Prepping soil and pickling artichokes

This time last year I wrote about pickling artichoke hearts in olive oil. It was a time-consuming task and resulted in several jars of delicious additions to summer salads. After a month, the jars fizzed alarmingly upon opening. so I have just evicted the last two jars of pickled botulism in my larder, wary of opening them.

I now pick the heads at snooker ball size and eat the hearts fresh. 8 square metres of artichokes yielding less than a kilo of food does not make sense except to artichoke freaks. You can’t get away with sticking artichokes into the flower border. Each one takes up a metre, looks dreadful once you decapitate the heads and the old stems loll disgracefully.

It has been a disheartening year for clients in new build houses up the road from me. The houses were completed in the winter wet. The subsoil was compacted by machinery and as bad as I have ever seen. By spring the gardens were roughly scraped clear and topsoil was hastily spread about 5 inches deep (generous for a new build) and turf laid on top.

A councel of perfection would suggest the hire of a digger and a skip to remove and set aside the topsoil. Scrape off and dispose of several tonnes of excess subsoil (the garden level is domed up just where a flat lawn is desired), rip through the remaining subsoil, return the topsoil with extra graded topsoil and compost and start again. For reasons of disruption and expense, this seldom happens.

An entire generation of new gardeners is concluding that gardening is too much hard work and unrewarding, as nothing grows well for them. When I try to chisel a fork into new lawns flattened and baked, it’s easy to see why. In one garden, 2 large adult sons on furlough have been persuaded to renovate one border by hand according to my instructions. I hope the experience has not put them off gardening for life.The prospect of successful future gardening encourages this family to restore the health to the soil, if only one sweaty metre at a time.

On a more cheerful note, it has been lovely to see how many people have been growing vegetables during furlough. It is amazing how much food even 3 metres of well-prepared soil can produce. Let me know for how many decades you can grow your own veggies before you no longer feel compelled to bore guests with every serving?

2 square metres of Crouch Towers was sown with mixed salad leaves, parsley, dill and rocket, now growing faster than I can eat it. One Monday, I vowed to have one healthy bowl of salad leaves, mangetout and cucumber with a nice balsamic vinegar and honey dressing for lunch every day. I sat on my sun- drenched natural stone patio feeling smug and middle class and visibly losing pounds of weight.

For variety, I found exotic unloved stuff in the back of the cupboard to add, like sundried tomatoes, capers, sunflower seeds and croutons, but I gave the pickled artichokes a miss. Chefs charge you a fortune for a good larder clear-out. My daily salad was delicious and varied and by Friday I was gagging for a plate of chips.