Fork to fork on the Falklands
By: Web Editor
Lillian Kidd has a gang of helpers – a seemingly infinite number of grandchildren whose pumpkins have taken over a number of her greenhouses. She is, it has to be said, a little nervous for their future – the pumpkins that is – as the summer is rapidly drawing to a close and they may not ripen enough to store for the winter. You see, we are talking the Falklands here, and the growing season is unnervingly short.
Lillian – known to her friends and readers as Ginge – lives, breathes and eats gardening. Her gently sloping plot in East Stanley has been her life project since she retired from being head gardener to the governor in his 19th century mansion and is the focus of her weekly column in the Penguin News. The ½ acre garden is smaller, but probably not much less productive than her former workplace. Shelter is key here and stands of willow, eucalpytus and flax cross the garden, breaking up the space into manageable beds where root crops, brassicas and potatoes thrive. And – despite the pumpkins – fruit, tomatoes and salad crops fill the space in between.
Through her writing, Lillian is keen to share a lifetime love of growing with an audience wider than her family “we can grow almost anything here”, she enthuses, “the land had not been gardened before we came, so we planted spuds to work the ground and have gone from there to grow everything apart from cucumbers – but that’s only because we don’t like them!” Any spare produce gets frozen or preserved – a huge number of pickles and jams are arranged in jars on the counter in her porch and the smell of chutney pervades the house. “We’ve had to borrow a freezer from my brother, Lillian explains, as we just have so many swedes to freeze – just microwave them for three minutes in cubes.”
Gardens at Government House
Washed free from most of its nutrients, the soil on the islands is poor in the main and the grazing relatively poor. Lillian’s successor at the gardens of Government House, Jeremy Poncet, has no such problem, however. Here, the gardens have been in production for over 150 years and the soil is over two metres deep – supporting some of the best produce I have ever seen. Jeremy tells me that, despite the short season, the quality of light here is fabulous – and his crops are testament to that. The extensive gardens supply not only the governor with everything from cabbages to peaches: excess goes to the school and hospital to make up for the lack of supply elsewhere.
In recent years, fresh fruit and vegetables from South America and frozen vegetables from Europe led many people in the islands to become reliant on imports. Now, however, only a very limited range of fresh produce comes in on flights from Chile once a week.
Because of their increasing isolation, caused by the Argentinian blockade of Falklands flagged ships, the government here is trying to find ways to become self sufficient for food in a programme of import substitution.
This makes sense in a world of increasing transport costs too, of course. When I first visited the islands, nearly 20 years ago, it was common to eat what was jokingly referred to as ‘mutton 365’ with perhaps cabbage and potatoes – all home grown or easily transported by sea from the UK.
Following the conflict in 1982, the government supported the development of a large market garden just outside Stanley on land that had been used for decades for horticulture. Although the Stanley Growers now produce a large range of vegetables in hydroponic and traditional greenhouses, much is sold to visiting cruise ships and the military. As polytunnel technology has advanced, more and more people are growing at home.
One of the most adventurous gardeners on the island is Cyril Ellis. In his various beds and polytunnels, rows of mizuna and radiccchio vie for space with climbing beans, kohl rabi and the most fabulous carrots – enviably the islands are free from carrot root fly. Originally from the Scilly Isles, Cyril and his wife Val came to work on the farm at Goose Green in 1985 then eventually retired into Stanley. Now the couple supply a range of fabulous produce to local hotels and restaurants.
Despite being able to produce vegetables in variety, fruit can be scarce. When I visited Cyril and Val, they had just returned from queuing for a couple of hours on the bypass to get into the market garden “we heard that apples were coming in, so we had to go and see”, Cyril tells me. Immediately, Val pulls out a receipt “£6.82 for seven apples! – it makes a mockery of the five a day message,” she explains. Val and Cyril have seen the food supply come and go, however. “People of our generation don’t worry so much because we know how to manage without because when we first came there were few imports. So, we grow our own because we have had to in the past.”
Clearly, a balance needs to be found by the government then – as the population of Stanley grows, back gardens are increasingly been built on so that only those able to afford the relatively large gardens out of town will be able to produce their own food – perhaps it’s time for some public allotments?
FALKLANDS FACT FILE
The first Brit to take shelter among the islands in his ship Desire was John Davis in 1592 but the first landing on the islands was attributed to a British captain John Strong in 1690. The first European settlers arrived in the 18th century and Britain officially claimed the island in 1765. Today the islands are still a British overseas territory but this remains in dispute between Britain and Argentina, which calls the islands the Malvinas. The population of about 3100, almost all of British descent, have a strong desire to remain British. The economy of the islands is strong and based on fishing, tourism, beef, mutton and wool products and offshore oil exploration is now underway.
❯ Largest Settlement – Stanley, located on East Falkland
❯ Number of islands – 770 plus
❯ Rainfall – average 56cm (26in)
❯ Soil – thin, acid – average pH 4.6
❯ Temperature average high 13ºC (highest 24ºC)
❯ Temperature average low 1ºC (lowest recorded -11)
❯ What grows well:
Gooseberries and currants
Visiting the Falkland Islands
Flights run either via the RAF air bridge or via Santiago and Punta Arenas in Chile.
For travel arrangements, research www.Falklandislands.travel, or email firstname.lastname@example.org, or phone: 0207 222 2542
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