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January Blues - January 2014

January is a difficult month for a gardener, and more so than usual this year. Over Christmas the garden was badly damaged by flooding, with raised beds smashed, newly spread compost and rockdust swept away and espaliered fruit trees tipped over to a crazy 45 degree angle. So we are rebuilding the beds heavier, stronger and, most importantly, higher, so that when the flooding inevitably happens again, the precious soil life will have 'islands' and will not drown. I have learned the importance of planning an exit route for flood water, as most of the damage was done where there was no clear path through. Also, I learned another advantage of no-dig gardening, as the established undug beds were not swept away.

 As depressing as all this re-building is, with the lengthening days, my growing mojo is gradually returning. We are eating well from the garden, freezer and store cupboard, but if we are to eat just as well this time next year, I need to be making plans now. Time and space are always limited and choices have to be made. Last year I planted many exotics, some of which performed better in the kitchen than others. This year might see fewer exotics, and more of the staples that have kept us well fed and happy through the winter.

Tomatoes are chief amongst these. I discovered bottling using a waterbath this year to make jars of tomato sauce that store on the shelf, as well as my usual method of whizzing them in the blender and freezing. These were a revelation - boiled down to a third of their volume with salt, garlic, balsamic vinegar and citric acid (for preservation) added, they can be added to casseroles, are thick enough to spread on a pizza base or, best of all, can be heated up in a frying pan with a couple of eggs cracked into them to poach, served on toast for breakfast.

We have just used the last of these, and I'm considering growing even more tomatoes this year to try to carry us through to the new season. Last year I moved them from the polytunnel to the greenhouse, which they thrived in, but perhaps there is room for some more back in the polytunnel, which means that something else will have to go. The sweet peppers did better in the polytunnel than the greenhouse last year, owing to the softer light, and so they can stay. The inca berries can go outdoors. Too vigorous for indoors, they engaged in a battle for domination with the sweet potatoes that took some refereeing. The season will be shorter form them, but I can grow more plants and I mainly dry them for winter snacking anyway. The sweet potatoes though, that is a question. Do they deserve their indoor space? Last year one plant produced a crop that was as large as the other four plants' offerings added together, largely probably because I lost track of where the plant was amongst the jungly foliage to water it properly. They cropped at a time when there was masses of everything and started to rot after only a couple of weeks in the fridge. So on the face of it, not a great prospect. However, I do seriously love sweet potato chips, so they might stay. Perhaps I will try growing them around the feet of some tomatoes. That might just work, as long as I keep track of where the roots are and feed and water accordingly. Then I just have to set aside August and September for the flat out bottling!

(NB. If you are inspired to try bottling tomatoes, please find accurate instructions and follow them carefully, as there is a risk of botulism; Alys Fowler's Abundance is good.)