There is something about getting out in the garden in January which fills me with excitement and hope. I must admit I have been dodging the showers today as I have raked up the apple tree’s soggy fallen leaves which have been strewn all over the borders and veg patch. However January always gives me a sense of a fresh start with a new Gardening Year. Already daffodil leaves are starting to poke up through the sodden ground giving me a sign that Spring is on the way.
My New Year’s Resolution for the garden is to get control of the vegetable patch. We have two reasonably sized raised vegetable beds and two smaller ones. We also have a moss-covered unheated greenhouse and some serious quality gardening tools which were a gift from Mr Smiles last year. There is therefore no excuse not to get to grips with growing vegetables. My Dream is to be like Felicity Kendal in `The Good Life’ and become self-sufficient. I love the idea of an allotment. I have visions of Mr Smiles and I living in an idyllic village where I pedal off on my Pashley Bicycle with her smart wicker basket and bring back mountains of wholesome fresh vegetables I have grown effortlessly and then whipping up a quick and easy tasty meal! The reality is so different.
I am passionate about flowers so spend a lot of time tending the flower borders and mowing the lawn. Often I find it is getting dark and I have failed to tend the vegetable patch. As it is dark when I put down tools it is too late to pick vegetables. Mr Smiles says `don’t grow so much!’. There is some truth in this. I need to learn to grow what we like to eat and make sure we don’t need to harvest all our runner beans etc all at once so they go stringy. With this aim in mind I have bought a fine selection of seeds from Sarah Raven called `Year Round Veg’. Sarah says ` these are the top 15 varieties of outstanding, everyday vegetables, chosen for delicious flavour, long steady productivity and ease of growth.’ The seeds are based on her philosophy of not growing everything. The aim is that `I will spend my precious time available for vegetable growing and my precious vegetable space growing highly productive, long season crops which will give us delicious things to eat without taking over my life.’ This seems quite a lofty ambition to me. Nethertheless I am expecting great things! I have booked a course with Sarah Raven in May so I will be asking lots of questions if my vegetable growing isn’t successful! (True to form though I have not picked the course on year round vegetable growing. I am doing the growing and arranging cut flowers course. May be this was a mistake and I should be doing the veg course…)
I have had some success with growing vegetables. Last year I decided to grow tomatoes with basil in the greenhouse. I also grew a couple of courgette plants alongside. It seemed a bit excessive putting courgettes in a warm greenhouse but the previous year my courgettes had failed to fruit or had got blossom end rot due to the wet and damp weather. The courgettes in the greenhouse were much more productive than the ones I grew in the open air. We also had some tasty potatoes although not a vast quantity.
I have battled with nature. Last year I actively encouraged bees and butterflies into the garden as I know they are good for pollination. Without pollination vegetables fail to grow. We did have a very buzzy garden full of bees and butterflies and lots of colourful flowers. However we had flights of cabbage white butterflies all over the garden. Unfortunately they are clever creatures and seem to be able to get through netting. We did build a cage with a net but the little blighters got through and had a good munch on my cabbages. I do need to source fine netting which is inpenetrable. I found the netting cage a nuisance. The cabbage whites still got through and it made it harder for me to weed. The cabbages are hanging in there even though they have been well and truly nibbled and are not forming big hearty vegetables. I chopped off the nibbled leaves to see if they will still carry on to form edible vegetables. I had big hopes for my cauliflower plants. They were starting to form nice white heads. The next time I looked the heads had gone brown. I am unsure whether this problem will rectify itself? Maybe I need to investigate the soil structure and need to invest in manure? Maybe the weather has been too wet? So many questions. It’s not easy this vegetable growing lark!
Other vegetables I won’t be growing are onions. My onions were in the ground for a long time and really didn’t grow very big at all. This seems to be a waste of valuable space.
I did have quite a bit of success with rainbow coloured chard and had some amazing flowers on my globe artichokes. However we were a bit daunted by how to cook them so they went to seed not eaten.
Apart from the vegetables in Sarah Raven’s collection I am planning on growing sugar snap peas and broad beans this year. Now I have already come a cropper when I thought I was being clever by planting some of my peas and sweet peas in the Autumn. It is a good idea to get them planted in the Autumn as it gets them going and leaves more time to plant other seeds at peak time. I used toilet roll cardboard tubes as planters. These make ideal long thin pots. However I am not entirely sure which of my plants are going to be flowering sweet peas and which will be edible! I have also put a vague label saying `Peas’. Not sure if this means sugar snap or mange tout peas or regular peas which you shell! The first lesson of the year then is to make sure I put enough detail on my labels.
I grew broad beans `Aquadulce Claudia’ as this is one of the best broad beans for autumn sowing, for an early harvest the following spring. I have read that it is worth growing broad beans with summer savory to help repel black bean aphids, a common pest of broad beans.
I do have a very lovely Christmas present to encourage me in my vegetable growing experimentation. Mr Smiles bought me a traditional Sussex trug to gather all my crops. I was a bit dismayed earlier in the year when Mr Smiles said my economic metal trug from a well known DIY store was not up to scratch! He said it was going rusty and really didn’t convey the correct image! This has been rectified with a beautiful gift of a traditional hand-made Sussex Trug.
History of The Sussex Trug
The `trog’ was a wooden vessel hewn from solid timber in the shape of the Anglo-Saxon round coracle boat. They were used by Sussex farmers to measure grain and liquids and were made in several sizes for different measures. They continued in this form until the mid -1600s. Thomas Smith re-invented the trog designing a lightweight basket using Sweet Chestnut and Cricket Bat Willow. The trug was an essential tool for farmers. In 1851 Thomas attended The Great Exhibition held In Crystal Palace, Hyde Park, London. It was there that Queen Victoria visited his stand and was so impressed by his trug that she ordered some personally as gifts. After the Second World War traditional farms underwent a massive change with mechanisation. Trugs were no longer needed to collect eggs, sow grain or pick up vegetables because this was done by machine. Trug makers adapted their sales marketing the to the gardening industry.
It takes over a year to learn to produce an acceptable trug as it is a skilled craft. My trug originates from Hailsham, Sussex and the craftsman has signed and dated it for me. I look forward to filling it with tasty produce from the garden later in the year.