Whatever philosopher said that “work well done never needs doing over”, never did a vegetable garden!

mutant_carrots

Our garden had this patch, an unused, forgotten patch of earth tucked away behind the pool. Lots of sunlight, close enough to the existing sprinkler system for me to extend it into a watered area and the soil tests I did showed it to be fertile. The garden had this patch and this patch was the perfect spot for what was to become our very own vegetable garden. 

I spent a weeks evenings digging and weeding the ground, then another two days setting up the sprinklers until everything was ready for seeding. No longer would we spend our hard-earned cash at the supermarket on overpriced cabbages, carrots and stuff. Oh no, we were going semi self-sufficient. With space for lots of plants, we estimated we would be able to have a few weeks of free veggies each year. Maybe a month or two if nature was kind. And it would also prove to be a good thing for the children, get them ‘at one’ with the earth, give them some understanding of where things come from that end up on our table. Educational, healthy and an activity the family could enjoy together. A great idea don’t you agree?

The following weekend we went shopping for seeds. What a jolly time we all had picking our favourites and a few things that just looked like they’d be fun to grow. Carefully we read the packets, bought a rake, a thing called a hoe, a garden fork and some green coloured wire to keep our bountiful garden under control. Green fingers at the ready…

A year later we realised the seeds had gone past their sell-by date so they were no good. And looking over the veggie garden it was clear my week spent digging and weeding would now need to be repeated. This time we promised ourselves, made a pact of blood, signed notarised affidavits to the effect that we would indeed get around to planting our vegetables, care for them and enjoy the taste of food fresh from the garden, un-sullied by chemicals and cleansed by just our own hands using water from the well, not whatever irradiated rubbish they fire at mass-produced produce these days. Another week digging and weeding and back to the garden centre we go, home we come loaded with fresh packs of seeds.

Some eight months later we have friends over for a visit. Being successful at growing vegetables in their own garden, they took pity on us and spent the weekend digging and weeding.

Fast forwards another six months and the children, now both capable of writing their names onto things with some degree of legibility, mostly the walls of the house, stumble upon our stash of seed packets whilst looking for coloured pens. This proves beneficial in that now being preoccupied with their excitement at remembering our planned vegetable garden, they forget the original purpose of their search and our walls remained untouched. The downside being that I have to spend the next few days digging and weeding and the seeds, being out of date now need to be replaced yet again. Off to the garden centre we go.

The children this time take the lead and with their encouragement, not to be confused with pestering, wake us early one sunday morning, suitably dressed in their wellies and each holding small bowls into which they have put all the seeds. Accepting that we now have no idea what any of them are we nevertheless all make our way up to the vegetable patch and by the end of the day, we have planted all that didn’t fall out of the small bowls the children repeatedly spilt.

We wait… We wait some more… We forget… Six months later we suddenly remember we have a vegetable garden and upon visiting our patch, we see a well watered and very healthy looking forest of weeds. Upon closer inspection we do find our vegetables, or at least we think we do. It’s hard to distinguish what is a vegetable and what is not. We’re pretty sure we know what a carrot leaf looks like and there are quite a few of them, beetroot looks very much like dandelion or maybe thistle. It could even be the onions… The sweetcorn was easy to spot but had already been eaten. The tomatoes likewise. Some other things we think we planted seem to be still there but after all this time we are not at all sure what it was we planted and none of us thought to stick little wooden labels in the ground to help us. You live and learn though. Next time the seeds will be kept out of the children’s reach and we will use the packets to mark and remind us what we have planted and where.

The obvious solution was to start weeding and digging. I had figured that if we dug up one of each of the plants, we would be able to work out what is weed and what is food. A simple process of elimination. An hour later, I have managed to identify in the region of 30 weed plants. I now know what a dead beetroot plant looks like as well as what an over-ripe beetroot one looks like. I also now know which weeds give you a rash, which ones sting, which ones are home to tiny little insects that bite and where the neighbours cat likes to take a dump. And now I understand why gardeners wear gloves. Surprisingly I found some cabbages and a lettuce, neither of which we remember planting and neither of which would be gracing our plates anytime soon. Overall, our vegetable garden didn’t perform very well on account of our lack of attention. However, the carrots did indeed manage to survive and once the patch was cleared of the dead, diseased and dying we were rewarded with a number of bushy carrot plants and excitedly the children ran to the house to get a basket. “Get the biggest you can find” I shouted after them, “tonight we feast!”

We pulled up the carrots, shook the dirt from them and snapped off the green bits (the rabbit was also going to be feasting tonight!!!). Call me inexperienced or incompetent if you like, but somehow our carrots were nothing like what we have come to expect carrots to look like. Not arrow shaped like they are in the bags down the supermarket. No ours were all sorts of funny shapes, mostly rude ones. The basket turned out to be bigger than required as well, the ones that looked like marbles we left to the birds, same to of the ones that looked like little cocktail sticks. In fact, we didn’t need the basket at all really, the spoils of our forgetful labour could be carried in our hands. We did leave some in the ground, hopeful that later we would be able to eat at least a few of them, having figured they had managed to get this far in their little lives, a week or so is hardly going to make them worse…

Back indoors we cleaned them and laid them out on the kitchen table. A sorry-looking bunch they were. The children began seeing monsters and octopus in the shapes, one looked like a centipede, another had the appearance of a wheelchair and many more looked like men’s willies. They didn’t make it into any meal, they ended their days as a  snack, nibbles during Ben Ten and Peppa Pig. It ended up fun biting the head off the octopus carrot as we saved the ship that it was attacking, the monster carrot met its end as it attempted to destroy the Lego City fire station. The willy shaped ones we got mummy to cut up into slices, best not blot the imagination of the children or give them any ideas just yet. And we can say without any bias at all that our home-grown efforts were far tastier than anything we have ever bought. Even the rabbit, gorged on the leaves, agreed. Certainly her digestive system seemed rejuvenated judging by the time it took me to clean her hutch the following morning.

In conclusion then, taking into account the cost of time spent preparing the ground, the cost of watering the weeds for 2 years, the cost of the various creams to heal my rashes, stings and bites. the purchase of somewhere around 32 packets of seeds and the paltry result of 23 seriously disfigured carrots of which only 11 were eaten. We would have been better off spending all that money simply buying the vegetables in the first place. But where’s the fun in that.