SPRING IN THE NORTHCOTE GARDEN
by Phil Dewhurst, Head Gardener, Northcote
That was a winter I’m glad to see the back of, seemingly relentless rain, hurricane force winds, snow drifts covering the cold frames and temperatures to kill all but the indestructible. Its been cruel up here, we lost two honey bee colonies their hives being blown off the stands and separated despite having been ratchet strapped down! The soft fruit vineyard has been submerged for two months and but for the mound planting technique we used would now be devoid of a living plant. The pond has almost doubled in width and depth. Ground temperatures are still lingering in low single figures and four glass panes were blown out from both glasshouses. Not the most auspicious beginning to the 2018 growing season. Thankfully, gardeners can still take some comfort in adversity, it must surely have killed all the slug eggs and frozen at least some off the snails?
Grumble over and onto the good news. The garden team has been expanded with the addition of a new apprentice, Joe (photographed below) whose first garden duty was to plant 50 metres of new productive hedging. The hedge plants have been selected for beauty and bounty with Golden elder, sea buckthorn, and dog rose as its backbone every plant involved generates kitchen produce with an attractive packaging.
Thanks to the generosity of our neighbours the Northcote stud (special thanks to Janet, Richard and Andrew for their enthusiastic support) we have been able to expand our production beds onto land kindly lent to us. Five new 16 metre field beds two of which are already providing crops of French sorrel, lovage and sweet cicely. The other three beds are prepped, one to be planted this year with seed grown violet globe artichokes and the other two planted next year with seed grown Cherbury asparagus. We also owe a debt of gratitude to our other neighbours Peter and Emma at Croasdale organic farm In Langho, Peter has very kindly delivered three trailer loads of his organic cow manure over the winter and I can tell you as a man who knows his *^>> its premium stuff, currently heating up nicely underneath a layer of weed barrier on all the new beds.
The true joy of a well-constructed polytunnel is now sinking in, despite not being erected till late June of 2017 we are already taking the second season of crops from it. Early mustards, radish and herbs are being harvested and the strawberries are already flowering just need to get more pollinators in there.
In our quest to expand production across the whole footprint of the Northcote we identified potentially viable space in the furthest flung corner of the site. The only problem was the near total shade cast over it by the three-mature sycamore, beech and oak trees that surround it on two sides. Never one to walk away from a challenge (or man child dangling from ropes with a chain saw as my wife prefers to analyse it) it was decided that a careful winter pruning should sort it out. With Joe’s hard graft as groundsman, Peter’s (Croasdale farm) ladders and a return to my arborist roots the work was done. I enjoyed being back in the saddle but decided that the Northcote oak is to be my Swan song. Seems fitting that the very first tree I ever pruned from a harness was an English oak and this English oak shall be my last.
Perhaps the most exciting new development on the growing front hasn’t happened in the garden at all but is happening within the kitchen itself. Lisa the Executive Head chef and the creative dynamo in the engine room decided to introduce inhouse cultivation of micro and baby leaf salad. It resulted in the purchase of an “Urban Cultivator” a fantastic, state of the art propagation facility that is literally plumbed into the kitchen. It provides “zero-mile gardening” which I have to confess denies me the pleasure of transporting crops in the wheelbarrow but that’s a small sacrifice for an incredible operation. I’ve been seduced by the “on board” computer, giving real time, accurate information about pH level, temperature, humidity, total dissolved solvents! I could go on but that would be nerdy. Suffice to say its been installed for a month and we have already cropped twice from it with the next crop going onto the Gourmet menu for the full two-month menu run. I’m not easily impressed but this grows the mustard so to speak.
In conclusion the sun has done its thing and brought out our other star, see photo of the garden room star magnolia (Magnolia stellata) the broad beans are flowering and the honey bees are flying. Our biodynamic certification regime enters it second year and the garden team are energised by spring, I reckon its going to be a good 2018.