At least we'll have tomatoes...

I started growing veg a couple of years ago. We did a massive renovation of a couple of workers cottages into our home and, when we moved into it, we turned over the ground in the walled garden and it became a blank canvas for growing veg.

The size of the area was instantly overwhelming! It's about 20msq and was just soil and weeds. I initially went at it with big plans to turn it into a mixture or garden and veggies, but that first year was a lesson in just how much work is involved in maintaining a garden, let alone one where the weeds have run free for years and years!

I did, however, put in some 'investment' plants - lots of raspberry canes both summer and autumn fruiting and a strawberry bed were first. I bought a second hand 6m x 3m polytunnel from someone in the East Neuk and he had a lot of strawberries in it that he gave us too. I also planted a blackcurrant bush, some rhubarb, a few blueberry bushes, a fig and a couple of apple trees. Oh, and a friend gave me some quince too. A few of these have had a couple of relocations during their time too. Most of the fruit grows along the walls of the garden, capturing the most of the sunshine: the blackcurrants do well here, as do the raspberries. The blueberries have always struggled, and I'm not sure why, but I expect they lose out on nutrition to the dock leaves that rule the roost where they are. The rasps are prolific!

I've tried various other things over the years, and tried to keep up with it all, but it was always a battle I lost. The garden and I have reached more of a mutual agreement now. We grow Jerusalem artichokes which spread across one corner. We grow peas and beans which do well in the warmth there, but can withstand the wind. I have hops growing up another wall which is vigorous enough to thrive. Otherwise, I take my chances! I try to grow plants which are strong, healthy and large enough to stand their ground amongst the barrage of weeds waiting to resurrect themselves...

I also have a long strip of land at the front of ours which my father-in-law kindly lets me grow in. Last year, we employed the services of a local farmer with a seeder and belts to sow the heirloom carrots and neeps you all so enjoyed. And David (my husband) is in charge of the potatoes, and does a brilliant job. This year, he'd been on the lookout for our own seeder at the local farm auctions. We kept missing out on them by quite a way, so were doubtful we'd get one...and then just the other month, he won one! And a potato harvester too. Needless to say, they need some work, but if anyone can get them going, David can! I'm not sure it will be this year - we may need the services of our local friend again - but it feels like a big step in the right direction!

For this year, I bought some trays of plants to provide some veggie staples for people. I opted for veggies which can sit in the ground happily for a long time or which store well and aren't all ready at the same time. The trays arrive on chosen weeks of the year thankfully, not all at once. Each contain around 120 plants. We've ordered courgettes, onions, leeks, cabbage and sprouts. It's a big investment - financially and time wise, even though it's a fraction of the scale others operate on - but, as with many other things we're doing this year - it's an experiment! The yellow courgettes went in a couple of weeks ago and have struggled with the poor weather, but they are still hanging on in there: hopefully they will pick up soon. In response to my (subtle) call for help, a few valued volunteers helped plant the leeks and onions this weekend as well, as they'd been sitting in their boxes for a week and were starting to yellow a bit. Fingers crossed we get some heat now, or we will be struggling...!

The polytunnel, on the other hand, is thriving! It's always warm in there and there are many happy veggies growing away. To be fair, a few of them shouldn't be in a polytunnel, they should be outside! But we'd have been left wanting if we'd done that this year. I put in some strawberry plants and bought some cucumbers (I lost young seedlings during an April cold snap), but everything else, I'm growing from seed in here. It has effectively been my greenhouse to germinate seedlings too. I've curly kales and cavolo nero, different chards which growing well, along with lettuces along the front of beds. These have been available to purchase in small amounts.

A large side of the tunnel is dedicated to cucumbers with a smattering of self-seeded celery from last year. At the back left, I have a 'regrow' patch where I replant leeks and garlic which has sprouted - they tend to bolt rather than make new veg, but that's still great for producing seeds.

Along the back, I have sweetcorn plants and some courgettes: the soil at the back isn't as good, I don't know why, it gets lots of manure, but I think it drains so well, there's a constant drought! I've a few cabbage varieties at the back right, running into some spring onions, radicchio, beetroot, chard, then into brassicas - calabrese (green sprouting broccoli rather than the solid broccoli heads), cauliflower, and purple sprouting broccoli. I've a little mizuna too, but it tends to bolt fast in the tunnel. Then, at the door, the asapragus I've grown from seed has it's forever home, alongside courgette plants I couldn't put outside and some dwarf purple, yellow and green beans.

Self seeded tomatoes taking over the polytunnel
Tomatoes everywhere!

In the middle, the plans I made in January might as well have gone in the fire! I've two beds. One was meant to be tomatoes surrounded by basil and flowers. It is currently ruled by 3 rogue purple sprouting broccoli plants, a rogue cabbage and a ton of self seeded tomatoes from last year. The other bed contains peas, which are doing beautifully), runner, broad and string beans undersown with beetroot and lettuce...which have promptly been superceeded by, yep, you guessed it, self-seeded tomatoes! In fact, they are cropping up everywhere! And to be honest, I'm happy to go with it. We love toma

toes and the flavour of them last year was first class. I was doubtful they'd grow this year as we had the chickens in there during chicken lockdown due to bird flu. But rather than destroying them, they seem to have pooped them out supercharged with fertiliser!

And I'll take it. The tunnel is a crazy growing space - plants can appear visibly larger overnight and new fruits can appear as if by magic. I love it, it constantly keeps me on my toes!

So, this year, when your choice of veggies is potatoes, carrots, neeps...and'll know why!

Emma x

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