episode 85 | show notes & advice
This week, Sarah talks to David Rowley, the Head Market Gardener at Heckfield Place. Following a beautiful restoration of what was once a Georgian family home, Heckfield is now a luxury hotel and biodynamic farm and market garden set within the grounds of a 400-acre estate in Hampshire. On a recent visit with her two daughters, Sarah was able to meet David and enjoy a wonderful tour of the whole garden and growing area. Feeling thoroughly inspired by what David and the team are doing at Heckfield Place, Sarah has asked him to share what flowers and veg they will be autumn sowing that will be coming into flower or cropping soon, and are great for winter use, as well as spring and summer. Sharing his background and journey, initially into organic farming, then biodynamics, David gives us a glimpse behind the gardening and growing scenes of Heckfield Place.
In this episode, discover .....
• David’s background in horticulture and journey to organic farming and subsequently, biodynamics
• Rudolf Steiner and the origins of biodynamic farming
• How and when to sow biodynamically
• Mid-September sown carrots for young, fresh multi-coloured baby carrots at Christmas
• Veg and flowers they are sowing now at Heckfield Place
• The best edibles and ornamentals to sow now in small spaces
Episode 85 advice sheet
Despite a slight lilt to his accent, suggesting he’s been living out of the UK for some time, David is originally from Southampton. After school, he studied horticulture at Hadlow College in Kent, and then moved to the States to work as a bona fide chemical grower, in hydroponics and other normal commercial systems. After a while, David began to notice that the staff weren’t wanting to eat the foods they were growing, so he began to apply some of the techniques he had learnt in college and throughout his horticultural career, to organic agriculture. He eventually began his own business a few hours north of New York City – called Monkshood Nursery. Certified as organic from day one, David ended up running this business for 20 years. However, after talking to fellow farmers in the Upper Hudson Valley, he learned about biodynamics, and then converted the farm from certified organic to biodynamic.
What is biodynamic farming?
Biodynamics is a style of agriculture / horticulture introduced by Rudolf Steiner in 1924 following farmers’ concerns at the time, over the many new chemical tools available for them to use in the fields. While they were killing things they didn’t want to have and seeing the benefit in their lifetime, they felt that prolonged use of such practices would threaten the quality of the soil and wildlife for future generations.
Rudolf Steiner took this information and converted it into the ‘Eight Agriculture Lectures’ – a broad framework to allow agriculture and horticulture to co-exist with the planet, and encourage the forces we are somewhat sensitive to, though perhaps can’t necessarily record on a scientific level.
One example of these methods is the Three Kings preparation on 6th January (Epiphany). David explains: “We’re taking gold, frankincense, and myrrh, stirring them into a solution and placing around the perimeter of the farm, so that the farm has a skin - a sense of self.”
Considered by Heckfield Place to be a great team building activity, they invite people from the hotel, farm and market garden to explore how far they can walk in one direction before finding the end of the farm. From a biodynamic sense, this (Three Kings preparation) gives the farm a boundary, or a skin, encouraging all visible life, as well giving all sentient beings we can’t necessarily see, a nice welcoming place in which they can live, thrive and enjoy their time here.
Sarah feels it’s quite challenging for those who are more science-based (like herself), and yet she admits she has always found that the produce from or on biodynamic farms, is unbelievably healthy, productive and beautiful. Kooky or not, it just seems to work.
Where is the science behind biodynamics?
During hotel tours of the market garden and farm at Heckfield Place, David is often asked about the science behind biodynamics, to which he gives a very practical comparison:
“If we have an MP3 or a CD recording of an orchestra playing, it’s about as good a quality as we can possibly fathom through our ears, yet when we go to an auditorium and hear an orchestra perform, even if we close our eyes, the sense - the experience is entirely different. So there are definitely some things that are not yet measurable in our scientific world, but that we can experience as people.”
