I always find it a bit strange when the seasons correspond with the calendar. This year, I took the train from north Wales to Shropshire on the first of September — and with the new month came autumn, cooler temperatures and vast quantities of zucchini and blackberries. I’ve spent the first two weeks of it in Shropshire, at a place called Babbinswood Farm.
This was more of a WWOOFing place, though I found it through Helpx, inasmuch as it focussed very much on the organic farming side of things. It was a lot of fun — there were several other wwoofers there. It was lovely to have company, espcially since they were all around my own age or a bit older. Not quite what I was expecting — I guess I’d not realised so many others in their early to mid thirties would be travelling, seeing the world, interested in learning about farming. But this seems to be the case. One woman from Hong Kong, a married couple from Texas, and a man from Spain, along with the farm owner, her family, and various others, as along with the farm there is also a veterinary practice on site.
I just did things with the farm. Or actually, I did things with the chickens and the vegetable garden. This involved quite a lot of picking slugs and caterpiullars off things — the brassicas (cabbage relatives, in particular the kale) outside, and nasturtiums inside the polytunnel. There was some watering to do … and huge, huge amounts of preserving.
It is the end of summer and so therefore the tomatoes are strong, the runner beans are going well, and … the zucchini/courgettes are going mad.
(Side note: one of my first encounters with a good friend — hi Heather! — was a in the early days of grade twelve, when I encountered her smuggling zucchini through the school hallways. She was trying to give it away to people, but was reduced to hiding them in her locker. That is what happens when you plant more than, oh, one zucchini plant. This garden has more than ten.)
Now, Barbara sold some of them — the little, delicate, urban types — to a whole foods/organic store in the nearby town of Oswestry, but even they didn’t want very many. We had plenty past the delicate baby courgettes. We had the ones that you could call marrows. Possibly not prize-winning marrows, in terms of size, but, wow, quantity we sure had. Somehow I neglected to take any pictures of the results of our efforts, or even of the piules of zucchini — but, well, even if not marrows, there were some rude carrots:
We made: zucchini bread (lots). Grated zucchini to freeze. (Also lots.) We attempted dried zucchini chips (alas, a fail,). We made tomato sauce, ratatouille, vegetable soup base … ate some, canned the rest. Made huge batches of zucchini soup. And there were still more in the pantry when I leftk, and plenty more on the vines.
All I can say is, if you’re thinking of planting zucchini … you proibably only need one plant. Two if you really love them, or want different colours.
I have to say one of the things I thought most amazing about working at Babbinswood for two weeks was the ability to go outthink, oh, I need an onion for this, and go out into the garden and pick one the right size. Isn’t that amazing? I loved trying to think up new things to make with the food — and was lucky enough that one of the other wwoofers was a professional chef, so apart from learning a little bit about molecular gastronomy (not how to do it, just what it is), I also observed his inventiveness with the produce of the garden. My contribution was chutney — made, naturally, with zucchini. And apples from the garden.
Along with the weeding (oh yes, there was weeding, too), caterpillar picking, and various harvests and preserving, we also spent two days helping at a community garden, called The Garth Hillside Organic Garden, obviously enough on a hillside over the border into Wales. This was designed under Permaculture principles — something I will expand on in a later post, I think, because it’s an interesting topic — and was the sort of place I would love to have one day: aesthetically pleasing, fruitful, bountiful, and a place to share with others.
There were little details I loved, like the woven willow hedging,
and the use of many flowers as bee attractors (they had some native black bees in hives at the bottom of the garden -‘ and some zucchini of their own, as you can see here),
plus all sorts of vegetables — including broad beans. These were right at the end of their productive period, with just enough for a taste — and what a lovely taste they do have! I will grow them in future, because I don’t think I’ve ever seen them for sale in Canada. Possibly you’d get them frozen — or probably in the big specialist groceries in cities, or certain farmers markets — the same ones, I’d guess, where you can buy quinces. (If ever I have a farmers market stall, you can bet I’ll sell broad beans, quinces — and sweet peas!.)
On the weekend, the others wwoofers and I piled in to a small car we christened the Grasshopper and drove off to Nantwich for its food festival. Nantwich was a lovely town, with such delights as a church with a little train:
and the elaborate wood and plaster houses I’d also seen in Shrewsbury. I am looking forward to my walk through Cheshire and Shropshire to see more of these.
I also went to Whittington, the nearest village, which has the ruins of a castle, including a mgarden with a viewing mound called a gloriette. Sadly they haven’t recreated the medieval garden, but the white pigeons flying aorund where nicely picturesque. The castle made me realise how tumultrious this part of England’s history is — it’s right on the Welsh borders, and indeed there is a fair amount of Welsh in the placenames and even on the signs. Not what I was expecting!
The other thing we did as a group was go to the Chirk aqueduct and nearby tunnel. I will be going to the nearby Pont Cyllte aqueduct (which is a UNESCO world heritage site) soon, I hope, but I enjoyed this trip with the other wwoofers. Even the tunnel, which at 421 metres long is by far the longest I have ever been in!
I’ll only post the one picture of the canal because this next week is going to involve lots of them. I went back up to Preston on Saturday 14th September, and am heading towards Liverpool. Or rather bouncing back and forth from Liverpool to various points along the canal, because of an abundance of pubs but dearth of inns, but that’s a subject for the next post.