After the published highs of 2020 (joking) the garden didn’t not sprout in 2021.
It was a conscious decision as we had confirmation in February 2021 that Simon was about to be called for a heart bypass operation but the date was undetermined. With that on the horizon we decided to let the garden have a year off as everyone needs a rest. Simon thought all that planting would be pointless when we couldn’t continue to work on the garden if he was called in during prime growing season so we reluctantly packed away the seeds and bought our veg instead.
12 months on Simon is now a new man (if only) and recovered enough to return to gardening glory, he made me say that. The old raised beds had of course been swallowed by weeds taller than me (5ft) so it was decreed that a new area of the garden should be tamed and fenced off to allow him to have private gardening space and the poor polytunnel with nettles that reached the roof would be tackled one area at a time with the space mostly used for tray growing apparently until the ground beds could be returned to their former glory.
I have been pleased to see him back out there really, not just because eating our own food was extra tasty and healthy but mainly because the return to garden work has continued to improve his heart and mental health and I have had to deal with Mr. Grumpy a lot less, which is essential in a rural marriage.
In 6 years of trying, our veg output with the exception of courgette of course, has been minimal. However this year has been the turning point. Why? I would like to say it has been a miracle but actually I think we have just worked harder and smarter, those plants didn’t do it on their own I can tell you. We finally realised the priority was our harvest and not worrying whether the garden was picture perfect everyday. I know that doesn’t sound like a light bulb moment but social media is full of beautiful allotments with immaculate beds of good looking veg and its hard to turn your back on those heavenly gardens, work with your own space, however untidy and be proud of it. Remember, a carrot is a carrot whether it grew next to a weed or not.
Having moved the growing area into a more central zone and spending less time building raised beds the focus this year became HugelKulture and Lasagne style areas with layers of cardboard and horse muck building up over the months. By not spending time and energy designing new enclosed beds the planting areas came together quicker as they were free-formed allowing us to change and spread out as the mood took us.
These beds have been so much more successful than we envisaged and also surprisingly good for deterring the slugs. In previous years you might have found us in the garden at night, torches on, ready to attack the blighters. Never top of my favorite pastimes Simon would start the season all fired up to do the deed, then after a few nights it would peter away and the slugs would slide back and enjoy the “all you can eat buffet” in peace. It is amazing then to say we have successfully grown as much veg in the outside beds this year as in the polytunnel and that has never happened before. In general anything we planted externally was eaten within minutes of poking up through the soil and no amount of home remedies and charms kept the slimy things away. No idea why this year is different, maybe the slug population has taken advantage of being able to travel after Covid and gone on holiday? Well it could be true, but hubby would like me to say that he believes having no wooden sides on the beds created less hidey holes for the slugs and so the birds could get to them easier, Nah I like my idea better.
How the beds started – Lasagne Style
Hugelkulture Beds – wood placed as the base- its rots and creates the growing medium.
They came on really well
We took a long hard look at what we had done in the last few years and realised we were still repeating old mistakes, yep those old favourites I wrote about in 2020 and said we would never do again i.e. Planting to late, planting the wrong things, not watering enough, not really planting enough of anything, (cant have a crop unless you plant more than 2 of everything), expecting the plants to take care of themselves and finally not picking the veg so the plants just ran to seed. Despite good intentions and resolutions we were still doomed to continue with the same patterns this year if something didn’t change.
The garden re-plan helped Simon to see that he could look at planting differently, for example, carrots have always been very difficult for us to grow as the soil is too stony and clay filled. In the past we planted them in this environment anyway and thought that the orange goodies would eventually give up complaining and just grow, of course they didn’t. We got a few carrots in 2020 but none much bigger than my little finger and I couldn’t have called them a portion. The new approach this year is large tubs, with a mixture of home soil, sand and a bit of manure (but not too much otherwise they will fork). By controlling the growing medium better we have finally had some pretty good carrots this year and we will be expanding on the size of the tubs as we go. Apparently he is now contemplating changing the germinating stage as well – who knew? The idea is now to germinate on toilet roll, I tuned out at that point but then secretly googled it and in fact it is done by others. I should really have more faith in my man I think. Maybe next year we will have monster carrots, or some bigger than my pinkie anyway.
Simon also finally admitted that we needed to spend some money, which he hates to do really, but he was so worried that the birds would eat all his berries that we invested in some fruit netting. It has been very successful and has also meant that the rusty old polytunnel frame that had sat discarded for a few years could finally be of use. We simply built it, covered it with the netting (cost approx 100 Euros) and now the berries are growing madly and happily. It appears thinking outside of the “polytunnel” works.
As I said before though the most important win this year is that we haven’t sweated the weeds. It is ok to have them around, they don’t make you look untidy and anyway why does that matter? As long as you maintain the beds and the paths the rest can grow merrily. Time spent cultivating the real plants is what is important. Not everyone will agree I know but we are gardening to fill the freezer and as long as that happens I am cool with some weeds having a bit of free space. In the past I would have freaked if a picture of the veg area showed anything that didn’t look perfectly kept but now I have relaxed and realised the garden is still beautiful and we are not competing in a flower show so live and let the weeds live too.
Lastly, I have concluded that we have been woefully neglectful at best. In the last few years we had forgotten why we wanted to grow our own food. Whilst fun to post, our homegrown veg are not just there for pretty pictures. They are a means to an end, feeding us. We have been guilty of not eating or even processing some of the excess veg we had (courgette), letting it sit until inedible as we were too lazy or unsure of what to do with it. Ridiculous really! One look on the internet would have given us so many ideas. Enough said, we are redeemed and Simon has been pickling, relishing, mashing, jamming and generally doing other weird things for the last 3 weeks. Chocolate courgette cakes are baked and frozen and as I write this he is using our blackcurrants to make ice cream. We may have come late to the food preserving table but I do admit it has been a lot of fun and we wont be lax again. This will I am told now spark increased planning, planting and pickling in 2023 – I can hear Simon’s brain whirring now- another tunnel, more beds, the wife as his fulltime garden employee – Whoa stop there, that’s just a step too far.
Growing your own is hard, so why go to all that trouble and cost if you just waste your time. Enjoy everything you plant, you have waited for those seeds to show themselves to you and then waited for their produce to come, so enjoy your harvest even if they are small or slightly wonky or just downright insect bitten because you did that. We like to think we are being more life friendly living here like this but we are never perfect and there is no fairy godmother to make it all fall into place. We have had to and continue to cultivate and nurture this lifestyle and perhaps the last few years have placed a toll on us remembering that but it does seem we have our mojo back. Long may it continue, and if sometimes we slip then I will just have remind us to…
Just Breathe … again