Vegetables in mind (66 days to go…)

by Max Akroyd

This gardening monster delight I’ve created relies upon the smooth operation of three distinct parts. During the spring rush, the greenhouse, the polytunnel and the field together should form a production line which smoothly and efficiently takes seeds in at one end and, some time later, gobs out perfect vegetables at the other.

I’ve thought about little else for the last three years and I now feel to understand most of this process and, more importantly, how to pre-empt any messy snarl-ups. From bitter experience, I know it only takes one un-dug bed on the field to cause a horrible pile up of all sorts of potted things in the greenhouse. Orchestrating all these different plants, moving them from greenhouse to hardening-off table and on to to field or polytunnel at just the right moment is a fascinating but exacting business. Too soon and things wither during a frosty March night; too late and nice green things turn yellow and sour – either way the thread gets lost and the plan unravels.

If you could open my brain and peer inside, it would probably look a bit like this:

The myriad needs of all these potential edibles nag at me constantly, a bit like my sciatic nerve! Mainly because, where possible, I’m attempting to grow each vegetable all year round. With onions, for example, you could just grow one huge crop and store it. That could be alliums sorted for a whole year. Not for me, I prefer to diversify into shallots, salad onions, bunching onions, welsh onions: I have all the seeds and I’m not afraid to use them! Similarly, I want to grow a different variety of cabbage and cauliflower for each month of the year, not embalm their spring incarnations in pots of vinegar, or bury them in the freezer. I want to find out first hand what makes a lettuce crisphead, looseleaf, cos or even Batavian.

There are probably good gastronomic and nutritional reasons for this ‘fresh from the garden, all year round’ approach. It probably also insures a bit against total crop failure too. Although these are important considerations, I can’t claim any of them as my main motivation. Instead, I confess that I just love the complex patterning of it all. It’s a giant puzzle, a lost map rediscovered and re-read. Unlike, say, the French tax system and many other things supposedly essential to civilised existence, I’ll die happier having mastered it. And it might take that long..!

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In contrast to the world under cover, the field seems a lot simpler, for now. Big beds and long trenches being dug in dry soil. I must be retaining some semblance of control out there because a fair amount of time is being spent readying ground for things I won’t even eat, unless I get really desperate. Mangels, Jerusalem artichokes and lucerne all have substantial areas ready for them now just waiting for a bit of rain to trigger a mass sowing/planting.

Between starting and finishing this post the rain has finally come. For the first time in ages, the slugs are out and the goats are in. And I’m looking for that piece of paper that told me where precisely to plant that kohl rabi…