Badly balanced vegetables – diary of a well-meaning gardener

Badly balanced vegEvery year, I start off with the same good intentions. I’m not talking about taking more exercise, drinking a little less, losing a couple of pounds or keeping the bedroom tidier, although God knows I need to do all those things. No, I’m talking about the veg garden. This year (no exception) it ran something like this:

Boxing Day – sit thinking about how this year I will really get things sorted.

January 1st: decide to sow an early batch of tomatoes in the propagator before the end of the month.

February: sow mangetout and broad beans in the garden (the ones that I intended to sow in October). Look half-heartedly for propagator but cannot find all the bits.

March: discover mice have eaten the broad beans and peas I sowed last month. Sow some more.

Early April: actually sow first batch of tomatoes, along with courgettes, French beans, lettuces, gherkins and various vegetables that I don’t even like. There doesn’t seem to me to be a real argument for planting potatoes – I am infuriated by all the leftover potatoes that come up all over the veg garden from previous years.

Late April: despite misgivings I sow loads of seed potatoes, mainly because they looked a bit lonely sprouting on the shelf at the garden centre (plus I have a soft spot for Red Duke of York). Peas come up, but mice have eaten the broad beans (again). The pigeons have broken all the branches on the cherry trees eating the new shoots in the Spring.

May: after inspecting the seed trays every day or so for about five weeks, I discover that the lettuce seeds from two years ago that I sowed last month are no longer viable. This could have something to do with being stored in a non-airtight container in the warm conservatory, but personally I think it is just spite. Buy more lettuce seed and so that I will not be caught out again with dud seed, sow the whole lot. In desperation, buy broad bean seedlings and plant them out. Pigeons eat the pea seedlings. I think about how nice pigeon pie with peas might have been.

Early June: plant out about 400 lettuces. Discover that I have enough tomato plants to feed Italy, but not that bothered as I know they will all get blight before I can harvest them anyway. Courgettes doing really well! Discover a tray of climbing French beans at the back of the conservatory with a another seed tray on top of them. Amazingly, quite a few have survived (perhaps plants fare better with my neglect than my care?) I plant them out in the vegetable garden.

Late June: enjoying lettuces. Looking wistfully at stumps of pea plants. Broad beans doing OK, but showing signs of chocolate spot (they always do this, not normally too much of a problem if you pick them soon). Courgettes romping.

Early July: Getting a bit fed up with lettuce, which is also starting to bolt in the hot weather. Pick all my broad beans, and with great ceremony pick the first courgette. I always feel summer has properly arrived when I pick the first courgette. Mention airily when I am cycling with friends on a Sunday – ‘Oh, aren’t yours ready yet? I’ve started picking mine!’ All the raspberries seem to have ripened on the same day. I pick loads early one sunny morning, which would be a pleasant task if it wasn’t for the tall nettles which seem to have sneaked up between the canes, resulting in some nasty shocks when searching through foliage for just-reachable berries.  Also – a huge success with artichokes. In the winter I found some artichoke plants lurking at the back of the veg garden that I had forgotten about and transferred them down to a sunny border next to the deck. Not only do they look very statuesque, they have also produced about ten good-sized artichokes!

Lots of courgettes – but no beans!
Lots of courgettes – but no beans!

Mid July: Courgettes producing well, although beginning to get a bit worried that I have planted too many of them. I planted half of them in the vegetable garden and the other half down in the what we laughingly call the ‘forest garden’ – actually a bit more polyculture than permaculture. I think because they were in two different places I didn’t realise quite how many there were. Disappointed to see that the apricot tree at the Triangle Community Garden is laden with apricots whereas our own tree has none.

Late July: I can now barely get into the conservatory for tomato foliage. There is no sign of any tomatoes on these, although the outside tomatoes in the vegetable garden are heavy with trusses. I always plant some outside for the one year in ten when we get a dry end to the summer, and also because I pretend to myself that I like green tomato chutney, of which I seem to have rather a lot in the larder. We are now drowning in courgettes. I am picking them at the rate of about four a day (work it out – twenty-eight a week). The family are showing signs of courgette wilt. Potatoes now ready to harvest. I always think they look so sad at the end when they all collapse. I remember one year going on holiday and my daughter (who had stayed behind and was kindly doing some watering) thought she had killed them all. Genuinely disappointed (no, really) to hear that someone has pinched all the apricots off the tree at the Triangle Community Garden.

The remains of  a chocolate courgette cake
The remains of a chocolate courgette cake

Early August: Have a very successful courgette cooking session. I make a rather unusual courgette chocolate cake, which Vicky proclaims to be ‘a bit odd’ but to my surprise my elder son says it is ‘lovely’. Also manage to burn a load of courgettes while softening them for soup, which is great because I can bin them and use four more. I have also discovered the inevitable marrow which some escaped notice under the leaves of one plant. This is good news as it means I can make my favourite Zucha parmigiana dish, which is ridiculously rich, but delicious. Dip slices of marrow in egg and seasoned flour before frying and layering with Taleggio cheese and tomato sauce, then bake in the oven – Yum!

I will update this as the year goes on. Next year I might even do it month by month, who knows. Then again, I might be too busy gardening (and cooking courgettes).