We're having a cold winter and much of the Pig Row garden has been under snow for over a fortnight. The snow in parts is eighteen inches; here and there crops struggle to break lose. Let's face it, those Manchester Turnips never did like our soil and the chard was burnt off in the first frost and there are signs in the snow that our cabbage leaves have become victims of murderous hares or an overexcited dog. Somewhere under the snow, under fleece, are winter onions and garlic. So off Andrew trudges in wellies and a wind breaker to harvest the last of our curly kale.
Curly kale has become unfashionable in the last few years, it's not as sexy as Nero di Toscana, some people think the latter has a better taste but the truth of the matter is that we are swayed by passing fashions. Take the Asparagus Pea and the Half Pint Pea, all the rage a few years back in the catalogues with grandiose statements about their virility, girth and nowt much said about taste. We grew Asparagus Pea at Drovers. Imagine a lovely summer's day in a cottage garden, Andrew bends down to pick one of the fresh peas, pops it in his mouth, admires the waving cosmos in the gravel road that ran beside our house and then the Asparagus Pea hits his tastebuds. It's not sweet, it's not a pea, it's not asparagus either, it is the kind of food that Oompa Loompa's would have laid down in the middle of Loompaland and gladly been eaten by Whangdoodles, Hornswogglers and Snozzwanglers. Snot is a veritable smorgasbord of delight in comparison. Andrew sprays it out in a four latter cacophony just as the man who walks his dog at the same time everyday comes around the corner of the house on the gravel road admiring the pink cosmos dancing in the summer breeze to be met by spraying Asparagus Pea. It ends up not being a pretty picture. Even the dog wouldn't lick it off it's master's face. The Half Pint Pea was also another miracle that gardeners quickly discovered got terribly ratty being in a half pint pot as their roots dried out too quickly, the plants became stressed and the peas anemic. The moral of the story is to embrace the unfashionable. Before the Wartime Garden, we too would have been seduced by bright pink strawberries in pretty dresses that grow in a thimble full of soil or pumpkins that miraculously grew without water but let's face facts, growing vegetables takes work and you want longevity not novelty.
So, off Andrew trudges in the snow, grasping a hazel stick to balance himself for a basketful of curly kale to go with the last of our bartered onions. Why? Well, the curly kale has been in since last August and we've been harvesting it from mid October onwards and there's a good chance when spring kicks in that we'll get more. We'll probably pull it out sometime next May to make room for preparing the soil.
We grew Nero di Toscana last year, we did two sowings, the summer one was fabulous, the winter one sat there, then sat there some more and then seemed to be getting slightly eager, then it rained, then it died. We sulked. We like Nero di Toscana but for us it is a mid-summer crop and this curly kale is a crop we will be eating, on an off, for eight months. Now, that's value for money that won't be sprayed out in four letters.