Ah, snails! If I had a bigger space I’d grow some extra crops especially for them and we’d all live happily ever after in a fecund nirvana where swathes of green were exquisitely enhanced by delicate trails of silver.

As it is, they plunge me into existential angst as I watch the tattered lace of ex-leaves disappear under a slow wave of grey slime. After much internal debate about killing pests (then externalised), I quickly became a dehumanised killing machine.

My only hope of salvation resides in my continuing guilt pangs and occasional decisions to let one go.  (Which, remarkably, after reflecting on its brush with death and considering how best to find meaning in a fleeting existence, doesn’t conclude its short lifetime would best be spent creating a great work of literature, but rather devotes itself to rampant reproduction).

This offers an excuse to post my entry into last year's Emsworth Village Show in the category of Livestock 1: Best Chicken, so that you can all appreciate how usefully I spend my own fleeting existence.

I’ve been told I should just ‘rehome’ them but, short of taking a bucketful six stops on the Piccadilly line, I’m not sure that will do the job. They actually move damn fast, so I think taking snails on the Tube might be more antisocial than getting on having not washed for some time, whilst broadcasting tinny music from earphones turned up extra loud so it can still be heard over one’s yapping into one’s mobile telephonic device, whilst one’s spare hand shoves one fistful of aromatic fast-f0od after another into one’s animated gob thus spraying oily fragments across the carriage.

(No, I don’t travel well.)

But now, for all embattled gardeners, familiar with the suspicion that snails will always find their way back, there is to be a mass science experiment to test the theory!

Swap snails with your neighbours and see if they come back. Wife swapping is so last season.

I’ve just spent a week in beautiful Devon getting my first taste of field biology, so I’m hungry for more and this sounds like great fun. There are teams and everything! Anyone else planning on joining in?

Note:  I’m also genuinely pleased to learn there is a publication called Mollusc World.

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?

Oh, hello! Fancy seeing you here.

It seems that Spring has passed this place by.

Posts were almost written (as I gazed politely at the blank bit of wall above the heads of those sitting across from me on the daily commute) but the moment passed before any were committed to the page. Days passed, weeks passed, the wind howled across the barren terrain, and dry bones rattled….

Then: a week of glorious sun – and the first tomato fruits and chillis (seems really early, anyone else got any?) have finally prompted a quick Spring recap. In between the commuting there’s been some sowing and growing, bracketed by a few out-of-town escapes going back to my roots.

Lambs are obviously crucial for Spring.

The greedy gal above is one of four sock lambs (lambs that need bottle-feeding) that my  parents have taken on. My first visit back to the ranch coincided with the time they still needed feeding four times a day. I dodged the 6am feed but loved the others – I’m fascinated by the stillness of the end latched on to the bottle with focused intent, whilst the other, tailed, end wriggles for all it’s worth. A nice feeling of natural cycles too – my father will retire from his desk-bound job soon and the lambs are part of the plan – just as when I was growing up my grandfather kept Welsh Mountain sheep in his retirement.

Welsh Mountains are beautiful hardy black sheep, with the wriggliest most engaging lambs I’ve ever seen. And good eating too, though I was blissfully unaware of this part of the equation for more years than I should admit to. It took me until a few years after the sheepskin rug arrived to finally twig… which is pretty dim (deliberately oblivious?)  for a country-bred girl.

Now I’m very aware these girls will be on the plate soon enough – and I hope I’ll tuck in consciously.

The little one in the picture looks particularly challenging for me to chew on – especially as the face she’s pulling is one I’m often caught with when concentrating. Or at least when I’m concentrating, but not concentrating on not making the face that I get teased for making when I’m concentrating…

But four weeks later, they’re a sturdy bunch, and I’m starting to ready the thyme sprigs and roast garlic. Since starting to write this I’ve also (virtually) visited Otter Farm where Mark has posted about devouring his adorable pigs. As a once-vegetarian, now occasional meat-eater,  I refer you there for a “I eat meat now, but not all meat” rationale I feel pretty okay with.

While two months have slid past in my life, a great tit has made its nest…worked tirelessly to feed its chicks…then one dawn “like that...(puff)…he was gone.”

Construction

Half a lifetime gone in a couple of visits to my own home-nest.

Meanwhile, my own garden is in pretty good nick: blooming, shooting, sprouting, blossoming and swelling with abandon. I’ll tell myself, and the next person who finds him or herself here after searching for “mouse squashed in hole” (how many of you are there out there?) about it soon.

Spider mite web on capsicum seedling

I noticed these yesterday and the web has grown fast. The mites themselves are too small for the naked eye, though little dots can be seen in the web that protects them as they suck the life-juice from the unlucky plant. They need to be dealt with quickly before the dastardly males seek out new territories. If I had a microscope I would be able to see these have extra long hind legs, which are used for picking up newly emerged females and carrying them off to fresh foliage ‘in a frenzy’. Oh dear.

This time my answer will be careful disposal. Chemical treatments are out for me and the few papers I’ve glanced through online indicate they are likely to increase the problem anyway – and introduce new ones – by also wiping out any of the few effective controls: natural predators. They are plan B: Esther has an excellent advert.

Winter crops have been a poor show overall. I was too busy trying to keep up with the eating last summer to get much sown. Last year’s Rocket no longer keeps pace with my appetite, and the Land Cress is now concentrating its efforts on reproduction – lots of pretty yellow flowers but not much munching. A few wrinkly knobs of Jerusalem Artichoke languish in a bucket. (Already anticipating the disappointment of those why arrive here having put ‘wrinkly knobs’ in their search engine. Better say it again: wrinkly knobs).

garlic

I didn't grow this; I hit the cat with it.

The only other planting I managed last year was garlic, and I’ve been made very aware of how that’s doing. Next door’s cat heard I was a first-time garlic grower and so, for two months, popped round at three-day intervals to dig it up so that I could see how much root the bulbs were putting on – and then crapped in the hole so I didn’t overlook its assistance.

I was eventually reduced to refilling the container as I really didn’t fancy the soiled compost, and to visiting the shrine of google and asking what I should do and throwing myself on the mercy of twitter.

The answer? Christmas decorations, diverted from the compost bin. A few pine stems from a home-bodged wreath (too spiky to squat on); and the dried orange slices and chillies I’d strewn about the kitchen in a half-hearted attempt at seasonal cheer (apparently cats don’t like the smell, though as the little bastard was digging up garlic, so I’m not sure how much a part they played). And lots of bamboo skewers, sticking out at angles that would give the Health & Safety Inspector apoplexy. Now it’s got good greenery to match it’s bouffant roots, but it’s months until I can put it in a pan.

Purple sprouting But an avalanche of purple sprouting broccoli approaches and it’s all for me. He who-lives-with-me can’t eat it, so I’m looking forward to eating several tonnes over the next few weeks. My basic PSB cooking choices are: with anchovies, garlic and chilli in pasta; fried with sesame, garlic and coriander; or dipped in boiled eggs. I don’t find gluts a trial; rather I welcome them they force me to be more inventive and try new meals. So, any recommendations to expand my broccoli repertoire?