How I managed it is a mystery. The list was endless and the space, though I thought it vast, was not, as it happens, limitless. I was so enthused by the prospect of a new patch (for the rollercoaster saga of how I came to be switching patches see my previous blog) that when it came to writing the list of things I wanted to grow I perhaps very slightly over-estimated the available space. I have, it turns out, space optimism: I think there is more growing space than there really is. And all this even though the new patch is even bigger than the last. How would I ever manage to fit it all in?
Never tried sprouts, I thought. There will surely be space for those. And parsnips haven’t had a look in for a few years. Just a row or two. Ooo turnips. I don’t really like them very much, but it would be interesting to have a crack. And what about cauliflowers, I’ve not had enough room for those before. Thus was the excitable chatter that rambled on in my head before I actually sat down and put pen to paper, or pencil to graph paper, to sketch out my 2018 planting plan.
Why is it that, regardless of how much space we have, there’s never quite enough for everything we have in mind? I think I could have a whole hectare of virgin soil at my disposal (ah, to dream!) and there would be something I couldn’t find space for. Still, it’s become part of the annual ritual to go through the wish list culling what is not, strictly speaking, necessary and realising, for example, that 40m of broad beans is probably extravagant and 20 will do just fine.
What I have learnt from bitter experience is that the plant-everything-on-your-list-just-plant-it-closer-together-than-the-books-say approach DOES NOT WORK. It only creates more work because plants get riddled with pests and problems, plus you can’t get a hoe in between the rows to weed so everything gets overrun. Not worth it, trust me.
And so the reining-in approach is the best. Not least because it means you aren’t making too much work for yourself over the course of the year. No one likes to flap and fret because they have 6 varieties of courgettes to plant before April is out and no time to do it. Far better to bite off only what you can chew, both literally and figuratively.
Also, in a new growing space you don’t quite know what you’re going to get. My new patch has been grown on before, but laid to strawberries for several years so the ground is very compacted. I’m not sure what pests are around. I haven’t yet come to know where the sun hits the patch or whether the wind howls through it. Plus, it’s on clayey soil of which I’ve no experience. (Incidentally, and rather geekily, this is odd because my own garden, a mere 20m away on the other side of little dip is not clay and looking at the soil maps it turns out that dip is where the sandy lime-rich soil of the Cotswolds ends and the clayey soil of Oxford begins. I know, fascinating.) In short, you don’t want to get too ambitious in your first year with new ground. You and the land have got to get acquainted.
Anyway, we got there in the end and I’ve fitted most of it in. Thus:
So, what’s changed from the 2017 plan:
- My calligraphy has not improved since last year but I enjoy it just as much.
- New to the list this year are sprouts, cauliflowers (yes they made it in), January King cabbages and carrots (which I’ve had terrible trouble with in the past).
- I’m trying more flowers too, including sweet peas which have always become unmanageably pollen-beetled when I’ve grown them before.
- Because I’m now greenhouse-less I am attempting some hardy(ish) tumbler varieties of tomato which can be planted outside. I’m also giving an outdoor cucumber a go. The aubergines and peppers would be too much of a stretch so they’re off the list for now.
- The potato harvest is much reduced (we just don’t eat that many) and I’m only growing International Kidney (which are really, whisper it, Jersey Royals but you can’t call them that unless you grow them in Jersey and are at least 10th in line to the throne… or maybe not that last bit)
So that’s what 2018 will (might) look like. As ever, plans will almost certainly change, things will go awry and I have certainly bitten off more than I can chew (failing to heed my own advice). In ‘normal’ life, these sorts of things would make me fretful. But for some reason in allotment life, change, failure and challenge don’t have that effect on me. Perhaps it’s because I find it impossible to get stressed when I’m back on The Land – the soil, the bugs within, the ebb and flow of the unchanging seasonal clock are, I think, immensely calming. In this environment, the only response to adversity is a shoulder shrug and another cup of tea from the flask. There are bigger forces at work and greater struggles apparent which show my niggles up for the insignificances they are. Or maybe it’s because I know that ultimately, it’s all in Nature’s hands anyway and the most I can do is take note when she tells me something and help her along the way when she asks for it.