growing. It was all at once rather radical but also entirely logical.

As the course continued we looked at the more immediate things the aspiring kitchen gardener needs to know, not just what to sow when, but the cultural techniques the professionals use and the crops and varieties that Michelin star chefs are seeking out. It opened up a whole new world to me, and the lessons I learned last year have informed my approach this year.

Last week I sat down with Arne and we talked through what Arne really wants to eat and when. It sounds very obvious but it's very easy to end up growing a great profusion of things that maybe aren't exactly what you want to eat! Last year we ended up with more lettuces than anybody knew what to do with but I didn't sow enough crops for the winter and although we do still have vegetables to eat I'm determined that this time next year we will have more.

I've very pleased to say that James is coming back again this year to run the course again and although I'm not sure there will be space left on it for me this time around, I will certainly be working very closely with him to make the kitchen garden at Allt-y-bela a success.

True to form this year the weather has changed again and is now unseasonably mild and very wet. My next task is going to be lifting and storing the remaining vegetables so that I can get on and mulch the beds ready to start sowing again in a few weeks time. And yes, James will be around to give me that all important insider knowledge. I can't recommend his course enough, if you would like to grow like a pro this year then maybe you should join us at Allt-y-bela and get a real head start in growing the perfect kitchen garden.

Words: Steve Lannin

Photographs: Steve Lannin and Britt Willoughby Dyer

For information about The Organic Kitchen Garden Through the Year course, click here.