This is our first season growing food in all of our completed veg beds. The tarmac football pitch is now cut out with 32 beds that dart outwards in a radial pattern like the rays of the sun. Black pitch pathways surround the beds which retain the heat and are radiant on sunny days. Our site is 200 feet above sea level and quite exposed to on-shore and off-shore breezes that rush along the valley from the south-east. Ours is a challenging site. As a beginner gardener I have been thankful for the advice of my neighbour Brian, a life-long gardener and have also taken occasional opportunities to rubberneck over the stone walls whilst walking the dog past other gardens in our hamlet.
I’ve been reading Joy Larkam’s ‘How to Grow Vegetables’. It is indispensable. The pages are marked with water splashes and soil smears. The book has been out to the polytunnel and follows my seed box around the house. It has even spent the odd night outside after late night seed sowing. It has a permanent arc from being carried around rolled in the span of my hand to being slid into my jacket pocket. Within the easily torn pages, the compact typeset squeezes in the kind of advice that you might pick up from gardening with your mother.
Mistakes have been my other teacher. While placing seeds into trays, making potting mix, and watering each day I have made dozens of mistakes along the way. Each time I visit the polytunnel to check the seeds I discover that some days were too cold to sow and other days were just warm enough for the right length of time for germination. Sometimes the shower head on the hose needed to be adjusted as it was too hard and battered the little wisps of emerging greenery.
You can’t rush nature. Our neighbor Brian regularly drops around to deliver some left over cuttings, bulbs or the occasional taste-test of homemade wine. Last time he was arriving with some left over seed potatoes and so I took the opportunity to ask a few gardening questions.
“Brian”, I said, “I can’t get my carrots to germinate”
“Oh, it’s too early for carrots”, he replied, shifting from one arthritic knee to the other.
“You’ve got to wait till the pig nuts have finished flowering… you can’t make it happen any faster than nature is ready” he concluded with the air of authority of an archetypal Yorkshireman.
Eager to stretch the growing season out, I had been sowing seeds too early and becoming discouraged when nothing happened. My little demon would whisper to me that I will never develop a green thumb. However, I have come to trust otherwise; I do not emanate a field of demise which engulfs our plants!
My doubts were also allayed by Brian’s other piece of golden advice;
“Don’t be a gardener if you’re bothered by failures!” he would proclaim triumphantly (and often).
Spring time sowing is an act of faith for those of us not raised in the ways of gardening. Sowing seeds requires so little effort at first; just a spare moment to sift the compost and sand together into a tray and then to gentle press a single seed into each module. The slow start which originally fanned my fear of failure no longer seems to weigh on my mind. Watching the process it is obvious that the seeds want to grow…just in their own time.These basics aren’t in any book. Time on the ground, literally, is the best way to learn when and how to do the jobs that make up gardening.