Another year has come and gone, and for gardeners, it’s time to look back at what worked, what didn’t, and how to do it better next time. It’s what I like about gardening – what makes it a science as much as a way of life; the weighing up of old routines, the assessment of recent trials, the checking on the results of daring experiments. So here’s what I discovered in 2015:
Of one thing, I’m sure: the use of ‘seed tape’ (those ribbons of mesh impregnated with seeds at regular, well-spaced intervals) is not for me. I would never, normally, have gone near the stuff but just before Christmas, when I was already running far too late with getting my ‘spring’ onions in the ground, I found it completely impossible to find any packets of loose seed. In a most begrudging fashion I grabbed a couple of packets of spring onion seed tape and trooped to the checkout with them only to have to grit my teeth when, first, the sales assistant told me the price and, secondly, when she went on, at some length, about how marvellous the stuff was.
Still, by the time I left the shop I was almost prepared to accept that my reservations about using seed tape might be based on nothing but pure prejudice. By the end of the summer, however, I was in no doubt that seed tape wasn’t for me. Yes, the seed in the tape is well spaced but when you allow for the fact that 100% germination is unlikely to occur, that leaves you with some rather large and wasteful spaces in the row. And although one of the ‘bonuses’ with seed tape is that you don’t have to thin your vegetables, I happen to think of thinnings as an early treat. Yes, it takes time to thin but look at the goodies you’re left with: the tenderest, tastiest little morsels in the garden be they carrots or spring onions. I really missed my spring onion thinnings! As for the well-spaced plants I was left with, they grew so quickly and so evenly that, almost overnight, I had great whopping green onions all ready at exactly the same time. To add insult to injury, after the first ‘sowing’, I had no seed left over to sow later in the season. There are so few seed in a packet of seed tape they are all used up in one go. Seed tape? No thanks! Never again, either by design or desperation.
Mistake of the season number two: not planting my shallots on a sloping part of the section. My entire garden consists of built up beds so drainage is better than it would be if the soil was at ground level. That said, springtime in the Catlins can be a rather damp experience and this year it fair poured down – for weeks! The raised beds on sloping parts of the section only just coped but those on the flat were sodden. Shallots can cope without sunshine. They can even cope with abnormally cold conditions. But they can’t abide wet feet. Alas, this year, the shallots I have salvaged (those that didn’t rot) will be for seed only. There just aren’t enough for the pot. Lesson learned: plant early spring vegetables on a sloping section of the garden or in a double-height raised bed
At the other extreme, no amount of precipitation will keep rhubarb happy if it’s in a raised bed. Excellent drainage is not what it requires, especially during a dry spell. While, cosmetically, nothing looks prettier than the bright red stalks of acid-free rhubarb sitting atop a raised bed, come the hot weather and its big leaves wither, the stems shrivel and, suddenly, every plant is sending up unwanted seed heads. There’s going to be a lot of digging up of crowns this autumn and some back breaking work replanting them at ground level. Lesson learned!
But 2015 was far from all doom and gloom. Shallots and spring onions, aside, the harvest has been bountiful and never more so than in the carrot bed where every carrot was grown from my very own seed! There’s something quite magical (and moving) about watching two carrots send up stalks that burst into flower and, over a period of 18 months (which is how long it takes in my part of the country) brave the elements to produce two fine heads of seed – enough to fill my carrot beds the following season. The process couldn’t be more natural but, perhaps because the big seed companies have us indoctrinated, one never seems quite able to trust it. There’s always that nagging doubt that seed you’ve saved yourself is somehow inferior to that which you buy in a shop. So 2015 was the year I learned not to doubt my seed saving abilities.
I wonder what your successes and failures were last season and how you will use them to add to your encyclopaedia of gardening knowledge? Of one thing you can be sure, you’ll have learnt more from experience than you ever will from a book.