A week before Halloween, I planted garlic. Early winter is the time to plant it, as it gets a head start and so once summer rolls back around, the bulbs are plumper than spring planted.
a bulb of solent wight
Garlic has been not only used to ward off vampires, but cholera, flu and even the plague. Now it is accepted that it is good for our blood and hearts. But most of it all I grow it for its pungency and deep, versatile flavour.
On my own and on client’s plots, I have planted ‘Solent Wight’. It has been bred in the UK- the Isle Of Wight- and so is used to our grey days and chilled winter nights.
Planting them is as simple as it comes- break up the cloves, dig down a few inches and space them 6 inches apart. As I planted them, their heady, thick fragrance filled the autumn air.
Garlic is good grown as a companion plant- a plant that can be grown alongside other plants to keep pests at bay. Growing without synthetic chemicals and fertilisers means you have to look at cultural methods and view growing as a more connected, linked up affair. Growing garlic alongside other crops- such as carrots to befuddle carrot root fly- is an example of this.
Come early summer, there should be plump, fresh cloves for roasting with cherry tomatoes, for slicing paper-thin into salads and for frying in yellow, creamy butter.
For the season before death and decay, frost and ice, there is so much sweet and ripe about life right now.
October is a time to marry baked fruit, crumbly pastry and aromatic spice.
Right now, apples are at their peak. A ripe apple should come away from the branch with a gentle twist, and ultimately, taste good.
Over the last BBQ of the year, we grilled bread topped with fresh chilli, ripped nasturtium flowers and salted butter.
On the plot, cob after cob of corn is now full and ripe. Corn enjoys a long growing season, so I sow it indoors early in spring and plant it out as soon as the frosts have cleared. Six months is a long time to wait for a corn on the cob, but slathered in garlicy, peppery butter, every month is worth it.
Nine months- a summer, a spring and a winter ago- we took on a patch of earth. It was January, it’s Britain, the previous owners didn’t leave behind a massive amount of inspiration. The place looked cold and tired, like life in greyscale. Dreams of the good life in this patch of earth seemed distant. The willow tree is now full of leaf and life and shades our little shed. But in January, it stood stark against the slowly rotting pumpkins, plastic and weeds.
The soil was compacted. Weedkillers had been used. Before we had arrived there had been no plan.
I wanted to breathe life and beauty and productivity back into the earth. But some things you can’t rush- after being compacted and poisoned by sprays, soil takes time to heal. I spread barrow after barrow of leaf litter, cow muck from a friend’s farm and even hops that smelt of sweet beer onto the beds. Over the months it became one with the soil, and gave me a space I could sow into.
By the time it was mid spring, we had made the beds and the first of the crops were in. We knew were on the right path. We built the shed- four months of building- alongside shaping the plot, and suddenly we had a base, a centerpiece, of our plot.
As late spring rolled into midsummer, we stood back and looked at what we had done. Nine months ago here was a lifeless space, a space with no heart. Here, now, there is a plot with colour and life- and hopes of spring after the winter that’s sliding towards us.
When you are working with the earth, it’s never just physical. Don’t view gardening as a list of tasks. Planting, nurturing, eating is always much more than that.
With some seed in my hand and a little earth in which to sow, things feels good. Sowing a seed is sowing a promise- a promise of life and growth, and at the end of it, a promise of something to put on my plate. All you need is a few pots, a little compost and seeds of whatever you like to eat. Put them on a windowsill and give them a little water and before long, you will see signs of life.
Salad, herbs, chillis and corn have burst into life on my little windowsill. Suddenly I have something to nurture, with the hope of long summer days and food to pick.