Today I’m writing to the soundtrack of a summer thunderstorm. There are sporadic deep grumbles among the more insistent rain and it’s probably only a matter of time before they are joined by crackling flashes of lightning. Why share our inclement weather with you? Well partly because it’s a cause of much excitement here as it means we won’t need to water the garden today, and with luck tomorrow, and because it got me thinking about my lack of blogging over the last couple months.
Emerging from the dark dull depths of winter into spring is always a time of great motivation for me and I make great plans, especially regarding knit design work, blogging and my online presence. Then time slips away and the list of intentions not fulfilled lengthens and instead of increasing presence is a growing absence. This summer I don’t have moving house or the stress of the first wave of the pandemic to attribute this to so I’ve been thinking what it is. Why is is that the productivity I foresee for summer never actually materialises in my design work or online life, but I am still constantly active and doing things?
It was publishing my last somewhat overdue post that prompted me to give this apparent pattern some more thought when I realised how much longer the gaps between my last 3 posts were, compared to those that preceded them. I thought I’d got into a routine and the swing of regular blogging. I had great plans for the audio version of the blog, and yet no sooner than I had made these plans than they ground to something of a halt. Rather than just bemoan my ‘radio’ silence I began mulling over it and realised that actually for people who garden and preserve their produce, spring through to summer and into autumn are actually really busy times, even for those who try to avoid the worst of the heat of the day.
So, I thought I’d take some time to share with you what actually does go on during summer, often undocumented, starting with the garden. Hopefully in the next couple of days the sun will return and I’ll get chance to take some illustrative photos too.
For us it all starts January/February time as I start my sowing plans. I tend to grow as much as I can from seed. Vegetable plants here are really economical compared to the UK, but varieties are limited and not organic. Instead we try to grow from organic seed and use organic and/or home made fertilisers – this is my department. My sowing diary (we’re still learning a whole new growing calendar here) shows my first seeds were sewn on Feb 6th and I still have more things scheduled. Those early sowings are all sown and brought on indoors, often in seed trays and then potted on before planting out. Its not perhaps how I’d do it if I had endless space, but I don’t, so this is what works for us.
So far this year I’ve planted, 3 varieties of tomato (Marmande, Costoluto and Secagno), 3 varieties of cucumber (Verde, cetriolini/mini cucumbers and Slangen), aubergine, Corno di toro and frigitello peppers, cayenne and jalapeño chillis, 4 varieties of squash, summer and winter for storage, courgettes, celery, parsley, basil, dill, leeks, kale, cavolo nero, savoy cabbage, purple sprouting and romanesco. I’ve also planted loads of marigolds for the vegetable patches and for natural dyeing, sweet peas, rudbeckia, coreopsis, lupins, echinops, verbena and perovskia. Salads including a host of lettuce and rocket have been planted and re-planted.
As well as planting harvesting is well underway. Our autumn planted peas and broad beans are now well over – we ate loads, so, so good, froze more for winter use and saved seed for next year. We’re also digging potatoes and have been managing the slew of tomatoes we get once they start ripening. Tomatoes seem to sustain life in this part of the world and certainly they seem to mark the real beginning and end of summer here. The cucumbers come in before the tomatoes and I love them, but the tomatoes are the real marker.
This year we’ve also done better with aubergine, earlier sowing and more plants planted closer, and they’re doing really well. We’ve learnt that here with the heat individual plants may be less productive so it’s good to plant more closer together to compensate, and to help them shade each other. We also have to do much more successional sowing, especially of green beans for example. Also here we grow dwarf beans which do better in the heat compared to climbing beans. This was such a revelation, in Lancaster the low hanging nature of dwarf bean plants mean a feast for the slugs and precious few for us, here the heat keeps the slugs away. I’m so sorry, that’s a cruel thing to say to British gardeners I know, but oh my, it makes such a difference.
Mr P is responsible for directly sown crops so the beetroot we’re having in our salads and the chard, beans and potatoes are his doing. Also while I maintain the small veggie patch with lettuce, cucumber, herbs, and chillis alongside a few volunteer tomatoes, once my seedlings go into the main vegetable patch he mostly deals with them.
Flower beds are my domain. A stereotype perhaps, but I’m happy with it this way and I like to pack them with perennial plants which the bees, butterflies and humming bird moths will appreciate and thatI can build over time. I love the soundscape that is our garden, the sheer variety of bee species that do audible battle with cicadas, never fails to amaze. We also have a range of butterflies that excite me each year and the sight of lizards dashing about when disturbed by my weeding never gets old.
Growing our own food, doing soon harmony with nature, and preserving that food to see us through the darker less productive winter months has been a long standing passion for us and one that I hardly give a second thought to anymore; we just do it. It determines the cycle of our lives and influences decisions we make about other things such as holidays and being away for too long. As such it shapes and in many ways reflects and determines who we are. However, it’s not always that photogenic, involves a lot of dirty hands and mud, and gets squeezed in among everything else that is to be done (often before it gets to hot, too cold or too wet), but I’ll try and remember to document better and share some of that here.
True to form, time slipped away between writing this post and taking photo… but the sentiment remains current and is one I’ll expand on in future posts on preserving and composting!
Life is good when you can grow something for yourself. I’m so lucky to have been able to move from house plants and window boxes to allotments and now our own garden. What does your growing and gardening life look like?
All the best ’til next time,