July 2010

I’ve been rubbish at blogging. I wanted a detailed record of which poor plants I’d decided to torture with my attentions, which ones thrived despite my tender ministrations and a reminder of the monumental cock-ups never-to-be-repeated. But it’s been a bit patchy … I’m lucky enough to have  a job that I find just as engaging as growing vegetables and last year I signed up to study another degree on one of those whims that will take up another three years of my life and more money than I have.

So I think I’ll accept that I’m never going to have detailed logs of germination time and percentage success rates, to-the-ounce measurements of what was harvested and equivalent retail costings (which i can then compare to be records of time and financial inputs) and just get on with it.

Runner beans then.

When I was growing up I always thought of runner beans as tyrannical vegetables, with shrill triumphant voices.

“Pick me every day or I’ll go old and stringy and stop producing! And that would be a WASTE.”

“Ha! I’ve gone old and stringy anyway! But don’t WASTE me”

“Ha ha! But there’s still more of me that you can possibly eat. Don’t you feel guilty? Go on, give a generous armful to your neighbours who are too polite to tell you they are trying to escape the very same repressive runner regime. They’ll say thank you but nurture a secret hatred for you from this day forth.”

“Ha ha ha! And now you’ve topped me and tailed me and sliced my tough stringy flesh on the diagonal into neat 3″ pieces, what you going to do? Yeah! Boil me up until I go from vibrant- to swampy-green and see me seeping swamp-green juice on the side of your plate every day for the next three months.”

“Ha ha ha ha! Hah! Mwah ha ha!”

Maybe it’s Stockholm Syndrome, but I’ve been living in the shadow of the bean for a fortnight now and I’m getting to like it. The beans have told me they’re great, and here’s why:

1) I’ve said it before and now I’ve said it again: these are surely Jack’s magic beans. Look to the right, and tell me you don’t want to sell me your cow?

2) The first plant to grow a foot a day in the slow days before summer kicks in brings immense satisfaction. Muddy ground and bare sticks suddenly covered with relentlessly encroaching green – then covered with flowers to equal any of your purely floral jobs.

3) Forget about building bug-houses. Host your own bug-Butlins by cultivating whole stalks worth of rampant oozing blackfly. Then watch the lovely ladybirds come in with their lizardy larvae and clear up.

This picture is small because it's a bit rubbish. But you get the idea. It's an arch effort.

4) There’s a meal anytime you want it, however many you grow. Limit the number of plants (I’ve gone for just enough to cover my effort at an ‘arch’, and a few up the fence where next door’s cat likes to scrabble, just to piss it off ) to get a nice side-serving every day  and you know what:  if you don’t want them, don’t eat them.  Compost a whole plant’s worth and say you were just growing it to fix some extra nitrogen in the soil for the delicious squash growing alongside. Or give the surplus to the neighbours with the objectionable cat.

5) Fry some onion, garlic, chilli, cumin and coriander for five minutes or until you’ve finished watering/necking the first glass of wine; throw in some more cumin and garlic; maybe some chopped peppers, then however many beans you want to get rid of and a can of tomatoes (or fresh tomatoes, soon!) – and simmer until swamp green. Who cares about swamp green. It’s tasty, and I can cook this daily for at least two weeks before I decide I need a break and go pickle some.

6) You’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Tubing it across the city this evening, a fierce panic seized me. Blight was in my potatoes, and it was about to send its spores tomatowards! Cue apocalyptic visions of spore clouds dispersing disease and fruit rotting on the vine.

Much as I love new potatoes, I don’t think I can grow them next year.

They break all my (rough, loosely-applied) rules of what I should grow and what I shouldn’t. The tubs take up a relatively large bit of space, which is the thing I can spare the least. I can only grow a taste, and when they’re so cheap and easy to buy and easy to store, there’s not much point.

I’ve grown them anyway –  for the fun of earthing up, the delight of digging them and those few amazing meals with the ‘I grew this’ garnish. But No More!

There were definitely a few spots on the leaves. Were they a blighty sort of spot? Probably not, but still I sat out in the twilight and the first rain for three weeks (Warm, moist air! Doom and destruction!) shoving the foliage into a bin-bag and casting anxious looks at the tomatoes.

Totally illogical. I’ve never had blight, the tomatoes were bonny and wonderful last year and, if force of will counts for anything, they’ll be even better this time round. But the fear is infectious and so there was no fun in this potato harvest.

*This year I grew Swift, Charlotte and Duke of York, as that’s what I was given. All were nice and clean-looking; Swift yielded almost twice as much as the others; tasting to follow.

gooseberry The sum total of this year’s gooseberry harvest.

Magnificent, isn’t it?