When applied to growing biodynamically versus organic or conventional production, it seems that there are things that are not measured, and yet we have a sense them; as Sarah has found – that the qualities the plants express in a biodynamic production scenario, are exceptional.
Planning for the Persephone period at Heckfield Place
Given Heckfield Place’s location in southern England, they will enter the Persephone period around the middle of November, when the day length is less than 10 hours a day. Therefore, David and his team are now planning for that period by looking to have the plants grown and ready to harvest from the polytunnel (some from outside too), so that by mid-November, they’re not trying to grow things anymore, just picking what’s there.
There’s a golden opportunity from the middle of August to the beginning of September to grow as much as possible to fit into that fairly short window, so that things are ready to pick all the way through the winter. At the moment, they’re still picking cucumbers, tomatoes, aubergines and peppers from the polytunnels, but they want to be prepared for when those crops have finished, and they’ve run out of temperature and daylength, so that they can remove them from the polytunnels and transplant them into the soil.
What transplants well?
A beautiful winter spinach, and even the red-veined spinaches do exceptionally well if they’re transplanted into the polytunnels around the middle of October. Roughly 3-4 weeks prior to that, around the beginning of September, they put the seeds into the soil. David admits this can feel a bit counterintuitive as spinach is such a cold-loving crop and it can be warm in early September, so trying to keep it cool can be challenging.
There are many other winter greens that are added to the winter salad mix, which the Hotel and other restaurants absolutely love to use:
• Mâche corn salad
• Lamb cresses - for a nice fiery bite to a salad
• Tatsoi – with beautiful, almost tennis racquet-shaped leaves and increasingly popular
• Brassica salad: ‘Golden frills’, ‘Purple frills’, ‘Red Giant’, ‘Mizuna’, ‘Miz America’ - a spectacular red variety of Mizuna
• Salad rockets – for direct seeding towards the end of September
• 1-2 beds of carrots (3 or 4 varieties of different colours) – sown around mid-September giving ample growing time to harvest young fresh carrots around the end of November / early December, even for Christmas (particularly the multi-coloured baby carrots), instead of relying on bigger carrots grown outside.
Tip: if you allow the polytunnels to get cold enough after the cold snap, they’ll be deliciously sweet as well.
Seeding veg into modules
• Pak choi
• A favourite of David’s: Red-veined sorrel – so lovely to eat all through the winter and looks lovely on the plate. As soon as it gets hot in the polytunnel in April, it tends to lose some of that deliciousness, but all through the winter, the leaves are fantastic.
Flowers for autumn sowing at Heckfield Place:
Sarah was rather taken by the spectacularly simple, stylish and beautiful vase of 8ft towering Ammi majus in the Hotel. Having always grown Ammi, Sarah has tended to use it more as a filler, but seeing this display has inspired her to go back to the idea that there’s nothing nicer than a huge vase of cow parsley. And the benefit of Ammi is it doesn’t drop its petals in the same way as cow parsley does.
The Ammi’s great height was due to their very late autumn sown (late September, early October), to get the seed germinated, have its first true leaves and be ready for transplanting into the poly. It can even go into the polytunnel at the beginning of February. The point is to get as much growth on it as you can before you get to mid-summer (mid-June), when it starts to sense that the daylength is changing and it moves into its flowering habit.
Other flowers for autumn sowing at Heckfield Place
Module trays and then transplant into the polytunnel early to mid-November
• Icelandic poppies
• Daucus carota ‘Dara’ – late in the season or early next spring, as it puts on such a magnificent display and makes a great habitat for all the wildlife as soon as it flowers
• Dianthus barbatus (sweet Williams)
• Lunaria annua (Honesty) – harvested for its scented flowers in its first year, and for beautiful, dried displays of the moon-shaped lunaria in its second year
• Campanula medium (Canterbury Bells) - grown as cut flowers, so as plugs into 9cm pots before planting them out and letting them grow
• Sweet rocket
• Next year: Cornflowers are seeded in the glass houses in early February
Displays of flowers in isolation
Sarah loved the Heckfield Place Hotel displays of flowers in glorious isolation rather than mixed arrangements. Whether it was a lily or the Ammi or a foxglove (Pam’s Choice – the lovely foxglove with the purple throat), in the bathrooms, bedrooms and reception areas, Sarah felt they were more stylish, more beautiful and more natural displayed in this way.
