I was standing in my vegetable garden this week, completely befuddled as to where I could find a spare square metre to plant out my winter brassicas (yes, I know I shouldn't have raised 22 kale seedlings but there are so many interesting varieties nowadays) and bemoaning the fact that there wasn't a jot of space left for sowing the winter Daikon radishes or the new Watermelon variety I'd ordered from Kings Seeds. I really was feeling quite desperate, when I suddenly remembered that this same predicament raises its head every year toward the end of summer. What was called for was decisiveness. I surveyed my seemingly full garden bed, and made some tough decisions.
None of us likes to oust crops that are still producing but sometimes, if we're to get those essential winter-maturing veggies in the ground in time, we must. I took a good, hard look at the broadbeans. Yes, there were still one or two pods to fill out but no flowers were left on the plants and 90% of the fruit was mature. Off came the beans and out came the plants! The only remaining cabbages still in the garden (when I looked closely) showed very little likelihood of hearting (I think I'd let them become overcrowded in their early growing period). They went to the chooks! That left some silverbeet which, when I thought about it carefully, was certain to run to seed within the week. Chop chop, into the pot! As for the half dozen lettuces, well, I had plenty more in another bed, these ones were pickable even if not as mature as they could be, and the neighbours would thank me for them. I sliced them off at the base. At last I had garden bed ready to replenish with manure and compost, and a space for my seedlings and radish seed.
This decisiveness is something we should employ throughout the gardening season. So often we allow vegetables that are past their prime, decaying, or simply not shaping up, to take up valuable space that could be put into more productive use. So, as the summer draws to a close, take a good hard look at your own garden. Is it really worth keeping that tomato vine in the ground until its one last fruit ripens? Wouldn't it be better by far to ripen the tomato on a window ledge inside the house and use the space in the glasshouse for a sprinkling of spring onion seed? Why would you ever consider leaving an ailing courgette plant, at the end of its natural life, to take up all that space when the soil it occupies could be used for a winter-maturing cauli? As soon as the garlics can be lifted, whip them out of the soil and sow your autumn mesclun mix or a row of pretty red mizuna.
As a writer, I am constantly reminding myself that it is not my characters who dictate to me what should and shouldn't happen to them – that's for me to decide. And so it is with vegetables. You're the gardener. You're the boss. Be decisive and do what you know is best, even if it hurts a little. It'll pay off in the end!