Sunday, 11 June 2017

Strong and stable

What all vegetables need at this crucial point in their growing cycle is strong and stable support. Beans, peas, cucumbers, tomatoes, whatever your genus, you cannot truly thrive and make it on your own in this world without some kind of solid structure to show you where to grow and keep you on track. Or so say all the guidebooks and social media feeds. What is actually happening in reality is that everything is clamouring over each other to be the most dominant vegetable on the patch. Either that or they are failing to show up at all.

Strong investment in steel
The peas are looking spectacular. Even if I do say so myself. After years of watching them end up in a knotted and mice-munched heap after my hopelessly inadequate pea sticks have collapsed under their weight, this year we have invested heavily in the supporting infrastructure, buying galvanized steel mesh for them to grow up. Get me. The tommies and cucumbers are also looking pretty good, building up a head of steam in the polytunnel to launch themselves up their carefully constructed cane supports. And as for the asparagus – it’s just up there, proud and erect with absolutely no help from the audience. But just as my horticultural hubris was reaching its peak, I’ve had a few timely reminders that I am, in fact, no Percy Thrower.

Upstanding members
Take the climbing beans for instance. Usually the most fool proof of any vegetable that literally anyone can grow. They even wrote a children’s fairy tale about them for gods’ sake, they are that prolific and easy to produce. So I got cocky. I got clever. I thought I’d get ahead of the game, set myself up for the long growing season ahead. Planted a load of them in April and watched as my gamble failed spectacularly in early May with a completely un-forecasted hard frost of -4c. Who would have anticipated such a turn in the weather after getting sunburned the previous week? Anyway, brushed myself down, restored my confidence somewhat and then gambled on my beans again, this time planting them on black plastic and constructing elaborate structures from garden canes for what I fully thought would be the inevitable climbing bean landslide. Ha. Once again, how wrong I was. Turns out black plastic + lots of rain basically provides an 8-lane super-highway for slugs and snails who have munched every single last bean. Should I just roll over and resign myself to my bean-free future, leaving one vegetable patch empty and marooned next to all the others? Or do I have the grit and stamina to stick it out for another term……? Time will tell…

All the supports, not a bean in sight
Other plants are now starting to catch up from behind. My strawberries, wrenched from their former outside bed where they were running out of control, have been re-homed and reordered in the polytunnel and, after a few shaky months, are now starting to re-establish themselves, even producing some tasty red fruit. And the beetroot is proving to be an early leader this season. We’ve been munching tons of the stuff - raw, steamed, roasted and boiled. But I fear it’s turning us red from the outside in. My hands are now permanently stained red a la Lady Macbeth and I’ve just about overcome the horror of thinking there’s been some catastrophic hemorrhaging or prolapsing disaster every time I visit the loo. As for the kids’ nappies – well that’s a whole other story. We’ve had to put the nursery on alert to avoid any panicked phone calls half way through the day. I console myself with the thought that all this beta-carotene must be for the greater good. I hope.

Strawberries - back from the brink (maybe)

Getting back to our roots
So it would seem that roaming around the hills of Snowdonia can give you a warped perception of what you are actually capable of achieving.  When I am up there in the mountains I have all these great ideals of how my vegetable patch will look, with lovely neat rows of prolific, healthy crops and not a weed in sight. The reality of course is a barely controlled chaos, unpredictable conditions leading to some young crops steaming ahead and others just plain letting you down. It would seem that no matter how much planning and preparation you do, there’s always something to take you by surprise. And all that time spent trotting around admiring the views could have been better spent trying to get a handle on the weeds who seem hell bent on opposing my grand plans. I’m even considering joining the dark side, putting aside all my wholesome and organic principles, to start using chemical weed killers and slug pellets just to get ahead. Maybe it won’t come to that and I can start to love and nurture my chaos just the way it is, random assortments of weeds and all. 

(until I get off this hill, the endorphins wear off and reality kicks back in)

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