Today I realised that it has been a month since my last blog. There has been so much happening that I struggle to find time to write about it. At The Black Swan we have always had a “can do” attitude and now it certainly feels like we are pushing things with all the work that comes with establishing such a large kitchen garden.
April and May must be the most important months for growers. We have prepared land, laid membrane, cloched, fleeced, built wigwams and then of course sown thousands of seeds and watered and watered and watered. It has been full on! I am a grower by day and a chef by night. Most chefs worry about Michelin inspectors and food critics but I am becoming increasingly concerned with the likelihood of rainfall and frost.
The garden is filling up – with all the terraces sown; beetroot and carrots just emerging and the slopes greening over with strawberries. The raised beds are already producing amazing radishes, turnips and fennel. The sowing and planting front is progressing across the field with the appearance of rows of broccoli, cabbages, beans and peas, sweetcorn, and specialist roots with a little room left for summer crops especially my favourite 8 ball courgettes. The tomato tunnel is flying; 15 varieties of heirloom tomatoes are really kicking-on. I am dreaming of the first tomatoes by the end of June, but Ken doubts they will be ready by then – we will see.
The most important thing for a grower is to judge when the last frost of the year will be. If you plant out your plugs, seedlings and herbs early to get ahead and then it turns cold, you risk losing everything. It is a real gamble. On one hand you want to get things moving so they will be ready early, but is it worth risking everything? Ken works on a date of the 16th May as the rule-of-thumb time when it is safe enough to plant outside. Looking ahead there is no frost forecast in the next 10 days so we have decided to get on and move everything out. It is a gamble especially remembering that 3 years ago we had a frost the first week in June. We can’t wait forever – so roll on the warm weather!
I always hoped that the garden would encourage our creativity in the kitchen and give our dishes individuality and uniqueness. It certainly has – our menus have never changed so quickly! There is a wave of excitement through the kitchen as each new ingredient becomes available. This situation has really challenged us to use everything and I am more than happy with the results. We have simplified our style a bit and tried to let the ingredients express themselves. In terms of individuality, it’s now far more difficult for others to recreate our dishes as they simply don’t have our ingredients to work with.
I’ve been amazed by people taking such an interest in the garden over the last couple of weeks. As it comes together, it seems that guests really want to be involved. This is great! When we set out, one of the main aims was that, as well as providing us with the ingredients, the garden would be an enjoyable space for everyone. It has been wonderful showing guests around the garden on an afternoon. It gives them an insight into what we are doing and an introduction to what will be on their plate in the evening. I think having the distance between the living vegetables and the plate so small not only makes for better food but also a better all round experience. I can’t wait to sit up on the top terrace this summer with a cold beer talking food with the guests. In the meantime lets hope for good weather and I will report back soon!