I THINK my work on the allotment may be improving. I’m now failing to grow more exotic things than I failed to grow last year.
In the process I’ve learned important lessons. The biggest mistake I keep making is that I try to plant things out when they are too small.
I carefully plant my seeds. I tend them with loving care and get them to what looks like a respectable size on the window sill. Then I take them to the allotment and try and plant them. At that point they suddenly seem to shrink.
Having got used to a reliable temperature, a regular watering and protection from pests, the plant now has to cope with hot days and cold nights, torrential rain or drought, and a series of pests and diseases. I quickly lose high proportions of my plants before they’ve got going.
I did a bit better with my beans and peas this year. I waited with the beans until they were big enough to cope and got quite a lot of them well under way. With the peas I went for the tactic of planting enough of them directly into the ground in the hope that not all of them would get eaten. It worked to a degree. I got slightly more peas back than I actually planted and quite a lot of beans.
I brought the first crop proudly back to the house to discover that my wife had just come back from the shops. Apparently beans were on special offer being in season. I consoled myself with the thought that it was just as well that I’d planted some unusual varieties.
I had purple French beans of various sizes and shapes, some very interesting red broad beans and bullet-shaped peas that you can sink your teeth into. Surely anyone could see that my authentic homegrown varieties were much more interesting than the competition and would taste and look infinitely better?
The supermarket had supplied a perfectly even selection of identical green beans in an attractive plastic bag. I leave it to readers’ imaginations to work out which kind my son preferred. Suffice to say, we’re having to serve up two different lots of veg as a result of the rigorous quality control requirements of one generation of the household.
As it happens the multi-coloured beans were not the most exotic thing that I tried to grow this year. I’ve worked on the principle that there’s not much point in growing things that are easily bought from the supermarket and that I’m better off trying to produce things I wouldn’t otherwise be able to get or will be interested in watching grow.
It was a good theory but in practice it proved a bit of a disaster. I tried Purple Basil which failed to germinate; liquorice got eaten by slugs; golden raspberries looked great but were completely tasteless; hyacinth beans were killed by frost, and pak choi went to seed in a dry spell without producing anything.
I did, however, manage to get two exotic things growing nicely. I planted some dahlia yams on the principle that I liked looking at dahlia flowers and enjoyed eating yams - a combination of the two had to be good - and they have grown well. The flowers are small and insignificant, and I’m pretty sure I’ve never seen a yam with a root quite so pathetic and insubstantial. I haven’t dared to eat any of the roots yet but in a severe famine they aren’t going to keep me going for long. Nor are my tomatillo plants. These were advertised as producing lime-flavoured tomatoes that come in their own Chinese lanterns.
I don’t know what possessed me to think that tomatoes tasting of lime would be a good thing but it currently doesn’t look very likely that I’ll ever find out.
I’m now starting to turn my thoughts to what I might try and grow next year. I thought perhaps a few potatoes might prove a touch more reliable. I’m told you can get some very nice bright blue varieties.