We’re in a bit of a quagmire at the moment, aren’t we? What with all this grubby weather and even grubbier politics. On my dog walk this morning I seemed to be slipping over more than moving forward. Then, on returning home, Radio 4 had more tales of Trumpish twittering. February. It’s all a bit like wading through treacle, isn’t it?
Some sort of solace is what’s needed. Something to lift us out of this mire. And solace in the form of food is always the sweetest succor. I find comfort in organising things too (though I don’t always manage to end up a very organised person). There’s nothing quite like a list to calm the nerves. Don’t laugh. You are just the same, admit it.
It’s fortunate then that one of the loveliest gardening jobs of February provides ample comfort on both counts: planning a veg patch is the ultimate respite offering as it does both the anticipation of fabulous food and the opportunity for several lists.
Just for good measure, I’ve managed to crowbar in a third activity guaranteed to sooth the bedraggled mind by hand-lettering my planting plan. Calligraphy is a skill at which I am decidedly mediocre (having only just begun) and to which I am thoroughly addicted. It is restful, contemplative and very very satisfying. Just what the doctor ordered.
So, having thoroughly ensured that the very act of sitting down with a cuppa and a biscuit (obviously – sorry, did I not mention the snacks) to plan one’s veg patch is restorative, I want to make sure that the actual growing of the veg itself is good for the soul as well.
I like to have a theme to my veg patch each year. (No, not ‘Mardi Gras’ or ‘tarts and vicars’, that’s not what I mean at all.) I mean a priority for the planting. A strategy if you like. Avid readers of the blog (hi, Mum) will remember that my focus last year was Hero Harvests – ie: crops that were un-buyable, expensive or much much tastier when grown rather than bought. Nothing mundane. No spuds, no onions, no old men comparing the size of their tasteless marrows. Just heroes.
This year, my theme, in line with my above quest for comfort, will be Grow Yourself Happy.
(Not, for the record, that I’m unhappy at the moment, but thanks for asking. Still, we all have our ups and downs don’t we and the current climate – in every respect – can’t help can it?)
So, when I say ‘grow yourself happy’, I mean I want a veg patch that makes me happy to be in and which produces food that is good for my wellbeing.
There’s a whole heap of science that shows how growing your own is good for mental wellbeing. Indeed, it’s used as an occupational therapy routinely. And, apart from obvious benefits of eating lots of veg, it’s not surprisingly that the act of tending a patch is good for you. Reconnecting with nature; the simplicity of it all; the control and agency one feels from growing something; the solitude; the sense of perspective it offers – veg growing ticks all the restorative boxes really.
So for my extra-super-dooper-happy-making veg patch this year I will be wanting to have the following (I told you I like a list):
- Beautiful crops that look pretty in the veg patch and even prettier on the plate. Harvests that make me feel like I’ve created something simple and beautiful that cannot be bought (purple French beans, red-flowered runner beans, nasturtiums, red-flecked radicchio and so forth)
- Food that positively affects mood – ie: rich is fibre (all veg!), potassium (tomatoes), folates and vitamin B6 (spinach) and good for fermenting (red cabbage – gut health is going to be the new panacea I’m telling you)
- Crops which are easy and aren’t so troublesome to grow as to be demoralizing (so no melons then. Or Brussel Sprouts. And unquestionably no cauliflower)
- An overall plan that isn’t fret-makingly ambitious and leaves time to enjoy just sitting, nibbling a mange tout and marveling at the glory of it all
- Everyday veg that makes me feel I am, in my own minor way, taking control of my own survival. I know it’s a bit political, but even just a nod to self-sufficiency wrestles back some power from the energy-guzzling systems that cause our Earth so much trouble. So no more spuds or onions flown from Egypt on my account (yes, even the organic ones are sometimes, madness).
But most of all the thing that will help you grow yourself happy is to remember this: the thing about growing your own veg is that it’s magic. Actual MAGIC. The act of nurturing an apparently lifeless little seed until it turns into kilo upon kilo of tomatoes is spellbinding. The sense of wonder and the sheer enchantment of it all never grows old. Nor does the sense of incredible satisfaction in serving up a plate of food you have grown yourself. This is what will make you happy.
So, enough evangelising, here’s the 2017 planting plan:
First, the Allotment Proper. This is up on The Benevolent Farmer Brown’s smallholding and is made up of 2 large beds (8x4m) and a greenhouse bed (1x8m). I know. It’s a cracker. This is where the main bulk of the veg growing is done. You’ll see the reintroduction of spuds, carrots and onions (see bullet point 5), mountains of spinach, tomatoes and cabbage (point 2) and plenty of easy growers like cucumbers (rampant) and winter squash (ditto).
The next plan is for the small raised beds I have in my own garden. They are roughly 80cm x 1.5m and are ideal for fruit and perennials. For the first time I’ve given over one bed to raising seedlings. This is in line with bullet point 4 as I spent much of last spring fretting about seedlings that I’d left in the allotment greenhouse and forgotten to water because they weren’t in front of me to remind me. This year, I’ll try putting glass over the soil bed and see if that makes life easier.
So there we are. The Grow Yourself Happy Veg Patch Plan 2017. I’ll almost certainly change it as I go along and no doubt some things will fall by the wayside. But I shan’t flap about it. Instead I will look out on my sea of green, chew on a mange tout, marvel at the miracle of nature and be content.