Healthy neglect

The builders have finished, the scaffolding is down and all is peaceful once again on our mountainside.

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Rubble shifting over, and I suddenly realised how much I’ve been neglecting the garden over the past weeks; just a quick whizz round with hoe or watering can to keep everything together from time to time is all the attention it’s had. Definitely time to get stuck in to some long overdue maintenance.

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Apart from the usual weeding and cutting back, there were a few bigger jobs that have been waiting. I pulled the old pea and broad bean plants out weeks ago but never got round to digging the patch over properly . . . and of course, the weeds have had a bit of a field day in the interim. I love jobs like this: take one messy patch, dig it over, remove weeds, pick out stones and there’s a lovely patch of bare earth ready and waiting for the next crop (probably some winter kale).

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I’ve also been neglecting the poor summer calabrese and broccoli plants. They have been cropping well for several weeks but I haven’t been keeping on top of them enough and they had started to flower. I know the bees love those flowers, but it’s amazing how quickly the plants will crop again if the flowers are cut back. Sorry, bees . . . your turn will come!

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One thing I did manage to do a couple of weeks ago is a little more planting for crops later in the year: a row of ‘Autumn King’ carrots, some Florence fennel and then more beans. This is bean country: if all else fails we will never starve because there will always be a bean mountain. The speed at which they germinate and grow is quite incredible, you can almost sit back and watch it happening. So, I’ve planted another half row of bush borlotti and dwarf French beans (can’t remember which variety) and a full row of a cannellini bean for late autumn harvest.

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The climbing beans have got away from me once again and Roger is now having to use a step ladder to pick them. I threw a few sunflower seeds in next to them (more of my ‘frivolous’ flowers!) and they are quite spectacular – at 3.2 metres, definitely the tallest we’ve ever grown and they’re certainly giving the beans a run for their money. Gorgeous, gorgeous things!

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I can’t find words to describe the state of the squash garden: in fact, it’s got to a point where I’m almost too nervous to go and look because to say they have taken over is the understatement of the year. They literally meet me on the path and have completely blocked the steps up to my salad patch. Cutting them back from around the leeks, purple sprouting broccoli and winter cabbages (all of which are thriving despite the encroaching jungle) was almost a machete job, not helped by the fact they have sent down strong little roots from their stems and anchored themselves down everywhere.

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Not that I’m complaining (much) because rummaging about with the hoe under those huge leaves revealed a plentiful crop. The ‘Crown Prince’ and ‘Guatemalan Blue’ are lounging about in full view on the terraces like sunbathing beauties but the butternuts are hidden in a sea of green . . . and what a crop there is lurking under there!

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After a slow start, the peppers have all burst into life and look set to crop for many months like they did last year. I have to confess to a complete pickle where plant labelling was concerned earlier in the year so I’m really not sure what we’ve got (actually, one of the reasons I keep a garden blog is so I can look back and check what I’ve planted!) but we are eating a yellow ‘Sweet Banana’ and a bell variety which I think is ‘Carmagnola’, with what looks like Red Marconi’, ‘Golden Cal Wonder’ and ‘Padron’ to follow.

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Our beat-the blight tomato experiment has been interesting. We have kept all the plants out of the garden soil and instead planted them in sterile containers and placed them in several different positions around the house and garden. The good news is that we have certainly enjoyed far more tomatoes than last year, not a huge glut but enough for regular pickings for salads and the barbecue; the best performers have been the cherry variety ‘Sungold’ and the plum ‘Roma’. The bad news is that, even though it took much longer to happen this year, they have all succumbed to blight (although they are continuing to send out new growth and ripen fruit). I think we will give it one more try next year, focusing on some blight-resistant varieties and hiding some plants away from the mountain mist in a polytunnel. At the end of the day, if we never manage huge crops of toms here, it really doesn’t matter: the local shops and markets are bursting with sun-drenched tomatoes in every shape, size and colour imaginable. We might not be able to grow them well here, but we certainly live in a country that can!

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Something that is growing very well is our little patch of sweetcorn and I am so thrilled as it’s years and years since we grew any. It’s looking very majestic next to a tripod of Asturian beans; not quite ‘three sisters’ although believe me, the third one would be in there if I hadn’t had my machete moment! There are some rather lovely self-set nasturtiums tangling themselves around the corn, I love it when things like that happen all on their own in the garden.

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Despite my neglect, a number of things I’ve raised from seed this year are making an impact in the garden now. There are several patches of hyssop, which is a plant I love; I’m not keen on the smell, which I would describe as ‘herbal with an undercurrent of fox’, but it is such a beautiful colour and bees can’t get enough of it.

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I’ve never grown asters from seed and they have been sooooooooo slow to get going but now they are making pretty little splashes of colour all over. I’m very excited about the morning glory, too; I planted it very late but it’s up and running and hopefully we should see the first flowers in the next few days.

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One lovely little surprise was a flower on the ‘Polish Spirit’ clematis we planted months ago as the tiniest stick on a root I’ve ever seen. Well, it’s obviously happy here!

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In truth, looking around I see colour and food everywhere. Despite my neglect, the garden has carried on merrily which is no great surprise, really. Nature knows what it’s doing . . . and that to my mind is a wonderful thing! 🙂

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4 thoughts on “Healthy neglect

  1. I can only dream of beans like yours! I’ve decided we live in brassica country – we’ll always have enough brassica. Interesting about removing the broccoli flowers. I quite like them in salads, but have decided to try your method to prolong the broccoli season a little longer. Your squashes, corn and peppers are looking fab, too. We’ve only got one sweetcorn this year (poor germination), but it looks happy. The squashes are finally coming along, too. How’s life in a house with a proper roof? I guess you’re still not much inside!

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  2. It’s funny, isn’t it, how different places are better for some things than others? If you can grow good brassicas then I guess you’ve got something pretty much all year round.Good to hear your squashes are on the way after their rough start, the tyres obviously did the trick! Life with a new roof is wonderful: no rushing about with buckets when it rains, no sootfalls through the ceiling and a new chimney that draws (we’ve lit the new stove briefly once as the builder wanted to check, it’s far too warm to have it in yet but it is going to make such a difference to us this winter). Now it’s just a small matter of finishing the rest of the house . . . 🙂

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  3. Your beans are especially enviable!
    We are definitely in the brassica zone this year – down to the basics with no fancy frills like tomatoes, aubergines (all of one fruit!), melons… We do have potatoes, courgettes, pointed and Savoy cabbages, kale, calabrese, garlic – enough to survive if not exactly to feast.

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  4. It’s a shame we can’t organise some sort of international food parcel swap, I would be very happy to send out beans, peaches and cucumbers at the moment! At least you have the basics (cold comfort, I know) and I am envious of all those beautiful berries and fungi you collect. Actually, I meant to tell you earlier that Sam proposed to Adrienne when they were foraging for whimberries . . . it’s good to know we at least got something right when raising him! 🙂

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