The love of gardening is a seed once sown that never dies. Gertrude Jekyll

Annie's Little Plot

Annie's Little Plot

Sunday 28 July 2013

River Cottage Heaven

As part of my prize Sally and I were booked in for supper at River Cottage Canteen in Axminster on the Saturday night, they have a real seasonal and locally produced menu. This was the salad that I had and it was so delicious, the range of flavours from the mint and basil and the anchovy salty dressing was amazing. I'd never eaten kohlrabi before and will definitely be growing it on my plot. A sort of cross between cabbage and turnip? But it was so crunchy and fresh-tasting raw.
Sunday dawned another sunny and warm day, we had to be there for 9.30 to get the tractor ride down to the farm. We arrived to some fresh cordial and we met the River Cottage cat.
Before we got started we were allowed a bit of a wander into the River Cottage HQ building and so my sister and I got there first and I managed to get some great photos before the others arrived.
Recognise this? Where Hugh does all his cooking (and eating) in the show.
There was this fabulous chair.
The view out to the kitchen garden which is glorious and full to bursting with produce which they use for the restaurant here at the HQ.
In the morning light it was looking stunning but it really is a proper working plot.
The course was held in the newly refurbished and reopened barn (it was involved in a big fire in February last year) and was led by the Head Gardener Craig Rudman. He started by going round the room (there were 12 of us on the course) and getting an idea of people's experience of growing veg and what they wanted to get from the course. There was actually quite a range of experience, from people who had none at all to others who had grown their own previously and really wanted to hone their techniques. We pulled together a list of topics to discuss including what to grow, pests and diseases, compost, continuous cropping, greenhouse crops, watering and feeding, amongst others. He gave a bit of introduction on why to grow your own, what to grow (what you like to eat!) and also introduced some new and unusual crops that you might think about growing (Oca and Yacon amongst others).
Then we went on a bit of a tour to the polytunnels meeting some of the River Cottage livestock on the way.
The first polytunnel contains cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers plus some apricots.
Although you imagine being in the south west that this farm would be ahead of things, Craig said they are in quite a cool valley. Not having a polytunnel or greenhouse I asked about outdoor varieties and was pleased to hear him recommend 'Sungold' which I'm growing and also 'Ailsa Craig' for tomatoes and 'Ophelia' for aubergines but he did say that you may still struggle with these outdoors. This variety has smaller fruits so quicker to crop.
They are reclaiming some previously unused land for new beds.
The above plot has celeriac intercropped with 'Little Gem' lettuces which will be harvested fairly soon to leave spaces around the celeriac to grow bigger. Notice the rabbit-proof netting.
The second polytunnel was for lettuces and salad crops, fennel and radishes.
This polytunnel are largely for overwintering salad crops and extending the seasons and the heat has caused some of the 'Little Gem' lettuces to bolt, they turn into these amazing looking towers, in front of the Dill. He did say that the bolted lettuces can still be used by the chefs there to make lettuce soup! May have to do that with my 'Little Gem' lettuces on my allotment which have started to bolt. He did say that lettuces are a good crop to collect your own seed from.
Regarding fennel he suggested that often if sown before midsummer they can bolt but if you sow later and these will produce the best bulbs. They also sow at the end of August and then plant out in the polytunnel for fennel foliage throughout the winter. He recommended a variety called 'Zefa Fino' which is quick to grow, resistent to bolting and also good for cold areas.
Then a quick peak into the propagation polytunnel.
They sow most crops into seed trays or modules and then plant out, rather than sow direct into the soil, this gives more control and the ability to succession sow and plant.
Then back to the HQ for a brief cookery demonstration by one of the River Cottage chefs before lunch. Andy did a demo of making Blackcurrant Leaf sorbet and a cordial from it too. I never knew that the Blackcurrant leaves smelt so nice. The sorbet was made using an icecream maker but you could just make it yourself with your freezer, then we all got to taste! Delicious.
Lunch was lamb with sauted potatoes, roasted beetroot and kohlrabi salad followed by Blackcurrant leaf ice cream, with Shortbread and a gooseberry compote. Yum.
We didn't really want to move after the lunch but then we had a seed sowing and how to take cuttings demo.
Next was the best bit for me and that was a proper tour of the kitchen garden.
The whole plots is divided into 4 main beds which is part of the crop rotation, these are roots and onions, Brassicas, peas and beans and then a bed with the other crops on. Each bed will have different soil conditioner requirements for example add well-rotted manure to the brassicas but compost to roots and legumes. We got hints on intercropping with a row of carrots in between the rows of parsnips which could be harvested small and then again leaving space for the parsnips to develop in the later months.  Here is Craig in amongst the parsnips.
They intercrop everywhere and its one thing I really want to learn from them.
Another useful tip was that if you were going to use a green manure then to choose that according to the bed that it was in for example to use Field beans in with the legumes, he did say that we are always told to leave the roots of legumes in after harvesting as the nodules on the roots fix nitrogen and feed the soil but he suggested that this would really only be the case if we didn't let them flower and produce the crop as actually most of the nitrogen would be used for the crop? He also recommended a green manure, caliente mustard which can release compounds that can kill a number of soil-bourne diseases. Have a look on Google it definitely looks interesting.
One of the peas they grew was called 'Champion of England' which is an extremely tall variety.
One other important thing I learnt and I've heard it said by a number of people since and that is regarding watering. Craig recommended giving plants a good deep watering when planting but then he recommends they really will only need miminal watering and when you do again give a really deep water. The theory is to encourage the plants to go in search of water and thus the roots will grow deeper and then plant will be stronger and more robust.
On the side of the plot are the fruits beds with apples and pears grown as single cordons, enabling multiple different varieties to be grown.
There were gooseberries, redcurrants, strawberries, rhubarb. a big hedge of raspberries and a grapevine.
We then went back to the barn and got some advice on pests and diseases, focusing on some of our worst garden foes, but one thing that came out overall was to grow your plants hard which makes them less susceptible overall to pests. He did say that the worst pests that he had to deal with were the River Cottage  chefs who could clear a particular crop ovenight if they something was particularly in season and tasty!
What a day, just to be getting a guided tour by someone who was so knowledgeable and obviously passionate about his job and growing your own. He was forever answering questions by us keen gardeners, we could have kept going longer. My only negative point is that I would have preferred a slightly longer time going round the kitchen garden, this part felt a bit rushed after lunch. But apart from that......only a day like this day could have made up for me having missed Andy Murray win Wimbledon, we heard the chefs cheering when he won!
Finally another big treat, I also won a collection of River Cottage books signed by Hugh, here they are modelled by Bob.

