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We celebrated Harvest Festival twice this year. The first was in collaboration with St. Andrew's church in Coniston where we received huge donations of locally grown produce. About ten or twelve volunteers came throughout the day to help with the preparation and cooking of a celebration dinner and ready meals. Thirty people came to the dinner and we made more than 120 packaged meals which were delivered to some of the elderly residents in the village. The second Harvest Festival was at Wysing Arts the following week. Wysing's base is a converted farm in Cambridgeshire and although the land is used for sculpture now and not food production, they still have some very productive fruit trees. However, we decided not to do an entirely fruit-based dinner and so managed to get a few things grown locally (onions and cabbage) before hitting the supermarket (where there was an excellent deal on squid). The Harvest Festival at Wysing consisted of a day of talks and films followed by a supper for the artists, staff, volunteers and visitors. The talks were mainly food related, including Erik Sjodin's research into the fast growing Azolla pond plant as a nutritious food source and Will Clifford's talk on the Miracle Tree (Moringa Oleifera) and it's nutritional and medical properties. Kathrin Bohm presented a project in Berlin with myvillages.org about approaches to sustainable food production and also made us a huge batch of sauerkraut (which we had to take back to Lawson Park and is still fermenting in buckets in the cold store).
I had high hopes this year for my trial of new-to-us Eastern European tomoto varieties. Down at our allotment at Monk Coniston Walled Garden we are trying 'Koralik' outside - watch this space for report - but up at Lawson Park's polytunnel this year we grew 'Father Frost' and the trusty yellow cherry tomato, 'Sungold'.
These pictures tell you all you need to know, and from past experience we will be picking Sungold right up to Christmas time. 'Father Frost' - like other Eastern European variteties - promised hardiness and vigour which I hoped would match our very tomato-unfriendly climate. At first it indeed grew very well and produced many offshoots which one is advised not to pinch out - in other words instead of the traditional cordon you got a rather unwieldy but promising bush. The problem was that by the time of ripening in August, the close foliage was getting mildewy and shading the fruits, and in addition fruit was rather haphazardly shaped and distributed. Eventually a meagre harvest was gleaned of dull-flavoured fruit.
Take in contrast the elegant 'Sungold' - a far sparser plant, almost straggly after its late January sowing. Both varities were deep-plated out in late May with the first 15cm of their stems buried in the enriched soil. Removing side shoots keeps the plant in shape and allows air and light to the fruits, which up here don't even think about ripening till very late August. But boy are they worth the wait.
I'm reminded that of course 'Sungold' has the RHS Award of Garden Merit (AGM) and more the fool me for not choosing other varieties that share this most trustworthy of endorsements - note to self, to refer to the list of all AGM tomatoes before browsing next year's seed catalogues....
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