An extra long summer and a very slow start to autumn, has seen the Kitchen Garden adapt to an unusual micro-climate in Dunkeld. Fortunately, the Royal Mail Hotel has a team of highly skilled gardeners – and some very helpful irrigation – who know what’s best for the crops during this time.
Naturally, the hotter weather proves to be advantageous for some plants and detrimental to others. The warm climate has sustained a lengthier crop of root vegetables such as multiple varieties of heirloom carrots and beetroots, as well as a bumper crop of basil, sprouting new leaves until only recently.
Now that the temperature has dropped, these winter vegetables need a warmer environment to continue growing. Enter, the hot houses. Michelle, our Kitchen Garden Specialist, has planted more carrots and beetroots along with herbs, winter lettuces and celery in the shelters to avoid the harsher elements.
Dunkeld nights have cooled, getting to as low as five degrees Celsius, with the prospect of frosts arriving alongside. Michelle has planted vegetables in the open-air garden which can cope with the light frosts experienced throughout winter. The vegetables that brave the weather include Brussels sprouts and early parsnip, which are hitting peak sweetness now, and are almost ready for harvest.
What’s in abundance in the kitchen garden?
The chefs have been harvesting plenty of cauliflower – a reliable autumn vegetable. It’s no wonder they love working with cauliflower when it grows in colours such as, white, green, yellow and Executive Chef Robin Wickens’ favourite – purple. Along with its mellow, versatile flavour, the brassica lends its self well to aromatics and spices.
Michelle has recently finished harvesting a bounty of pumpkins. Laid out to harden on the racks to improve shelf life, the pumpkins are then sorted for the winter months and put into storage. Cared for correctly, pumpkins can last between six to 12 months like this.
Quinces and figs are in the store room and are making their way onto the menu, while the chefs are still picking passionfruit and turning them into a tangy icecream. Medlars are amounting in the glass house and will be the next fruit showcased on the menus.
Pomegranates have grown for the first time – a surprise Michelle has been excited to share with Robin. Previously they have not produced fruit, but after being moved to a new position, they have gone gangbusters. These little garnets, jam packed with a burst of sweetness, made Robin one happy chef.
Banana’s need tropical environments to grow, and Dunkeld is far from tropical. After out growing their original position in the small igloo shelters, Michelle has moved them to the glasshouse where they will have the room to flourish and the warmth to get through winter. They failed to flower this year, but the team is crossing their fingers for next year.
Late autumn is all about soil preparation. It’s a busy period whereby the gardeners sow the winter cover crops for green manure (a mix of grain crops, cresses and mustards). Green manure adds vital nutrients and humus (decomposed vegetable and animal matter) to the soil in time for spring and summer vegetables. It also protects the soil throughout the wet and cold winter months.
Additionally, Michelle has sown bio mustard in the hot houses to help control nematodes (microscopic worm like organisms) that may be present and add humus and nutrients to the soil. It is also a variety that Robin loves to cook with.
The cornerstone of the Royal Mail Hotel restaurants, the soil is the gardeners top priority.
Without good, rich nutrient soil, the quality of the produce would not be the same.
Did you see these quinces? | What came next? This lemon verbena crème brûlée with poached quinces!