This post is dedicated to everyone who suffers from difficulties, problems and making mistakes ie everyone. I received an email today from someone who has been contending with things going wrong / difficulties that need addressing to prevent problems and it reminded me that it can be really annoying if people who put themselves in the public domain act as though they are immune to such things.
Just as an example – I think Monty Don is great and really love to watch him doing what I call ‘proper’ gardening on Friday nights. However I was somewhat disappointed to read in the Gardeners’ World magazine that until recently he had never had a slug problem (!!!). I didn’t know that anyone was or even could be immune to slug problems and it did take the shine off a bit from all those years of lovely veggies obediently growing in rows because my experience of slugs has been that they just mow most things down straight away (not so much with perennial veggies though).
On the one hand of course I want my blog to be as positive as possible and highlight the many and varied possibilities of perennial veggies and polycultures, but thinking about it I think it makes it more realistic if I include some of the difficulties I have had.
So here are this year’s difficulties etc. At the start of the growing season I planted / sowed lots of things and of those the following did not germinate at all – Welsh onion (red and white), nodding onion, dioscorea japonica, dioscorea batatas, scorzonera. I am not sure why this happened. However later on some of the young plants that had been potted on into larger pots all turned black and died. There was no evident reason for this and it looks as though perhaps something really nasty got into some of the potting compost (and this may also have been in the compost in some of the pots that did not germinate). If this was the case I can’t imagine what it might have been as I don’t use chemicals etc for anything. But anyway I had quite a lot of disappointment with that.
I also managed to kill some oca (a variety I had not tried before and had bought rather than saved) when I tried to start it growing in spring. As it had been cold I thought I was being kind and put it in pots in the conservatory but I over watered and turned them all to mush. Other oca tubers saved from last year fared much better being left on a dark shelf in the garage with no attention at all.
In the new Borderland garden I was really struggling during recent hot weather with keeping plants from drying out. The main polyculture patch has been created entirely out of organic bits and pieces that gardeners more usually put on the compost or in their council recycling green bins. It is upturned turf, grass cuttings, dead branches, twigs and humus-y material from in and under the mixed hedge, shredded branches from an evergreen hedge, cut up twigs and branches from yet more hedge trimming. They are all piled on top of each other, in whatever order they come. I know it’s unorthodox, but it’s an experiment and therefore may or may not work.
I have stocked it mostly with plants pre-grown in pots (plus some pea, bean and flower seeds) and as the soil has not been dug I have no idea what the plant roots are actually in. When I plant them I try to make a hole where there seems to be something solid and moist to anchor into, but it is rather like flying blind. In the searing heat of a few weeks ago some of the field beans, Jerusalem artichokes, various brassicas and the oca did start to wilt a bit (okay a lot in some cases). My two gardens are miles apart and so I cannot tend to them both each day. It was quite difficult therefore ensuring that everything had enough water to last until my next visit.
On the positive side the organic material in this bed appears to be doing a great job of holding onto moisture and / or preventing evaporation and it managed far better than I thought it might. It also seems to be extraordinarily fertile judging by the growth that plants have put on. However that does remain to be tested by what is actually produced by the end of the season.
In the Telford garden the plants in beds have stood up well but I have a selection in pots ready for a workshop in a few weeks time and I had a difficult time ensuring they did not dry out whilst I was away from that garden!
The Borderland garden is of course in its very, very early days as a polyculture and it will take time for things to come into balance. In the Telford garden I initially had lots of trials and tribulations with things like slugs and cabbage white butterflies but over the years both have become far, far less of a nuisance – I assume due to a much better balance of natural predators. The new garden (very) fortunately in does not have a great many slugs, but over the past couple of weeks there have been cabbage white butterflies in abundance.
I have been dealing with this by examining the leaves for caterpillars, holes and eggs and cutting off those that are affected. In some cases this has meant removing just about all the leaves from a young kale plant, but as they are perennials and pretty robust they should be okay. They were in trouble anyway and this gives them a fighting chance.
I resist using any kind of interference even something as benign as netting, never mind sprays or other forms of control. I want nature to take the upper hand as much as possible and if this causes “problems” for me, then so be it.
And continuing the theme up to and including today’s mistakes. I have been having lots of fun making jam with some raspberries from the garden. Last year my attempt at raspberry jam turned out very runny, despite following instructions to the letter. However my partner decided that she liked it better than jam and used it as a ‘coulis’ on fruits and yogurts etc. So today I tried to make some more runny jam / coulis and what did I end up with – thick jam! That is despite it being cooked for less time than it should have had and being under the setting point according to my specially purchased jam making thermometer. But heyho, this is about making what I can with what I have, it’s not about fancy products looking for a prize at the local show. With each difficulty and mistake I learn a bit more.
Here are my jams plus some fruit and herb vinegars sitting on the kitchen window sill!
So hopefully I have dispelled any potential illusions that I have any fewer problems than anyone else or am any better a gardener, because I surely am not! If my garden is productive, which it is; and if it looks nice, (which I think it does) this is because nature is good at productivity and beauty and I try as much as possible to leave the work to her.