With no school to go to at present, Emma’s three children, Jacquot (11), Maya (9) and Louis (7) have been coming to work with her at the FarmED kitchen garden, helping to provide shares of fresh, locally grown salads and vegetables for families who live in the neighbouring villages.
The Kitchen Garden People’s recent harvests include Claytonia, which is also known as Miner’s Lettuce and Winter Purslane. It’s very high in vitamin C but doesn’t withstand transportation and a long shelf life so you’re unlikely to find it in a supermarket or even a regular grocery shop, but it’s growing in abundance in the FarmED polytunnels. A herbaceous, seasonal annual, it’s delicious in salads and is also useful on sunny harvest days. Lettuces tend to wilt really quickly in sunshine but Dan has discovered that if they’re covered with a sprinkling of fleshier Claytonia they retain their moisture. The sun has been very welcome though, especially since the polytunnel flooded during the long, persistently wet winter, meaning there was a risk of mildew and mould.
Emma also harvested lots of rocket, a variety with edible yellow flowers, while other veg growing in the polytunnels include beetroot and spinach. The orange netting is protecting tiny leeks which will later be transferred outside to the field. There’s Swiss chard growing here at present and Dan picked several crates. Swiss chard is hardy like spinach and overwinters really well outside, compared to rainbow chard which is easily damaged by frosts and can only really be cultivated in polytunnels.
There’s plenty of work to do beside harvesting and Dan’s parents, Clare and Dave, have been helping collect up the old irrigation hoses and fleece so we can prepare the field scale plot and be ready to start cultivating. In order to observe social distancing measures, the Kitchen Garden People’s volunteers have been limited to three or four at a time, bringing their own gloves and tools and not getting close to each other or working in household groups. The dexterity needed to harvest salad in the polytunnel means that gloves can’t be worn, so the core team, (Emma, Dan and Christine) have been doing this on their own, keeping at least 2m apart.
During these strange times it’s heartening to hear the spring air alive with birdsong and Emma was excited to spot a treecreeper in the archway between the polytunnel and conservation field. Shy and relatively rare, treecreepers often make nests in old fence posts and can be recognised by the way they only scamper up a tree trunk, then fly diagonally to the foot of the next one.
Many years ago, a different sort of music could be heard in the FarmED fields, emanating from the old shed which Emma and the children have been tidying out.
When farmer Jim Pearce and his wife Wendy first came to Honeydale Farm over fifty years ago they lived in a caravan and Jim, a keen musician, had no room for his piano. His brother in law gave him the shed for him to store, and play, the piano. Now the shed is traditionally, but less tunefully, used for storing garden tools.
Emma and the children left FarmED during the witching hour, just before dusk, and by the gateway to the neighbouring farm they found owl pellets and also spotted wild forget-me-nots brightening the hedgerows. The oldest two cycled crosscountry all the way from their home in Chadlington and back, a total of 12km using the ancient Oxfordshire Way.