I’d more or less made up my mind I would stop growing my own vegetables at the end of this year. Our vegetable garden is getting increasingly overhung by the trees we planted twenty-odd years ago as a shelter from the arctic winds that seem to come from all directions, regardless of the time of year, and although this shelterbelt has been successful and we now have a suntrap at the back of our shed, the shade and roots have made it impossible for some time to grow crops in the open ground. Some time ago I decided to confine vegetable growing to six one-metre square raised beds in the suntrap, but until now these haven’t really supplied as much as I would like, and as they are three miles from home at our field, which is mostly native wood now and therefore unsuitable for a new veg plot, regular watering, especially during the heatwave we had recently, is a problem, although mains water (metered – expensive!) is available.
With the late spring this year, I did very little with these beds. We live in an area where locally grown produce is readily available (although not always as cheap as supermarket greengroceries that often originate in our area and have travelled all over the country before reaching local retail outlets!) so we always get more than our five a day. However, we had a public function in June at the Patch, which is the name our enterprise goes by, and as the beds were still there, and looked unprofessional for a gardening pundit, I quickly filled them with suitable plants from our garden centre and sales at charity days, but they really haven’t had the attention they deserved.
The result – I pick weekly spears of tenderstem broccoli, I am freezing the runner beans I pick twice weekly as I can’t cope with all of them at the time, the baby carrots which have been overlooked have turned into monsters – one root supplies enough for two servings – and the broad beans have given several tasty offerings for the last month. The beetroot (unthinned) are swelling, unaided, to a normal size, and the spinach beet supplies a regular change from other vegetables, although it has to be heavily laced with butter and nutmeg before husband will look at it. I have enough lettuce leaves to make soup from as well as having our daily salad – I bought a soup maker earlier in the year and take every opportunity to make nourishing broths from just about everything edible; the machine works well and it’s fun to use. Disappointing, though, has been the garlic again, which I grew in cold frames of deep compost this time to help it over winter; most bulbs are no bigger than my thumb nail and will not be grown again – after all, there is a limit to the amount of garlic one can consume without losing friends.
So this almost brings me to decision time – to remove these beds over winter and gain more room in our suntrap, or carry on another year. Fortunately, I don’t need to make my mind up finally yet, as earlier in the year I decided try out some more bizarre and exotic vegetables, so one bed has been occupied with three dahlias of unknown pedigree recommended for culinary use by a certain seed company, and two other firms sent me young plants and unrooted slips of sweet potatoes which until recently have been grown on in pots in the greenhouse and now fill all the empty spaces.
How these will turn out is anyone’s guess. We will either have a glut and end up supplying all and sundry as well as ourselves, or, at the end of the season, they will vie for failure with the garlic. One thing is certain, though. None of the vegetables we are eating at present has seen an artificial chemical. Apart from the runner beans, they are covered with fine mesh netting the whole of their lives, just removing this from the broad beans when they start to flower, otherwise they don’t get pollinated and set pods. I pick off the odd caterpillar that dares to appear at the top of the broccoli plants where they touch the net, and feeding is confined to a dressing of bone meal in the autumn, and fish blood and bone in spring – hardly enough to feed the five thousand, but more than enough for two of us in spring.
Thinking about it, I expect these raise beds will survive another year.