vegetable growing

a (proper) tribute to my mum

It took me ages to find a decent Mothers’ Day card this year. First of all, I boycotted anything that was pink. My mother is not Barbie, nor does she wish to be. Then, pedant that I am, I had to eliminate anything with the apostrophe in the wrong place. (It goes after the ‘s’. This is not a day for one mother alone.) Then I had to pass over anything featuring high-heeled shoes, glittery hearts or ‘jokes’ about mothers lying in the garden while the men in the house burn the dinner. Seriously, in 2012 do we really still believe that men will starve if women are not in the kitchen?

Anyone know a woman whose favourite thing is popping kittens into flowerpots?

I’m sorry, Mum, but as you will know by now, the best I could find was a picture of a rather anodyne bunch of flowers. So by way of compensation, this blog post is for you. There are many things I can thank you for but I can honestly say that one of the most important is compost. Other people might laugh at this, but I know you will understand my appreciation.

You see, my mum has always been way ahead of her time. She was an environmentalist probably before the word was even invented. She has been gardening organically forever, certainly years and years before it was trendy. What she doesn’t know about comfrey and wormeries and rotation planting probably isn’t worth knowing.

But in the end the most important thing is compost. I honestly cannot remember a time when I did not know the difference between what went in the compost bin and what didn’t. Thanks to my mum, my sister and I are physically incapable of putting even a sliver of potato peel in a regular bin.  And thanks to my mum passing on her skills in this way, I am currently gardening quite successfully on heavy clay, made fertile and productive through the addition of copious quantities of home-produced compost.

Clematis 'Niobe' in our front garden last year. It has oodles of compost around its roots.

Another thing my mum was brilliant at was reading us stories, especially fantasy and fairy tales. But as you grow up, you have to leave that kind of magic behind. All the more reason to be grateful for compost then. Because no matter how often I see it, I will never grow tired of the magic that ensures that this

becomes this

Texture of chocolate cake - perfect!

which helps this

end up as this.

And of course then the whole cycle begins again. I can’t remember what those baby beets became in the kitchen, but I can guarantee that the peel and the roots went in the compost bin.

Thanks, Mum! Have a great day.

For anyone who needs them, there are some good instructions for making compost here.

Advertisements

the power of thinking little

Thinking little is not very fashionable these days. We are supposed to ‘reach for the stars’, ‘follow our dreams’ and above all ‘think big’.

Of course it is good to try and make the most of life, but these messages also carry a danger – they make it easy for us to fall into the trap of ‘all or nothing thinking’.

‘All or nothing thinking’ was explained to me at a depression management group a few years ago (and it must have been a good one because I haven’t needed to go back since!). The ‘all or nothing’ syndrome is the one that goes: ‘If I can’t write a work of great literature, I’d better not write at all.’ Or: ‘Since I have shouted at my children this morning, I am clearly a complete failure as a mother.’ It has been genuinely life changing to recognise this kind of thought pattern for the lie that it is.

Recently, I’ve seen how ‘all or nothing thinking’ can be the bane of the environmental movement too.The evidence on environmental degradation is, frankly, scary. What can one person do in the face of melting ice caps, increasing food shortages and peak oil?

Way back in the early 1970s, the US writer and farmer Wendell Berry wrote a prescient essay entitled ‘Think Little’. In it he argues that we have got so used to everything being done on a large scale – food production, government, protest movements – that we have lost sight of the fact that ‘there is no public crisis that is not also private’. He writes passionately about the importance of anyone who is concerned about the big problems of the day to start by ‘thinking little’.

A man who is trying to live as a neighbor to his neighbors will have a lively and practical understanding of the work of peace and brotherhood, and let there be no mistake about it – he is doing that work.

When it comes to the environmental crisis, Berry is clear: if you’re worried about it, start growing vegetables.

A person who is growing a garden, if he is growing it organically, is improving a piece of the world. He is producing something to eat, which makes him somewhat independent of the grocery business, but he is also enlarging, for himself, the meaning of food and the pleasure of eating.

Berry is not saying that our action on the environment should only be about our gardens, but he believes that growing vegetables can lead to a radical shift of mindset – one that is essential if there is to be any long-term change in the way we treat the world. As we reconnect with the way the soil and the weather work to produce food, so we grow in understanding of why our wasteful economy is so wrong. I can’t do him full justice here: if you haven’t already read it, it’s a must.

Berry and my depression management techniques have combined to give me fresh hope about our garden. Much as I love it, it is hardly your ideal piece of veg-producing ground. It’s looking particularly sad at the moment.

It can look quite pretty in the summer – here’s a family gathering in 2010. It would still be easy to moan about how small it is, how there’s too much paving and about that darned shed that takes up far too much room. But this is to venture into ‘all or nothing’ territory, too – ‘If I can’t have an allotment or better still a smallholding, there’s no point in trying to grow more food.’ What rubbish! And how ungrateful!

Inspired by Berry, I have determined to ‘think little’ about producing more food this growing season. This means two main things for me: first, not to worry about what we can’t do. It is better to start slowly, with something small, than not to start at all. And second, to look out for all the nooks and crannies, the tiny, hidden places, where an extra plant could be stuffed in.

Like this primrose, somehow surviving in a drystone wall.