I couldn't have won a better prize, thats it, lets find some more competitions to enter.

Wednesday 24 July 2013

Glorious Devon

Some people who read my blog will already know that I won a competition in The Edible Garden magazine for 2 places on the Get Growing course at River Cottage, I've been getting excited about this for a few months. The prize also included a nights B&B and dinner at River Cottage Canteen. What a special treat.
My plus one was my sister, Sally, who is looking into growing her own and needs lots of advice to get her started so it was ideal for her. I'll blog about the course in my next post as I want to share a bit about our lovely B&B and the glorious scenery of this part of England, on the Devonshire/Dorset border.
We travelled down on Friday 5th July, at the start of the heatwave, the course was on the sunday and we travelled back on tuesday, no point in going all that way just for a couple of days. We had been booked in for one night at a B&B on a small-holding called Spillers Farm in Musbury which we extended to cover the extra nights and what a find that was. Keith and Bridget who run the B&B are such a lovely couple, clearly passionate about what they do and properly living the "Good Life". We were greeted by their friendly cat, Silla and dog, Merrick, the rooms were immaculate and as for the breakfasts, home-grown sausages and bacon. Delicious. Here are the cat and dog keeping us company at breakfast
They have chickens, ducks, geese, a pig and some orphan lambs on the farm and they grow their own vegetables, there is a lake and they also lease a small bit of their land for the Landshare project. I would definitely recommend this place if you are in the area. Its handy for both River Cottage HQ where they run the courses and also for River Cottage Canteen in Axminster. Its also close to Lyme Regis and other coastal villages.
The lambs are in the field near the lake and they came rushing over to greet us when we walked there, liked having a bit of a rub behind the ears.
 This is me saying hello to Marlene the pig, I also got a bit of a mud splattering from her the day after when she had a mud bath to keep cool.
It was so peaceful spending time at the lake in the evening at dusk, watching the swallows and then the bats come out.
The view from our room.
 The friday that we arrived we went for a cream tea in a little seaside village called Beer.
On Saturday we walked from Beer along the coast to Branscombe. It was another glorious day, hot but luckily there was a nice breeze along the coast. The coastal scenery in this area is stunning, especially on such a lovely sunny day.
We arrived in Branscome to the welcome sight of the Sea Shanty Beach cafe for some much needed refreshment.
 Which has a lovely walled garden but we recuperated in the cool of the main cafe.
Heading the opposite way along the coast you are in Dorset and Lyme Regis, I love it here and Martin and I stayed in a lovely chalet here last year and  had a wonderful time. The year before that we stayed in a proper thatched cottage, in a village just outside Lyme Regis. There are some more photos of the coastal scenery in this post. Lyme Regis is a proper seaside town, a wide sandy beach, lots of gift shops and some nice restaurants.
If you are fans of Jane Austen's Persuasion then you will know all about the Cobb at Lyme Regis. I'll leave you here while I go off and daydream about Captain Wentworth.