No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

October 2021

Pick of the pun-king patch

Autumn has truly set in after a glorious start of October. My view from the garden looks over to the East and as daylight gets shorter, I now start my morning just as the sun has risen and on certain days, I watch its rays disperse the mist that hangs in the valley above Freshford and beyond. For a few moments, the whole field is a blaze of scarlet and gold broken only by silhouettes of my tall drooping sunflowers planted in clusters at the bottom of the beds. It's not a bad way to start the day!

Unfortunately, not every day is quite so special, but I’m just as happy to see dark rain clouds to be honest. The drainage on some of the new beds is a little too good in places as the compost hasn’t quite consolidated yet after growing new potatoes in them earlier this year and I’ve got a lot of different kale that went in a bit late whose roots could do with a proper soak so they can get growing ready for winter. It very much feels like the end of a gardening year, with the number of jobs that need carrying out decreasing steadily by the week. But it is also the beginning of another, with prep well underway. 150 ‘Dutchman’ cabbages sown in August have gone into their final spots for a spring harvest. Strawberry runners saved from this year's plants have been planted out into their beds and garlic has just gone in too…which is just a case of popping a clove into the ground, pointed side up (supermarket garlic not recommended). Some of these have gone in the tunnel and some outside for harvest in early summer.

 

It's all about the leaves right now though, especially the no-dig leaf mix and you’ll struggle to find a better mix anywhere! From endive to mustard leaves, watercress, rocket, baby kale, gem and herbs, with each leaf painstakingly handpicked, checked over…and tasted, before making the cut. It can take hours but it's worth it. I'm also chuffed to have an abundance of true spinach with its iron-rich dark green leaves also making its way to the kitchen, with pickings twice a week after the frustrations of trying to grow it in spring. The polytunnel is now home to most of these leaves, replacing the tomatoes, offering good protection from the weather to come and hopefully harvests till late spring.

I'll be laying new beds this month to extend our growing space for next year too. Following the no-dig system of course, with cardboard on-top of the grass and weeds, followed by our very own Homewood garden compost this time and wood chips for the path. October is an ideal month to start this process in your garden due to the abundance of worm activity and there should be enough moisture and soil warmth to aid their efforts in breaking down the organic matter. They will process the surface-applied compost and cardboard rapidly, improving the soil in a more permanent way than when compost or manure is dug in. Digging will destroy the worms’ work and of course, risks killing them. In a no-dig system, all the lattice of worm channels is maintained, giving the soil an enduring structural improvement, which helps rain to drain through, air to remain and roots to forage more easily. Another truly hard worker.

 

Sunflowers continued to steal the show this past month with some growing so tall with many multiple heads  - I was happily offering free ‘pick your own’ to guests. A real hi-light for me was harvesting the winter squash. Sown back in April they have slowly but steadily produced hefty but magnificent hardened green-skinned fruits. ‘Crown Prince’ and ‘Queensland Blue’ were the varieties I choose to grow and both did fantastically in the no-dig beds. The deer didn’t show an interest and they required very little maintenance, although the speed at which they grew and the space they took up made the beds impenetrable. But most importantly of all, they have amazing flavour. Wedges roasted heavily in butter are almost creme brûlée like, with a caramelised surface and a rich sweet flesh. I can’t wait to see them on the menu!

After a few more stints back behind the stove this month (and with many more to come over the festive period), I’m working more closely with the chefs across the company and I’m excited about seeing how we can truly utilise the garden produce to play a major role on the menus in the seasons ahead. Creating stand out vegetable-based dishes, alongside the chefs after growing them on site. Looking after the produce every step of the way from seed to plate, the way it should be.

 

My new recipe is up - TWICE-BAKED WINTER SQUASH SOUFFLÉ, TALEGGIO CHEESE SAUCE

 

Until next time,

 

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood

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