Dear Gardening-Me 2021,
How are you doing? Broken out the seed packets yet? Checked on the greenhouses? Yes? All set for the new growing season, I’m sure. Good.
Why do I ask? Well, that’s why I’m writing to you.
We need to talk.
Let me start by introducing myself. I’m Gardening-You version 2020. I’m the one who dug up seven new veg and flower beds. Lifting the turf and improving the soil. That was me.
It was worth it. We had a great harvest and I’ve learnt a few things on the way, which I thought I’d pass on to you. To be honest, Gardening-You versions 1996 to 2019 tried to tell me, but my enthusiasm got in the way, so I thought I’d put it in a letter to you. Make more impact that way.
Not all the seeds
Let’s start with the seeds. Imagine you are standing over your prepared seed bed, or more likely seed tray, with a handful of seeds. The excitement of baskets full of tomatoes are swimming around your head. You can almost taste the tomatoes combined with basil and olive oil.
Before you scatter the seeds. One piece of advice. You do not need to sow them all.
You do not need or have room for 75 tomato plants. If the seeds are still in date, then sow as many as you need, plus a few more, just in case. That’s it. Save the rest of the seeds or pass them on. You will thank me when you’re not throwing the excess, healthy tomato seedlings into the compost bin.
Nor do you have room for 250 basil plants or 36 chilli plants. Believe me. I’ve been there.
Nor do you need to grow every variety of every possible type of plant. Just trust me on that one.
Aubergines represents a group of plants that are not popular in your household. You know it, I know it.
My advice is to avoid growing lots of veg that no one, but you like. Aubergines. I know I won one member of the family over, last year, but that was it. Did I learn nothing from Gardening-You version 2010, who grew armfuls of courgettes, on a daily basis, which no one else would eat? Down right refused to even look at them, after a while. Ten plants were too many. Admittedly Gardening-You version 2017 turned it around with the courgette fritters, but it took seven long years.
My advise? Make a list and stick to it. Ignore the tempting unusual vegetables in the seed catalogue. You can resist.
Think about meals that you like cooking and everyone enjoys eating. New favourite dishes do happen. I mean, who knew you’d be adding curly kale to the list this year after discovering kale pesto?
There will come a point when your seedlings are ready to plant out. The back of the packet says they need a foot between each plant. You will look at your seedling, in the palm of your hand, and see it as the tiny, little plant it is and stand there in disbelieve that anything so small could grow that big. You will ignore the measurement and wing it. Surely you can fit a few more in. You have room for more. No! No, you don’t.
That seedling will grow. From newborn to lanky teenager in a matter of weeks. It needs the room and resources. The pumpkin plant really does need the 3 foot between it and the next plant. I know it’s small, at the moment, but it too will grow into a big spreading mass of leaves and stems. Give it room.
In fact, three foot is not enough. It will start to stretch out over the surrounding paths and into the next vegetable bed. Be warned.
Some plants do not thrive. It just wasn’t meant to be. I’m you so I know what a softie you are for the underdog in the plant world. I get you, but you need to move on. Pull them out and dispose of it. Concentrate on the plants that are thriving. You will thank yourself.
Just because something worked last time, there is no guarantee it will work this time. Weather conditions, soil nutrients, rain, temperature. The great part of gardening is that you never stop learning, so enjoy it and go with the flow.
Last year, we had a heavy frost late in the season. Mid May. It killed off three vegetable beds of newly planted seedlings. I can’t remember such a late frost. Anyway, my point is each year is different. Weather is different.
Last year, the deer decided that the tops of my climbing beans were a tasty treat.
In contrast, the year before we had a family of wild rabbits and they did no harm in the kitchen garden at all. They loved the dandelion leaves and clover in the grass, next to it. They also added a fair dose of entertainment in the garden.
Not all wildlife is out to destroy your crops. It has a habit of balancing out, but you know that already, which brings me nicely on to my last point.
Leave some areas wild
It would be tempting to cultivate every last inch of the garden. Don’t. First off, this will take more time to maintain and leave no time to enjoy the garden. Secondly, it attracts the mini beasts and birds that help keep your garden in balance.
Leave areas of wild and long grass to attract the toads and frogs, ladybirds and lacewings, dragonflies and damsel flies. No skipping this.
Right, I’m going to leave the gardening to you. Formally handing over the key to the Kitchen Garden. Here’s hoping that the weather is kind and your seedlings grow strong.
I wonder what you’ll learn this year.