Seeds to sow now in smaller garden spaces
• Any of the rockets – spectacular, quick and fairly easy
Suggested preparation: Mix it with a little bit of feta and balsamic vinegar
• Red-veined sorrel – puts on a lovely display even in small pots and keeps on giving and giving
Tip: It is perennial but the flavour is best in young plants. In their second, third and subsequent years, the succulent and flavoursome leaves are less available than they are in the new plants.
• Bronze fennel – as a stunning ornamental and fairly easy to grow. Plus you can eat the young foliage and the flowers.
• Daucus carota ‘Dara’ – with beautiful and long-lasting umbelliferous flowers (similar to a crimson Ammi).
Pollinators: Both the Bronze fennel and the Daucus carota are absolutely brilliant for bees, butterflies and hoverflies.
Heckfield Place Hotel
Heckfield Place, Hampshire, RG27 0LD
Phone: +44 (0) 118 932 6868
Heckfield Place seasonal recipes
Pan-fried scallops with horseradish cream and winter greens
• 24 sea scallops, cleaned
• Handful of rocket
• Handful of white dandelion leaves
• Handful of mizuna
• Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
• 1 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
• Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• A little olive oil
• Horseradish cream
• 200ml crème fraîche
• 1 tbsp freshly grated horseradish root
• 1 1/2 tsp Dijon mustard
To serve; sprinkling of very finely chopped curly parsley, lemon wedges
First, make the horseradish cream (a day in advance if you like). Put the crème fraîche in a bowl and fold in the horseradish and mustard. Season with salt to taste. (If making ahead, cover and refrigerate, but return to room temperature before serving.)
Have the scallops ready at room temperature. Wash the salad leaves, dry well, and combine in a bowl. Dress with the lemon zest and juice and the extra virgin olive oil, then divide among four plates or arrange on a large platter.
Place two heavy (ideally, non-stick) frying pans over a high heat and allow them to get very hot. Season the scallops lightly with salt and pepper. Drizzle 1/2 tbsp olive oil into each pan.
When the oil begins to smoke, add the scallops, arranging them in a single layer. It is important not to overcrowd the pan (if you do, the scallops will stew rather than fry), so cook in two batches if necessary. Cook for 1 minute only, then turn (in the same order that you put them into the pan) and cook for the same amount of time on the other side. The scallops should be crunchy and golden on the surface, with a sweet and delicious taste.
As you remove the scallops from the pan, place them on top of the salad leaves, adding a dollop of horseradish cream. Sprinkle with finely chopped parsley and serve straight away, with a wedge or two of lemon on the side.
Carrots with honey, lemon zest and thyme
• 8 September seeded carrots
• 1½ tbsp honey
• 50g unsalted butter
• 6 thyme sprigs
• sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
• grated zest and juice of 1/2 lemon
• finely chopped curly parsley to sprinkle (optional)
Peel the carrots and cut them into chunky slices on the diagonal. Place in a saucepan and pour on enough cold water to just cover. Add the honey, butter, thyme and a generous pinch of salt. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, then lower the heat to a simmer. Cook for 15 minutes or until the carrots are almost tender.
Now, turn the heat up to boil the liquid rapidly until reduced down to a shiny, sweet glaze – there should be 1–2 tbsp of intensely flavoured cooking liquor coating the carrots – nothing more. Add the lemon juice and check the seasoning. You'll need a turn of the pepper mill and a pinch or two of salt, but no more.
Just before serving, sprinkle over the lemon zest. A scattering of very finely chopped curly parsley would not go astray either.