storage crops

In the daily reckoning of what it takes just to feed ourselves well without creating destruction in packaging, pesticides, chemical fertilisers, questionable additives, social injustice, unethical treatment of animals and the climate-destroying one-two punch of tillage and transporting food long distances, it can be exhausting just to get food on the table. On the other hand, when we prepare food that eludes all of that, it’s a victory for the world we want to see, and a three-times daily victory feels pretty gratifying. Frankly revolutionary.

Given how precious the food we grow or buy is when it is produced in alignment with our values, we don’t want to waste it.

Storage Crops

One of the ways we’ve been shifting our thinking in an effort to reduce food waste is to learn about traditional storage crops. While it takes some time to put up the jams, jellies, chutneys, butters, vinegars, booze that fill our pantry, it takes little time, effort, space to put away storage crops. Autumn is the moment for this. Whether you have a garden or not, whether your potato and sweet potato crop failed (yes, they did) or your squash production can meet your needs (not yet), whether your land or your neighbourhood has nut trees bearing (yes!), whether you grow enough carrots, beets, parsnips to sustain your family all winter (not quite), you can still connect with farmers and put away food. These are foods that thrive when stored properly. This is not like buying too much food and seeing it molder at the back of the fridge.

Farm-to-Table

About now, middle November, a local farmer (who uses no-till, beyond organic practices) will bring us sacks of squash and root veg to store away. Squash sits on the staircase. Beets, carrots, parsnips go under damp sand in a box somewhere cool, potatoes in a sack go into a cool dark corner. Garlic is already hanging in a dry spot. We’ve cleaned and cured the walnut crop and it could last all year in the shell if they weren’t too good to resist.

Whole grains and the Winter Potager

Our grain mill further extends our storage since whole, unmilled grains last, stored dry and away from creatures, for years. We can leave cool, hardy greens like cabbage, kale, tatsoi, winter lettuce and our root veg standing in the garden til we need it, and in colder climates those could live under a low tunnel, or two, so there’s nothing wasted there.

There’s simplicity in creating meals this way. It’s a great relief.

artichoke harvest

Growing artichokes is very much like a long friendship of the sort that, once established, requires little and gives a lot.

I longed to grow these gloriously elegant, edible flowers. I did try, in London – not enough sun, too many snails. And in Sussex – another failure, do start the seeds in late January! One must be patient with an artichoke’s youth, though if you really have started early enough to catch some cold weather, you may see flowers that summer. Finally at our lakeside garden, the seedlings sprouted very well, and grew into tender adolescents.

A year later they took off with impressive splendour and soon we harvested the giant buds. To prepare them, we cut the base flat, and stand them in a bit of water, covered, to steam for a very long twenty minutes, during which there is plenty of time to melt butter and squeeze lemon into finger bowls.

When a low leaf pulls softly away, it is time. With our largest mixing bowl ready in the center of the table to catch the great leaf-pile, and tiny bowls of lemon butter at each place, we pluck petal after petal from the outside of the artichoke, dipping, scraping teeth over leaf to graze the softest bit. More patience required, but the sweetest kind. This is most definitely a seductive food. I help the children when they reach the heart, prickly on one side and still protected under tiny leaves on the other. If you pry at a slight angle, with a sharp knife, you can separate the itchy prickles from the artichoke heart without much trouble. Then a buttery, lemony chin is inevitable, as is a bit of rapture.

All this for a bit of water, a haircut in late summer, a mulch before winter. Resilient plant. These artichokes may be our companions for twenty years! What a pleasing thought.

curing garlic

Each year in late autumn we plant the garlic, and each year around midsummer, we dig it up and lay it out to cure in a warm, airy, shady spot.

(Our cats were here to oversee the whole project, we got them from a rescue at garlic-planting time. They’re adults now, and such affectionate creatures, yet such brilliant hunters, curbing our rabbit, rat and mouse populations. Luckily they don’t like garlic themselves.)

The garlic bulbs are petite in the site I chose this year, but this harvest is still plenty for our needs. An easy thing to grow, and one less thing to remember to buy, I love that.

potager design

Each year I sketch the kitchen garden to picture what will live in the protected, somewhat rabbit-free potager and what can thrive outside it, integrated into the beautiful perennial garden along the lake. I learn more every year, happily. Last summer’s disaster of crashing tomato vines, at once productive (for the tomatoes) and destructive (for everything else) has led to this redesign.

potager-design

After much gazing through images of arches, bamboo sculptures, wires tensioned like bridges, and obelisks, I’ve made a plan. I hope to build traditional trellises, the tuteur, out of cedar. The obelisk is such an old fashioned feature of an English garden, and should lend my funny veg patch some order. See the circles in my drawing? There they are. I can grow peas up them early in the year, and tomatoes later on, benefitting from the nitrogen they’ll set. They ought to be very strong and very tall, and in place well before the vines are planted, quite in contrast to last summer’s toppling bamboo frames. They might be quite pretty through the winter, too. I like that the pyramid-shape will keep the tomatoes from shading out too much of the garden, though a wall of tomatoes is quite tempting.

Below the drawings I’ve listed all the plants that might do best in the potager, with some vague ideas about the shelling pea bushes giving way to pepper plants, to be replaced later on by kales or purple-sprouting-broccolis. Spinach or lettuce might like to live in the center of the wide obelisks in spring, to be shaded out by vining tomatoes by summer to give them a little more time. Beans will enjoy growing up the bamboo that live at the north end, or along the fence. There. That’s the idea.

In one section I’ll swap out a cucumber frame for coldframes, after harvest-time. I hope to keep a series of seedlings at the ready to plant into this space throughout the summer, and leave us with some plants that can weather our maritime winter.

I’m quite fond of dotted-graph paper for its subtle order, in which 1 square: 1 foot, loosely measured off of our unruly garden space.

First I’ve laid out a hose across the land to get some idea of how the new path will run, with modifications for the irrigation system. Oh right. Later I’ll toss down some wood shavings, then wood chips to mark off the path. For now I must move slowly, recovering from an illness, yet compelled by tiny seedlings appearing under the coldframes. Wish me luck with the tuteur construction!

plant labels

We’re sowing seeds to catch the early springtime in a coldframe set upon the sunny deck. I wanted a robust and beautiful method for marking our seedlings as they grow and move out into the garden. We’re trying out a couple of natural materials.

stone-labels

First, bound for planters and pots, smooth stones with a bit of white ink. I’m fond of calligraphy, but simple printing would look lovely as well.

chamomile-label

Some offcuts of cedar are just the thing for marking a veg patch, for they’ll last many years in wet weather and will develop a silvery patina along the way. Nothing toxic near the edibles, I say. Or anywhere else, ideally.

tomato-labels

I like how the shape of this wood lends itself to displaying information. On one plane, ‘tomato’ and the next, ‘jaune flamme’ or ‘indigo rose.’ Latin plant names might be quite lovely too.

labeled-frame

All our little seeds tucked up in bed.