hallowe'en

Well, I’m writing this on Hallowe’en and, appropriately enough, until I lit the fire I could hear the wind howling down the chimney. In the pre-Christian Celtic world this festival marked the end of the harvest and the start of winter. I can see where they were coming from: in the space of a single month – October – the bright autumn leaves all but disappear from the trees and the first proper frost arrives to kill off any remaining summer crops.

I was away when it froze and returned to find mushy rhubarb leaves and the leafless carcasses of courgette plants. This marks the beginning of the great annual tidy-up. Today I stripped tired beans from their poles and carried them and all the other trashed plants to the compost heap. The poles themselves – hazel cut by a local coppicer – I stacked indoors to preserve them for another year. It’s now time to weed the plot before the soil gets too wet to work. The weeds, of course, never seem to stop growing, especially chickweed. This creeping green carpet is one of the banes of my life, though it can at least be eaten – as an addition to salads or briefly steamed as a green vegetable.

It’s important to keep an eye on the weather forecast at this time of year – by covering the remaining lettuces with horticultural fleece before I went on holiday we should be able to eke a couple more weeks out of them. I also fleeced the Florence fennel and then sent the lot down to the Barbecoa restaurant this Tuesday. They can stand a little frost but not sustained cold. You wouldn’t think it but the same is true of lettuce, chillies and sweet peppers. It’s always a shame to see them go but there are plenty of fine winter vegetables coming into season: chicories and celeriac, parsnips and kale, Jerusalem artichokes and oca.

Pete Wrapson

About the author

I have looked after Jamie’s garden in Essex for the last six years, growing organic fruit and vegetables for both the Oliver family and Fifteen Restaurant. Although I was press-ganged into service in my parents’ vegetable garden at a tender age I only returned to the soil in 2000, having moved to a house with an overgrown veg patch. Then came two allotments and, fortunately, a burgeoning interest in cooking, given the sudden mountains of produce. At this point, I was still working as an editor, which seems odd now, since I try to spend every daylight hour outdoors. Feeling increasingly guilty about constantly staring out of the office window thinking about plants, I quit in 2004 in order to make the hobby the day job. A traineeship at Cambridge University Botanic Garden was followed by a stint in the organic kitchen garden at Audley End House before I was lucky enough to land the post at Jamie’s. It’s hard to think of a nicer job, really: I work in a beautiful place for a boss who is very much into his garden, have a lot of freedom to experiment and from time to time get to see Jamie and the Food Team at work, which in turns inspires my own cooking. I blog about the garden as often as I can and also write the gardening pages for Jamie Magazine, which are perfect complements to pulling up weeds and digging holes.

Pete Wrapson's blog

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