2018 highlights: Gardening while Rome burns

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What a year 2018 was. We had such weather extremes – multiple violent storms, the heavy snow in March, the rainless, intensely hot summer, the grey dampness of November and December, and now the unseasonable mildness that precedes a promised cold snap (or as it is better known, winter).

Climate change is here. For the last few years it was happening ‘over there’. And it wouldn’t be with us for years and years. But this year she flashed her ankles in earnest and put us in Western Europe in a bit of a daze. God knows how we’ll cope when her knees come out.

But rather than slip into helpless, horrified anxiety about the imminent end of civilisation as we know it… I’m going to distract myself with some of last year’s growing and gardening highlights.

January & February

These were months of heavy lifting as my beloved and I tried to transform our messy little corner of the urban hinterland into something more habitable. We shifted tonnes of earth around the garden into new raised beds and a rockery (dumping the rest around the sides and back of the freshly painted shed), and we lay paving stones where before a tangle of earth and weeds had been. And when that was all done I got sowing – garlic and shallots went into the ground, seed trays were filled, and potato chitting commenced.

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Broccoli, lettuce, coriander and parsley seedlings starting on the windowsill
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Chitting potatoes

March

Snow in March 2018
The dogs enjoying the early March snow

March opened very dramatically with many inches of snow falling in this part of the world. Everything ground to a halt (including bread deliveries, which sent the country into a frenzy of baked-goods hoarding). When I wasn’t sitting in our front window judging the people outside needlessly battling the drifts (they were out of bread presumably), I was at the back window fretting about my garlic and shallots, trapped under the icy snow. They survived, though the earth around them was heavily sodden for weeks after.

Spring sprang back later in March, and I was all about planting potatoes. It was my first time to grow them. And I found it very, very exciting.

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Potatoes sown in raised beds, bags and pots. Late March 2018.

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April & May

Our garden improvements continued apace, and in April and May we put up bamboo fencing to improve the look of the place, and assembled a lean-to glasshouse against the only available bit of actual wall in the garden, which thankfully also happens to be the sunniest spot. With our raised beds and our glasshouse, we were taking this home-growing business to a new level!

And all the while, I was diligently keeping my spud leaves insect free by hand, and earthing them up, and possibly singing to them.

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Potatoes flourishing, mid-May 2018

May was also the month I discovered the mild narcotic effects of lemon balm. Good times.

June & July

And then it was time to start eating! June yielded strawberries, shallots, beetroot, lettuces, kale… And our first potatoes!

Storm Hector in June knocked the shit out of the bigger plants, including my beloved potatoes, but they all lived to see another day.

windswept-potatoes
Windswept potatoes after Storm Hector, June 2018

The beans, peas, courgettes and tomatoes started to take off.

In July, the long heat wave began, and I watered as carefully and conservatively as I could. And thankfully the plants thrived throughout (well apart from some carrots and parsnips in too dry soil, and some potatoes scabbed through dehydration).

potatoes-7-july
I harvested the remaining potatoes in the bed as they were coming under attack from insects (there were small holes in the majority of the bed crop, I wanted them out before too much damage was done. The skin on several of the potatoes shows scabbing – a symptom of not having enough water.

Plants that thrived to the point of becoming sinister were the hoikkaido squashes, whose ever-searching tendrils took over a substantial portion of the garden. Bean and pea pods swelled, little courgettes appeared, all my tomato plants started fruiting…

August & September

August was all about colour. Our wildflowers came up in abundance, helping us do our bit for the bees. The tomatoes started to ripen from shades of orange into deep, delicious reds. And the courgette glut commenced.

The crystal cucumbers were also ready to eat. Sadly, I was their only fan.

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Lemon crystal cucumbers. Delicious served cold from the fridge with a little rice wine vinegar/soy sauce/sesame seed combo. A delicate lemon flavour and crisp flesh.

September ticked along nicely giving us a plentiful supply of tomatoes, courgettes, and loads of spring onions.

October, November & December

When the excitement of the glut died down, so did my gardening and blogging enthusiasm.

I didn’t have much in the ground for winter – my pot-based carrots weren’t doing well into October, November. Ditto the bed-based beetroots. The sprouts, thankfully, had made it through storms and rain to Christmas time, providing the traditional excessive festive flatulence. And my kale plants, of course, are looking fresher and lovelier by the day. And are, as usual, going largely uneaten (I just can’t warm to the stuff).

There are still plenty of little sproutlets to be harvested, the last tomatoes are changing colour in a ‘sunny’ spot on the kitchen counter, and my flat leaf parsley seems to just love the current grey and largely damp weather conditions.

One of the main learnings from the year that was is that squash takes over the garden, and I’m not all that keen on eating it. So that’s off the list. Another is that runner beans need to be eaten whole when they’re young and tender – and there’s only so many you can eat so don’t bother growing so many. So they’re probably off the list too.

My peas didn’t do well this year, and I think I heard that this was a common issue among growers in 2018, so I’ll try again next year and just up the number planted.

For a second year my shallots didn’t keep past a few weeks, so I think I’ll admit defeat on that front and pour my onion energy into leeks, spring onions and chives instead. I’m still working through the summer’s garlic haul so they’re a keeper.

Also, in a small garden and given how long they take to grow and the amount of water input required I’m not going to bother with broccoli in 2019 either.

New on the menu will be aubergines in the glasshouse (and tomatoes and chillies if there’s room), the aforementioned leeks, french beans and maybe mange tout. Plus all the usual suspects, including excessive amounts of potatoes. Roosters this time I think.

In the meantime there is much work to be done on the garden. The bamboo fencing got blown to bits in the various storms, our brick shed is a damp and dingy place that needs to be demolished, and everything generally looks like crap.

Let the fun begin…

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