In Dutch, German, Czech and Polish the “silly season” – the summer months when papers and news programmes are full of trivia and non-news – is known as the “cucumber season”. This year, however, it does not feel like one due to reports of the Greek economic crisis’ impact on the Eurozone, demonstrations and their repression in Syria and Libya, and famine in the horn of Africa. Whilst geo-politics and economics are in flux in Europe, Middle East and Africa, life on my home front flows on at a gently productive pace.
Since documenting my efforts to squeeze every last inch of growing space out of our small back garden in Sow Them High, our patio garden has come on leaps and bounds, despite the early heatwave, a deluge of rain and a paltry amount of sun!
We have been self-sufficient where salad leaves are concerned for the last few months. A succession of rocket, sorrel, the crinkly leaved Giardina lettuce and cut-and-come again mixed salad leaves have graced our salad bowl several times a week, and whilst radishes are not a staple, these plump, fiery, red-skinned marbles add an enjoyable kick to open sandwiches and salads. Similarly, the ladder allotments are producing enough sprouting broccoli for a couple of meals a week.
Courgettes, our prize crop so far, have made a home in our only real bed in the garden – a triangle measuring 8 square feet, at a push. As directed in my a gardening books, in May I transplanted three courgette plants grown from seed at least a yard apart. For weeks they grew triffid-like taking over the plot and in early July the first courgettes appeared. Since then, they have, helped by our regular picking, produced a glut of tasty green fruit. The three little seeds have given us courgette gazpacho with fresh garden mint on hot days and cream of courgette soup on cold days, and many more batches for the freezer. Sautéed courgettes are becoming a regular accompaniment to fish whilst fragrant courgette couscous complements home-made lamb patties. And Mr M’s pièce de resistance is courgette frittata with a hint of smoked paprika.
Success and desertion
Our harvest to date has made me feel like a deserter each time I visit our local greengrocer and leave with considerably less than my normal haul. And this feeling will, I hope and fear, get worse in the months to come.
After months of stubbornly green tomato trusses, these pert little fruit have started to turn orange and red, whilst the pots of peppers are sporting young green fruit that will be ripe for picking in the coming months. This week we also pulled our first juicy sweet mini carrots. And after weeks of apparent dithering, the tiny ridged cucumbers are undergoing a growth spurt, promising both fresh specimens this summer and jars of pickled cucumbers to see us though the autumn. Speaking of which, by reserving a deep trug for slow-growing parsnips, we hope to be eating our own roots with autumn and winter roasts and, with a bit of luck (and pest control), kale, cabbage, main crop potatoes and beetroot should also enliven our taste buds in the wet and windy months to come. We even have a handful of sprout plants cheekily bringing up the rear on their long march to Christmas.
Just like any gardener, I have also had some failures. Apart from our luscious mint and hardy rosemary, my herbs have not fared well. Neither have the peas: they did not look very chirpy when I planted them out and have not improved since. I have reconciled myself to these being a lost crop but am hoping that by letting them die off they will, if nothing else, feed the soil as green manure. Strawberries aside, our fruit projects have also failed miserably. Both the blackberry plant and gooseberry bush are sporting many new green leaves but have not produced a single flower let alone a berry. Fortunately there are plenty of foraging patches of brambles around the park and heath to provide us with bramble tarts, crumbles and jam instead of fresh blackberries on yoghurt and gooseberry fools.
Our crops to date and the promising signs of harvest to come are the result of a mix of trial and error, novice’s caution and effort, and, of course, some beginner’s luck. The successes and failures are already informing plans for next year’s seed packets, timings and siting but in the meantime I am enjoying a bountiful “courgette time” rather than an uninspiring “cucumber time” this summer.