There are a series of landmarks in my gardening year and, however intemperate the weather, by late July, the croft vegetable garden has been transformed into a garden of abundance. The empty trugs of the hungry gap months become horns of plenty and we are sated with green comestibles. A pretentious little literary allegory which means that we have a fridge full of cucumbers, pallet loads of courgettes, enough lettuce to feed a bio-digester the size of a nuclear power station and our friends and neighbours are avoiding us. We can hardly get into the store for sacks of potatoes, the shelves are groaning with jars of preserves, and the freezers are FULL!
It seems churlish to complain, but my garden of plenty has become a garden of excess. If I wasn’t being engulfed in green fecundity, I could smile smugly and show off my green fingers. However, my fingers are green from picking tomatoes from dawn to dusk and the abundance of vegetables has more to do with the weather than my expertise.
We have had a perfect summer, calm, warm with just enough rain to minimise the need for irrigation. The spring was warm and the moisture in the soil from our very soggy winter was perfect for germinating seeds and nurturing young plants. However, the real bonus was the extension of the summer weather into August and beyond to mid-September. So at the very end of September I am still harvesting ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broad beans and courgettes, and wondering how we are going to eat the early winter broccoli which is ready at least a month ahead of schedule. By now we are usually preparing the vegetable garden for winter, hacking down the tomato vines and making green tomato chutney incorporating the last of the courgettes and defiantly green peppers.
Although I have reduced the quantity of vegetables I grow, I am still a just-in-case gardener and always sow a few extra seeds as an insurance policy again the plagues of Egypt. This would be fine, if I discarded the extra plants, But I always manage to squeeze the extras in somewhere. Hence four cucumber plants when two would be sufficient and an embarrassment of fruit! Although, I lost a third of my young celeriac plants to marauding slugs, the survivors are the size of small footballs so there will be no shortage of celeriac soup this winter.
It is rather comforting to know that we will have enough vegetables to keep us through the winter and next year I might even bridge the hungry gap! However, I still have to solve the problem of the vegetable mountain that is threatening to engulf the croft kitchen. My collection of vegetarian cookery books is getting well-thumbed and although the new Ottolenghi magnum opus arrived just in time to inspire me, once again it was the soup dragon who came to my rescue. So if you can’t face another cucumber salad or salsa, you might enjoy Plentiful Summer Soup.