In Part 1, I started to talk about the lessons I was learning from my first foray into container vegetable gardening. This Part 2 is the conclusion of that post.
Finally, in April the temperatures began to creep up and I sat back, admired my garden and though about what a good job I had done. I’d always had a “grey” thumb but now look, I had a young but thriving garden!
Then the cold snap came.
At the end of April, the temperatures plummeted. Daytime highs struggled to reach double digits. My nascent lettuces shrivelled. My lusty courgette, once the pride of my garden in the sky, blackened at the stem and collapsed, the leaves crisping and turning brittle. Even the Chinese cabbages wilted, even the radishes slowed their growth, held tight and waited for the return of the sunshine. I sat, helpless and enraged, as the cold daytimes and frosty night air sucked the life back out of my garden. I protected the tender seedlings as best I could with bell cloches and portable greenhouses, but in the end, the cold had its way and taught me one of the hardest lessons yet – unless I want to bring the plants back inside, or install heaters outside, my garden and I were at the mercy of the weather.
Even without the cold to contend with, there is another force of nature that daily throws in my face just how at the mercy of nature my garden and I are. I keep a mild soap solution next to my herbs on the front balcony, as it is my first – and only, I refuse to use chemical insecticides – weapon against aphids (or greenfly, as they are sometimes called). These horrible, nasty little creatures suck the moisture and nutrients out of plant by plunging hypodermic mouth parts into a plant’s stem and feeding off it. Even worse, the females simply birth clones of themselves, so there is an endless supply of the bitches. At first, it was just my parsley, then the sage and next thing I knew, nothing was safe. One of the fronds of my lovage was turning yellow, but it’s only when I got down close that I saw the stem was positively blistered with aphids large and small. Every watering now includes an up close aphid inspection, and unfortunately, usually a good soaking with the soap spray.
The worst thing is, as much as I loathe them, they don’t care. They don’t even register my existence and it’s only when the cool, lemony-scented cloud of death mists them that our worlds interact in any meaningful way.
After a couple of weeks the weather gradually warmed again, and my garden began to recover. Then, in a blink of an eye, the temperatures went from cool to wonderfully warm. Long, bright days filled with yellow sunshine encouraged my seedlings to stand tall, dig deep and flower with abandon. Almost overnight my Sweet Pea blossoms opened in a riot of colour, my strawberries erupted with tiny green fruits, my radishes sent their leaves soaring upwards.
A little TOO upwards.
Feeling apathetic after losing so much in the cold and not paying as much love to my garden as I should have, the radish baskets dried out quickly. I was watering the garden every other day and by the time I reached the radishes the soil would be bone dry. Those of you who know your cool weather plants know what’s coming next – the radishes bolted. The combination of the lengthening days, the heat and dryness of the soil flipped the flowering switch in my radishes. They sent their stalks soaring upwards and exploded in a riot of pale flowers. With the radishes flowering, there was no hope for the roots. I pulled each and every radish and sighed at the tiny, white, underdeveloped roots.
Later my research revealed that if I would have kept the plants moist, maybe even mulched a bit, they would have likely fared much better in the heat.
With the loss of a whole crop of radishes (I estimate about 60 plants) all I could do was start again. I searched out another type of radish that was a bit more heat tolerant, gave the basket a good feed and replanted. My seedlings have all sprouted and been thinned, and now I play the waiting and watching game. I’ve learned my lesson though, and every evening I check the moisture levels of the soil and water as necessary.
I’ve also been struggling with my Kinghorn Wax Beans too. I’ve planted two rounds of them now (one started indoors and one sown direct), and only one seed sprouted before quickly dying. Determined not to give up to quickly, I’ve four more started in seedling trays and will transplant them out when (if) they send up shoots.
Despite the occasional disappointments, the whole experience so far has been wonderful. To sit outside on a warm Saturday afternoon, reading and listening to the breezes blow through the plants, smelling the Sweat Pea and Stock blossoms, brings about a wonderful sense of peace and contentment.
There’s also the heady joy of picking a strawberry straight off the vine and biting into it, knowing that it’s there because you grew it, you did this, you achieved Food. That’s the biggest advantage and reward of all of this for me. Not only that I could do it, but that no one is suffering for me to do it, no one is losing out over unfair practices, no damaging chemicals are being pumped onto and into the food we are going to be eating and damaging our already battered environment.
Most of all though, it’s the feeling of connectedness. There is something so primal about dancing to the rhythm of the seasons, learning the steps and keeping the time until the dance is over. There is a sense of accomplishment when Nature throws in an unfamiliar twirl or a tricky sidestep and you find yourself able to follow, to keep flowing.
In the end, I think that is the greatest lesson of all my garden has taught me – to dance.
Missed part 1? You can find it here.