I have spent some time during most years of my life growing vegetables; so I ought to be better at it than I am. A period of 40 years separates the first two pictures, yet the results are much the same. I can now grow a good crop of tomatoes, but this is through having a greenhouse, which I did not have 40 years ago. One thing about this picture is an absence of weeds. Weeding is a very necessary part of growing vegetables, for the weeds compete with the plants for nutrients, light and space. The pictures may be slightly misleading however, for who would deliberately photograph weeds? Only the best looking and weed free crops have been selected to photograph for posterity. The caterpillar infested cabbages or the nettle choked parsnips did not make it into the album!
In some ways I do not do so well now as I used to. Consider the armful of onions I am carrying to the kitchen door in 1969. A few of them are rather bull-necked which means they will not keep, but on whole is a fair crop. Now I do not have much success growing onions; they fail through the attention of the onion fly. True, this is particularly the case with onions grown from seed whereas these in the photo were grown from sets, but I haven’t had much success lately with sets either. I do not think the land I now have is suits them and I have given up growing them.
Perhaps if I had been more dedicated I would have improved more, but gardening of any kind, whether of flowers or vegetables, has not been a daily task, although frequent watering is necessary during the summer growing season. It has only been an irregular though repetitive interest of mine, largely according to the state of the weather. It might have taken over my life if I had more space to grow things, but land has always been at a premium. When I was young I used to suffer from land hunger and wished for more, but now I am old I find I couldn’t cope even with what I have without my wife Molly’s sterling efforts in the garden.
Certain vegetables form the bedrock of my gardening, and have done since I began as a teenager to plant out my crops. Potatoes were always a reliable staple, although my diabetes means I can no longer eat very many of these starchy tubers, and this year they are absent from crop list. I could hardly imagine a year without runner beans; they never fail. This season we are trying our luck with peas and beetroot.
There is nothing to equal a vegetable freshly picked from the garden for flavour. We grow a range of herbs which are perennial or which seed themselves without difficulty, and these include rosemary, mint, thyme and chives. In the soft fruit line I have some nice strawberries this year and gooseberries. Our late fruiting raspberries are very reliable and I hope to have some success with a cultivated blackberry which I have recently planted. This has gone against a sunny wall which is very dry and anything growing there needs plentiful watering. Some years ago I tried an apricot here and in its second season it produced a good crop of delicious fruit. Bought apricots never taste anything like ones that you have grown yourself. Unfortunately in its third season it died through a lack of water.
Even when I was first married and we were living in a second floor council flat we had an allotment garden. It was hard work, with a matted weedbed of spear grass to clear, but we had a marvellous Bramley apple tree which produced so much fruit that we could not eat them all and were reduced to selling them at my wife’s autumn school fete. I have not mention keeping chickens and the delight in finding a warm egg in the nesting box. We no longer keep chickens, but perhaps I will make the livestock in the back garden the subject of future blog.