Tuesday, 12 August 2014

harvest and festivals

One of my highlights of the summer so far was The Green Gathering festival at the beginning of the month. The festival has a long and interesting history and has seen several incarnations since it's humble beginnings on what is now the Glastonbury festival site. In its current form it is a large, multifaceted event that brings together musicians, poets, comedians, politicians campaigners, teachers, speakers and craftspeople to share their responses and perspectives to environmental issues and life in general. 
 I last attended the festival in 2000 when it was much smaller and, I suppose less mainstream. I remember my eyes being opened to a whole scene of people doing exciting and inspiring things....and making smoothies with bicycle powered blenders! It was great back then but it felt as though you were part of something underground and under the radar. What most impressed me about the festival this year was the openness and positivity of the people, the diversity and inclusiveness of the events, performers, speakers and workshops, and the broad range of people attending. Green issues are big issues that effect us all, and it was heartening to see that a festival focused on these issues has become, if not mainstream, extremely accessible.
 The whole event had a loud and proud feel to it, and aside from having a multitude of educational experiences on offer, there was an awful lot of fun to be had. I was at the festival to give talks in the permaculture zone about forest gardening. The talks were fun to do and well received and it was great to meet so many people involved in great projects and causes. The permaculture way is to inspire people into positive actions, rather than terrify them with statistics that make them feel hopeless and powerless. This is exactly the kind of event that will inform, empower and inspire anyone who comes, and I was very glad to be a part of it.
 Back home the harvest has really started coming in with tomatoes ripening, french beans coming thick and fast and courgettes turning to marrows over night.
 Our stock of forest garden plants are coming along nicely too, especially the sedums (ice plant and orpine), musk and wood mallows and sea beet. It has been exciting watching our plant collection grow while the clearance mulch does its work on the designated forest garden area.
 Cucumbers seem to have done much better this year than last year and they're dripping from the vines - just as our son has decided he no longer adores them!
 We've grown three varieties of courgette this year and all have been abundant producers. Sunstripe (yellow and white striped), Ambassador (green) and Parador (yellow). I haven't been very impressed with sunstripe as the flesh is fairly dense and the skin is pretty tough. They do look good though, and we're hoping that the wacky skin might fool our wwoofers into thinking we're not really feeding them  marrow every day.
 Over the years we have come to the conclusion that there is only one pumpkin for us and that is the Crown Prince. It is a good cropper and produces delicious orange fleshed, starchy fruit very similar to butternut squash but much more reliable. They are very good storers too, we ate our final pumpkin from last summer at Christmas!
 We usually grow Gem squashes, round dark green squashes about the size of a cricket ball which have a succulent flesh similar to courgette. They have a wonderful flavour and are delicious roasted or boiled whole, cut in two, seeds removed and a knob of butter in the cavity. This year we thought we'd try something different and opted for a patty pan called Sunburst. This is a yellow squash which looks like a flying saucer and varies in size from 4 inches across up to 7 or 8. So far we've been impressed by how productive they are, pushing out a constant supply of fruits from late July and still flowering now. They are pretty versatile too, they can be roasted, steamed, stuffed or added to stews and curries.
 The whole cucurbit family seems to being enjoying these ideal conditions - sun, rain and horse manure!
 My onions have not been so successful. For some reason they didn't grow a lot before their leaves turned brown and shrivelled up, so I decided that It was time to harvest them, finally accepting that they really weren't going to get any bigger. I wonder whether the heat wave was a bit too much for them and they would have benefited from more water during the dry spell.

It looks like its going to be a bumper apple year though, and I'm very excited about this since we have a new barrel press that we haven't yet tried out! Cider anyone?

 There will also be some quinceade in the fridge by the looks of things.
 And plums. Plenty of plums. Plum jam, chutney, leather, cake, tart, crumble, flan; dried, pureed, juiced, and bottled!
We will be enjoying more fruit harvests in the future too, having identified the perfect spot for our soft fruit cage amongst our forest garden area. At the moment most of our fruit comes in the autumn, so having some summer raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, blackcurrants and gooseberries safe from the birds will extend our fruit harvest by a good few months. We are thinking of building the fruit cage and putting chickens in there for the first few months to help clear and manure it before we plant in the bushes we've been raising from cuttings over the last few years. Chickens and berries! Robin will be in heaven!