How Does Your Garden Grow?

It’s been a dreadful summer.  Rain in biblical proportions, and temperatures that made it into the 20s twice.  The wettest summer and the coldest August day on record (i.e. for about the last 100 years).

What this means for the peaks and troughs that graph my affection for the suburbs is this: one of the principle peaks of living here is nugatory.

You see, I have agrarian pretensions.  I’ve read the magazines – no self-respecting suburban household is without a vegetable patch these days.  And it’s so! easy! 

This is my second year growing my own food.  Let’s review.

Potatoes:  Chock full of confidence following last year’s harvest, I decided upon three containers, rather than two rows in a raised bed.  I grew plenty of lush foliage, but hardly any potatoes, and half the harvest was mouldy. We ended up with enough for one meal each.  Next year, I will use topsoil rather than pure compost, as I suspect that there was too much nitrogen in the soil for decent cropping.  I will hope for less rain.

Courgette: Last year, Bob the courgette produced so many, and for so long, that we didn’t know what to do with them.  We grilled them with every meal.  I baked courgette bread.  All visitors who showed even an eyebrow-raise-worth of interest went home with a bagful.  This year, not so much.  Bertha had a very slow start.  She was nearly beaten to death by a weather-bomb of unexpected high winds and heavy rain the weekend I planted her.  Lack of light caused her to lean desperately over to one side in search of sunbeams.  Eventually, she produced a rash of courgettes, but she has already slowed down and we haven’t cropped any for over a week.

Tomatoes: The less said about these the better, really.  I’ve had about fifteen microscopic ripe tomatoes, and I’m going to be bequeathing leftover green tomato chutney to my children’s children.

Spring Onions: I cannot comprehend the reproductive oddities of spring onions.  I bought some young plants two years ago.  I planted them, I applied my usual hands-off approach to gardening, and every so often when I needed one I would pull it up. Mainly they existed as a barrier to discourage carrot-fly from chomping my carrot supply.  In about March, I observed that they magically survived several frosts and a ton of snow and what’s more: each one had split into a collection of teeny tiny onions, like when cells divide.  I carefully dug them up, binned half of them, and separated each little new onion.  I planted them in rows in between where I would eventually want my carrots to grow.  They flourished.  In May they flowered, I failed to collect seed, and I thought that would be that.  Not so: the odd cell-division thing has started again (albeit months earlier than last year).  You cannot kill these things.  Along with cockroaches and George Galloway, they will be all that’s left after WW3.

Carrots: Fewer carrot fly than last year, but I imagine tiny insects find it a bit difficult to thrive when they are deluged every week.  Sadly, a generous description of my carrots would be stunted.  They are so small and insignificant that I forgot to photograph them.

Salad leaves: Carrot fly might find it difficult when flooded out, but slugs have a party.  I planted my leaves – never having had a problem with slugs before – and left them to it.  Overnight, the young shoots disappeared.  It kept happening, and I kept feeling beaten.  Then, a toad moved in and suddenly I had lettuce.  I had it for all of two days before a freak hot spell caused the whole lot to bolt.

So, those are the crops with which I now have a couple of years experience.  This year, before I knew that the Ark might be a sensible thing to build, I opted to diversify slightly.  By popular demand, I attempted strawberries.

Strawberries: It was quite a bit of effort.  I had to carefully plant and nurture them.  I constructed a wire cage to keep the birds off the fruit.  I visited the pet shop and fended off a massive allergic reaction to procure the straw required.  Every week I trimmed off long shoots trying to grow more strawberries where I didn’t want them.  And what did I get for all this effort?  Five strawberries.  Count them.  FIVE.  Actually, I got two and a half, since I had to share them with K-man.  And while they did taste very nice, each of those strawberries cost a couple of quid.  Animals got some of them (troublesome burrowing birds and squirrels, and the aforementioned slugs of doom), and mould got the rest.  My cage was virtually pointless. Oh, they look all healthy now the fruit season is over:


Beans: After a glacial start and a bean-germination rate of one in five, I had some plants.  The beans have done phenomenally, and take this year’s Courgette Prize of please lard no more.  Three plants actually grew, so next near I will plant three and we’ll see what happens.  I learned this year to germinate them inside and grow them until they are long enough to be tied up.  I wasted weeks of growing time hoping they would germinate from being sown straight into the soil.  They started cropping about a month ago and are still going strong.


Peas: these were also a success, but they’re done now and I forgot to take photos when they were verdant.  We had several meals with fresh peas and they were delicious.  They are a definite for next year.

Other plans for next year include leeks, which are apparently ridiculously easy.  I would dearly love to grow sweetcorn and I will try, but success will depend on the weather being considerably more clement.  Having witnessed sweetcorn in the USA for 2¢ an ear, I cannot bring myself to purchase it in this country where it retails at 50p an ear during the five-minute season.  You can get it plastic-wrapped and flown thousands of miles at a price marginally cheaper than dinner for two at a decent restaurant but you know how I feel about that.  If, if I could grow it myself I would be deliriously happy.  I also plan more fruit.  Fewer tomato plants and instead a blueberry bush in a container.

Even with the variety of miserable failures, I am not discouraged in the long-term.  There are few things more satisfying – and more convenient or environmentally friendly – than growing your own organic food.


2 Responses to “How Does Your Garden Grow?”

  1. 1 Jenn @ Juggling Life September 3, 2012 at 3:04 am

    We don’t grow much, but had a bumper crop of tomatoes this year. I never have luck with strawberries, but I keep trying.

  2. 2 Stacie Cooper September 3, 2012 at 3:47 am

    I’m absolutely in awe of your gardening. I was feeling proud of myself for harvesting my self-growing rhubarb and making a pie. Until I read your post. Keep growing!

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