Next year I plan to have a year off growing annual veg, not only to get to grips with the more neglected parts of my garden, but also to have more fun. Today, instead of starting out with a marathon weeding session, which is of course what Sundays are for, I got up early and went to West Bay for a swim in the sea before all the tourists got up. It was breathtakingly cold, but also breathtakingly beautiful, and I’d like to do more of such things, along with some more cycling challenges. On top of that, at this time of year I tend to be so flat out watering, weeding, harvesting and preserving that I have little time to make anything creative in the kitchen or to go foraging.
I still want to eat well though, and that’s the catch. I love my veg. And so I’m going to have to be efficient with the energy that I put into the veg that I grow. I’m paying attention to what is indispensible in the kitchen this summer, what is easy to grow that I really can’t live without, and what is a prima donna that doesn’t contribute enough for the time and space it takes up. I am influenced in this by the fact that lovely Goldhill Organics is local, and I can buy locally grown organic veggies there every week and not have to buy supermarket veg.
First on the list of things to go is okra, having just had the electric bill that its extra heat contributed to. Despite extensive and expensive mollycoddling it has produced only a handful of pods for the second year running. It’s out. Also aubergines and peppers – since I can buy local organic ones and they are challenging to grow, they can go on the list too.
High on the list of things to stay is French beans – generous and easy and a staple in the kitchen, with a small footprint, they are must haves. Also courgettes and lettuce, and of course, tomatoes. I eat so many tomatoes in summer that buying them might bankrupt me! An automatic watering system might be useful though. With French beans, salad, courgettes and tomatoes, one could happily eat well all summer. I was going to scrap the sweetcorn – another demanding and temperamental crop – but then I tasted it harvested straight from the garden and cooked immediately in a little butter. You just can’t buy that! Autumn and spring spinach is essential too.
Most of the brassicas can go, temporarily at least. Much as I love growing cauliflowers, they are easy to buy and even non-organic ones hold little pesticide residue. Purple sprouting, alongside the perennial kale, and some pak choi, may be the only ones to earn a place next year, possibly following some summer calabrese, which has produced harvests for week after week this year.
Having had some white rot on the onions and terrible rust on the garlic, not to mention the leek moths, I am resting the entire onion family next year, with only some perennial Welsh onions in the edimental garden for fallbacks. Carrots in tubs, but not in the ground, and I think I’ll give the celeriac and parsnips a miss too – they are fussy and easy to buy well. A few new potatoes, but no main crops.
Wow, that has slashed the growing list! Some early mange-tout and sugar snap peas and plenty of broad beans, plus maybe a Crown Prince squash or two providing we eat our way through the stockpile still in the freezer, and the list is about complete.
The empty beds can be heavily mulched and left for a year, which will help clean them of weeds, and the beds I am using can be polycultured, which will simplify rotation. Obviously there are still perennial fruit harvests to pick, store and eat. There are the asparagus, globe artichokes and various perennial veg that I planted this year, and there is also a world of foraging outside my gate.
Who knows whether, after my ‘gap year’, I will go back to aiming for self-sufficiency in annual veg or if I will carry on down a revolutionary perennial and foraged path. Time will tell!