No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

May 2022

Soil to saucepan

Wet and remarkably consistent temperatures with no frost in sight have provided excellent growing conditions in late May after a very dry early Spring. With the much-needed rain and the extra warmth, the garden is starting to look ridiculously beautiful once again with perennial flowers bursting out to take centre stage. Most guests quite rightly assume the flowers are for attracting or deterring insects but for me, their main benefit is making the garden feel so pleasing.

The heavy clay soil beneath the no-dig beds has proven excellent at maintaining moisture and nutrients, of which I’m sure there is plenty as the field was used to keep horses before I came along. Despite the rainless start to the growing year, I haven’t had to water any of the outside beds and I’m very pleased with how they have settled in over the past year. The proof is in the happiness of the plants and me..

 

Now well into the second year of my new career as a gardener, I am trying to fine-tune all my methods for an easier life. Following a strict sowing timetable and weeding consistently and regularly has helped. I have also installed an irrigation system in the polytunnel consisting of a porous hose pipe that runs down each bed slowly releasing water to the base of the tomato, aubergine and pepper plants that are now planted. This should save me many hot and humid hours in the summer months. While I have assistance with the kitchen garden at our sister hotel, it is still just myself at Homewood. I look around the beds with a little trepidation at the amount that it's about to start producing and the harvesting that will be required.

 

Micro cress production is back on track after the rodent invasion in the polytunnel last month. As soon as I removed any trays containing coriander seeds they didn’t seem to be interested. These and salad leaves made up most of the harvests for the kitchen in May. Meanwhile, kohlrabi are forming nice size bulbs and the fine netting covering them has kept the leaves untouched by pests. February sown sugar snaps and broad beans are in flower. Spring onions are tantalising close to harvest. First-early potatoes sown in our newest beds made with our compost have grown incredibly well and may well be ready for harvest in mid-June. Beetroot in June is something special, even better than any other time of the year. February sown spring cabbage is suffering from an attack of aphids but is powering through. I'm tempted to take action but as more and more insects appear I’m hoping they will rid the pests for me.

Nearly everything can be sown in June. Beans and basil are an early summer highlight but as the longest day approaches and days get shorter rather than longer, it's also time to think about winter vegetables like kale, winter cabbages and chicory for hearts.

 

While I have been watching the crops grow I am also noticing the slugs getting rapidly bigger too. Whatever your preferred method of control it needs to be full-on now. Reducing places for them to hide is now my recommendation. This is very tough for a small garden, but the fewer pots, large stones or wooden sides to beds the fewer slugs and damage you’ll have.

 

As the cost of fresh produce rises along with everything else, the kitchen garden has become more valuable than ever and growing your own is an ever more popular option. I have been collaborating with Stephanie Hill from Radio Bath on a piece she has astutely titled “soil to saucepan”. I will be showing Stephanie and informing her listeners about the journey from sowing seeds to how to best prepare your harvest for a meal and what benefits growing your own can bring nutritionally and mentally. We built a small raised bed together, using the no-dig method of course, and will be adding to and picking from it over the summer. Eventually, I'll be teaching her a few tricks in the kitchen too.

The main event this month however is the No-dig garden pop-up dinner where I am incredibly excited to be combing my two crafts for a special dinner on 23rd June at Homewood. I'll be pulling on my skills from a previous life as a chef to cook a super seasonal menu with a focus on everything at its peak picked that day. Guests will join me in the garden for a tour and canapés cooked on the Big Green Egg barbecue along with some English sparkling to celebrate what will be English wine week.  Baked focaccia, crudités and dips will await at the hotel followed by a three-course meal and plenty more English wine. Expect dishes showcasing the best of the kitchen garden, with a little meat and fish on the side. Hope to see you there!

My new recipe is up - STRAWBERRY BRETON TART, WHITE CHOCOLATE CREAM AND LEMON BASIL

Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood

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