Michaelmas has been and gone and the garden is starting to look forlorn. As the days shorten and sunlight is a fleeting intermezzo, the tomato, cucumber and courgette plants – so valiant for months – have had their day. A morning’s digging and clipping and they have disappeared into the compost bin whilst the sifted soil has been added to a bed that looks bare without the triffid like spread of the courgette plants.
The threadbare feeling extends to the middle ground. This weekend I sunk my hands into the cool soil and watched the golden brown potatoes pop up, like treasures in a children’s sandpit. Several hours later I was rubbing the dirt off our potato crop working out which ones to cook with this weekend’s roast, which to turn into frozen pommes duchesse for quick suppers and which to store for the coming months.
Although we still have an abundance of kale, and the brussels sprouts and parsnips are putting their best foot forward on their spurt to Christmas, the garden is entering a new phase. Over the coming weeks I shall be cleaning out pots and digging the ground. Shallots and garlic will be planted this month but mostly I shall be preparing the garden for spring.
So, as the first productive season in our little garden draws to a close, it is time to take stock.
It has been a year of experimenting. Of getting to know the space, the ground and the light. Our crop has varied from puny through modest to “surpassing all expectations”. I have learnt which vegetables do not like our shady plot or do not merit an allocation of precious space, and which ones we shall be growing a lot more of in years to come. Peas and broccoli are out but carrots and beetroot are most definitely in! Two courgette plants will be plenty, and cordon tomatoes would be a good addition to the bush and tumblers we had this year. Based on the flavour of our main-crop, I need to grow early potatoes next year. And greater consistency with my succession sowing should pay dividends!
The harvest from our little plot is, however, much more than the sum of the vegetables picked, the preserves in our winter store and the lessons learnt. The balance sheet of my gardening year contains many intangibles that are hard to quantify but certainly bulk up the profit. My end of season reckoning would probably show an assets column that looks something like this:
- two and a half months’ worth of tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers
- “free” salad leaves since May
- a generous harvest of main-crop potatoes
- a modest haul of sweet earthy beetroot
- rediscovering carrots thanks to two dozen gloriously intense ones
- endless supplies of fibrous greens
Sub-total: Many scrumptious additions to our meals
- rejuvenating my body with fresh air and sun light
- endless hours of enjoyment
- discovering I like (and need) purposeful exercise
- realising I prefer denim skirts and Mr M’s cast-off shirts to smart suits
- a new habit of bending through the knees (which no amount of physiotherapy has taught me)
- learning to go slow
- appreciating nature’s bounty and eschewing waste even more than I did before
- discovering renewed life in the shadow of death
- feeling rooted
We can say that we garden for practical reasons, such as food. Or we can claim that it is for aesthetic reasons, such as for a more attractive yard. But in the end, we garden to grow ourselves.