No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

No-Dig, by Darren Stephens

June 2023

Floral the world to see

June is finally here, and my vision for the kitchen garden at Homewood has come alive. Our third summer brings healthy no-dig beds and established perennial crops. It's been a long road of successes and many failures but I feel the garden is at a stage now that I originally hoped for. Of course, the goalposts are always moving. Now I have even greater hopes but it's nice to be content for a short while.

My skills and knowledge of growing are far beyond that of when I left the kitchen to come to the great outdoors and ever-evolving. I look back on some of the things I did when starting out with horror now. No doubt I will look back at what I am doing now in a similar vein. Growing has become a lifestyle and a journey one that has changed the way I look at the world and the way I eat.

The weather is finally warming up and I feel we are in for a dry stretch after all that rain as daily gardening tasks switch from weeding to watering. The garden is on the cusp of its full glory. Verdant summer raspberries, blackberries, red and white currants and gooseberries are full of promise. Spring cabbages and potato plants are lush green too and full of vigour while onion and shallot tops are swelling and reaching high. 

For all the joy that May brought, I do find it quite frustrating as it can bring such slim harvests. The warmer weather brings expectations but patience is required as over-winter crops are replaced with summer crops. Beautiful salad leaves, micro cress, radish, asparagus and herbs such as mint, oregano, chives and parsley have been complementing the menu over the last few weeks. This will change now in June and the following months as we hit the business part of the season.

Propagation space is easing up as more plants head into their beds each week. I had been tripping over pots and module trays at home and in the tunnels over the last couple of colder months.

All cucurbits are just about transplanted now with cucumbers going in the polytunnel mid-May, courgettes and squash outside. I sow them in module trays, then move them onto 9cm pots until a respectable root system has formed and they are big enough to form a spiny main stem to dissuade slugs and snails from taking a bite. It's slightly late to sow them after June, but young plants can be brought from many garden centres. One problem you will have with this is that you will never find as good a selection of cultivars as you can find with seeds, especially online.

I have selected an eclectic mix of bizarre-looking pumpkins for display come Halloween. As for eating squash, I have grown the trusty ‘Crown Prince’ once again along with ‘Kuri’ an earlier small variety and ‘Kabocha’.

When it comes to sowing you always need to be looking well ahead, for example, my Brussels sprouts for Christmas were sown mid-May and are earmarked to go into beds once new potatoes have been harvested in early June.

This is the first year I'll have two polytunnels to tend to, one at Homewood and Bishopstrow. They too have transformed into their summer look, only garlic still hangs around from the winter months. Both tunnels are the same size and follow a similar blueprint for summer growing with a heavy emphasis on my favourite crop, tomatoes.

I have an even more comprehensive selection this year thanks to a trip to see Lance at Tomato Revolution, who is also based in Somerset. He specialises in breeding unique tomato varieties the likes of which have not been grown in this country before. He grows them for seed sales whereas I grow them for the kitchen. It was a real pleasure talking to someone with a similar passion for this diverse and tasty fruit.

The tomato harvest will kick off in June which coincides with the start of our brand new dining experience. It takes place on the main lawn where our dining domes now sit with an outdoor kitchen in construction as I write. It focuses on the no-dig garden with a menu written around the seasonal produce it delivers. Guests will start their experience in the kitchen garden with an aperitif and small bites soaking up the views from the valley beyond and the smells and sounds of the garden as it buzzes with life. I’m truly excited about this as the garden is such a special place to spend time in the summer months. The more people that can share it the better. A three-course lunch or dinner follows as diners feast on the fruits (and vegetables) of my labour with plenty of refreshments on hand too. See you in the garden.


Until next time…

Darren Stephens

Chef-Gardener, Homewood


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