Inspired by the urge to grow as much of our own food as possible, I bought a whopper of a fruit cage five years ago. I’m ashamed to say that all 18 x 24 feet of it has lived in the barn ever since. At the time, James and I were still in the midst of renovating our now-nearly-finished home and spending our time furnishing our garden with berries wasn’t very realistic. Consequently, we’ve been seriously lacking in the soft fruit department ever since. So, this autumn I’m determined to make amends and establish this important part of the Smallholdings plot. Not being particularly knowledgeable in this area, though, I called on an expert gardener friend of mine, Lucy Chamberlain, former editor of Grow Your Own magazine and all-round-greenfingered guru to help me plan this not-inconsiderable exciting new space. As usual, Lucy was full of excellent advice – recommending where to site each kind of plant so they get the best possible conditions in our south-east facing garden: full sun for strawberries; shade for the blackberry and rhubarb.
Not only this but she reeled off the best varieties to choose, recommending early-, mid- and late-cropping types that would ensure we’re provided for as long as possible. What took her a matter of minutes would have required extensive study and time on my part and I’m hugely grateful. In conclusion, we settled on the following – the cherries will be trained along wires:
10 x Honeoye
10 x Alice
10 x Symphony
10 x Cirano
2 x Glen Moy
3 x Tulameen
2 x Leo
4 x Polka
3 x Fallgold
1 x Ben Hope
1 x Big Ben
2 x Stanza
1 x Blue crop
1 x Herbert
1 x Livingstone
1 x Early Champagne
1 x Reuben
1 x Lapins Cherokee
1 x Sweetheart
Trouble is, not sure I’ve a skill to offer Lucy in return, but a pub lunch is definitely in order. I’m thoroughly looking forward to getting stuck into this new, mouthwatering project when the plants arrive.
In the meantime, James and I have our work cut out preparing the ground (above) – what better way to spend these sunny autumn days than weeding and digging over a patch of soil?
As we’re yet to test them, perhaps we’ll call on the ploughing capabilities of his vintage tractor… Happy weekend all.
A slight digression from henkeeping this week as the growing season is officially underway after a rite of passage last weekend. It started for my friend Lucy and me on Saturday morning in a barn near Stowmarket in Suffolk: East Anglia Potato Day. As Editor of a gardening magazine, Lucy is not only extremely knowledgeable about all things fruit and veg related but has a passion which verges on obsession when it comes to tubers, so there was no holding back at this spud spectacular. Not having been to a potato day before, I was expecting a fairly low-key event with few trays of varieties and some sage gardeners dispensing the odd tuber-growing tip. So when I entered the barn I was surprised to find a veritable scrum of enthusiasts desperate to seize the particular potato species they desired from the staggering 102 kinds for sale.
A rectangular arrangement of trestle tables displays the boxes containing spuds from ‘Arran Pilot’ to ‘Yukon Gold’ (there wasn’t a potato beginning with Z!) and we began methodically working around them in alphabetical order.
Banter with other keen growers added to the fun, including a particularly colourful Belgian TV programme-maker and his crew who were at the potato day as part of a tour of Britain’s grow-your-own highlights, which also included visits to the Milennium Seed Bank at Kew Gardens and the rhubarb-forcing sheds around Wakefield.
I followed Lucy’s advice as she’d been honing and highlighting her selection from a list downloaded from the EAPD website and picked up her spud-selection tips -‘pick the ones the size of a bantam’s egg’. The variation in shapes and sizes was remarkable. Now I was feeling the same excitement as I soaked up the atmosphere and began filling my paper bags with eight of each type including ‘Pink Fir Apple’, a beautiful purply roasted called ‘Violetta’, and the diminutive ‘Bambino’ which will be good with salad come summer. We met some wonderful characters along the way who gladly offered growing advice, such as Julian who organised the day and was clearly delighted with the turnout and Andrew of the Norfolk Organic Group (norfolkorganic.org.uk) who swears by liquid seaweed concentrate called Marinure by Glenside Fertility.
After a good couple of hours, we heaved our collection of paper bags to the Tally Table where they were counted up and then we bought them at the Tuber Pay Desk.
Now I’ve been initiated into the world of potatoes, I’m tempted to obtain my own copy of Lucy’s beautiful book The Story of the Potato by Alan Romans (below) – fully illustrated with oil paintings (yes, oil paintings!) of myriad varieties.
Check it out! How organised are these people?! A must-go-to event for next year’s calendar.
A gratuitous picture of Araucana Audrey, below, to conclude with! We did a mini photo-shoot the other day.