November is the grimmest month. With one water-laden weather front after another driven in off the Atlantic, dumping their loads at the first landfall, we are constantly reminded of the proximity of the water surrounding us. Away from high ground, the oaks and beeches are hanging onto enough leaves to make a wonderful show – but the combination of wind, rain, frost and falling light levels have brought our tenderer outdoor crops to an end. Cime di rapa, spinach, chard, and the last of the salads are all now too diseased and wind-damaged for us to conomically sort the good from the bad. Hard frosts have felled the last artichokes, leaving the young heads bowed like ears of barley; even the normally hardy cardoons have lost their outer leaves. (Incidentally, to my glee, yesterday a visiting student told how in her village in Northern Spain, they cook cardoons with almonds for Christmas dinner.) Only the hardiest crops and pickers remain. It requires a combination of physical and mental strength, and a zen-like ability to rise above hardship, to survive a winter in the fields; very few can do it, and we should be hugely grateful to those who can.
Meanwhile, in our polytunnels, heat-resistant Sicilian Joe (who controls the irrigation taps) provocatively proclaims “I am god in here.” They are pretty flimsy structures; better not to provoke the big man’s wrath, lest He send a mighty storm to enforce some humility. There in the calm, dry warmth, we have completed the autumn turnaround: ripping out the last tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers, aubergines and so on, to replace with a mixture of landcress, rocket, claytonia, various mustards, ruby chard, dandelion, endive, baby lettuce leaf and radicchio. We expect to harvest 35 tonnes of leaves before cutting the first spring lettuce from outside. Dare I say that, after years of experimentation with varieties and growing techniques, we are now pretty good at winter salads?
We have been overwhelmed by your art. Thanks to all, young, old and in between, who entered our colouring competition. It was all inspired by our designer Arianne, who created a colouring wall for Pumpkin Day. There is a long wall in the office covered with glorious, chaotic colour, which makes me smile every time I walk past.