In the garden news
Growing food is possibly the most rewarding thing a gardener can do and producing ingredients for our chefs from our Victorian walled garden is certainly one of the highlights of my job. The challenge is to supply ingredients, which are uniquely good from the garden 12 months of the year. Winter crops such as parsnip, Jerusalem artichoke and brassicas are now long finished and spring can be a tricky time before the bulk of the summer cropping starts.
Forced rhubarb is one of our first prize crops, which we lift and produce in the green house for February and March production. This is achieved by growing it in the dark, creating a sweeter more refined flavour. Later comes the rhubarb forced in the garden in traditional forcing pots, and in May comes the first of the main crop. Because this has been allowed to grow naturally, it has produced chlorophyll and has more bitterness so it is perfect for compote, chutney and sorbet.
Asparagus is the stand out crop of this month and has been in full production since mid-April. This is a vegetable that is quite unique when really fresh, and so something which is extra special from the garden. The young shoots are growing so fast and once a spear has been cut it continues respiring, using up its natural sweetness, resulting in an old spear having a slightly starch taste. Because freshness is so important we crop every day just before lunch, so that the spears we serve are never more than a few hours old. By using early and late season varieties we can get about ten weeks cropping from our beds, before we need to leave the plants alone to recover. Cutting the new shoots all spring can take a lot from the plants so at this point is important to thank them with good irrigation, weeding and fertiliser. As they are maritime plants we find that they appreciate seaweed fertiliser and salting the bed lightly can also help. The asparagus is well adapted to deal with the salt and it helps make the weeds and slugs feel unwelcome.
As well as our traditional green asparagus we also grow some white asparagus, which tends to be favoured by our friends on the continent. We grow ours by covering a row with black plastic and excluding the light. Rather like the forced rhubarb, the lack of chlorophyll results in a more delicate refined flavour, which this spring chef has paired with sweet breads and rocket salad from our poly tunnel.
Having a poly tunnel is a great way to keep supply through the challenging spring months. From autumn germinations we have supplied carrots, turnip and beetroot throughout the winter and on the spring menu has been spinach, pak choi, radish and more turnip. Most exciting of all is that next week we will harvest our first potatoes of the season. All of these crops are cleared away as soon as they are finished, to make way for our summer crop of tomatoes, to keep our seasonal supply flowing to the kitchen.