The Felin Fach Griffin, in the Brecon Beacons, www.eatdrinksleep.ltd.uk, was the first hotel and restaurant in Wales to attain certified organic status for their kitchen garden. Their head gardener, Joe Hand, did his ‘informal apprenticeship’ at the nearby Primrose Organic Farm and explained, “We used to supply the Griffin with organic produce and one day I bumped into the owner, Charles Inkin, who mentioned he wanted to start an organic kitchen garden in a field next to the hotel. That brief chat turned out to be my interview and we started the garden in 2004.
“I decided to use raised beds as the field soil was very compacted and a bit clayish. It’s also an easier system to mange as the site is about an acre and if parts of it start to get out of control, which they do, I can close beds down by putting black polythene over them and mulching them for a year. As it’s organic, we don’t use pesticides or weed killers so the weeds can be a problem. I tend to plant a lot of crops through the plastic as it would take up too much time to weed the beds. I cover the plastic with grass clippings which acts as a mulch and retains a lot of moisture in the soil. It’s ideal in these dry conditions as I would have to keep watering everything otherwise.”
This Saturday, (7th) the Felin Fach Griffin is inviting volunteers to help Joe plant a variety of crops and they will, in turn, be able to benefit from tips and advice given by the organic gardener. “I use a strict 4 block rotation system”, he explains, “in one section I’ll grow peas and beans, in another salads and squashes, the third will have brassicas and the fourth will be root crops, leeks and the turnip rooted chervil that isn’t grown anywhere else in the UK as far as I know. It’s native to cold areas and has to be chitted in the fridge for a couple of months before sowing. It took me ages to source the seed and about 3 years to learn how to grow it,” he admits. “It tastes like a cross between a carrot and parsnip and the chef uses it as a puree. I try to use the kitchen garden to grow specific varieties that can’t be sourced locally, it’s nice to grow something special.”
“People need to make growing veg easy for themselves,” he continues, “strawberries are an easy crop and once you’ve tasted a home grown one like Gariguette or Cambridge Late Pine, you won’t buy supermarket strawberries any more.
“The garden is at its most productive in late summer and autumn. I don’t over-winter too much as it’s not profitable. Winter crops like brassicas take up and awful lot of space and don’t like really cold winters. I stick with crops like lamb’s lettuce, rocket, winter spinach and garlic.; things anyone can grow in their own garden.”
We agree that even experienced gardeners like to make life as easy as possible, though at this time of year gardens and allotments are chaotic. Joe adds, “everything is growing like mad now and it’s just impossible to keep up with it. Try to take time to enjoy it though, worrying won’t get the watering or weeding done!”