Having a vegetable plot teaches you a lot about the world. I feel the weather much more than I ever did back in the UK. To be fair, that lovely Gulf Stream keeps us warm and wet. The winters seem to have been worse the last two years I was in England, including weather like this:
In fact, it was so bad the two winters before I came here that I lost almost a month’s worth of work. I wasn’t skype-friendly then. Last year, when we had a cold snap in France and I couldn’t get out, I taught by skype.
But this year has been a disaster in so many ways. First, that cold, cold snap.
I had icicles as long as trees, and no matter how much wood we burned in the day, getting up to 23 or 24 degrees inside, it was always 11 or 12 degrees by morning. I slept in the front room. My bedroom was 5 degrees.
Then the blossoms came. They were a little late, and the cold put paid to some of the early blooms.
That was okay. We had the promise of fruit. There was plenty of blossom. A long, hard cold snap is no deterrent to nature.
But then it rained. And rained. And rained. And temperatures dipped. From high twenties, it was back down to low teens in the day. And it did that pretty much all of April.
The insects disappeared. The blossom went unpollinated. The cold tricked my onions into setting seed.
But as the matron of husbandry points out, a bad year for one thing is a bumper year for something else.
Last year was terrible for potatoes. This year, less so. Last year, fantastic for tomatoes. I harvested over 30 kg. This year, I’ve not even had a kilogram. Partly that was to do with planting, but in general, any of the ratatouille crops have been a bit thin. My courgettes got hit by early cold. Then I had to plant some more. They came up and got hit by late drought. It hasn’t now rained properly since July. And it’s been hot.
So what’s been naughty?
No tomatoes. No aubergines. No courgettes. No gherkins. No lettuce. No pak choi (which bolted from two leaves… I’m leaving it til after midsummer next year, following Susan’s advice) No sweetcorn to speak of. Small onions and lots of bolting. No plums, no cherries, no apples, some pears, small quinces, no walnuts. Few grapes. No leeks. No turnips. No swedes.
And what’s been nice?
Peas. Peas and broad beans. Borlotti beans. More peas. More broad beans. Carrots. Beetroot. Oh, glorious beetroot. Lots of hazelnuts, lots of blackberries, lots of redcurrants and blackcurrants. Lots of cabbage. And weeds galore.
I’m a big fan of diversity. I practice companion planting, which works very well. My onions, carrots, beetroots and radish sets all did remarkably well, and not just because of the rain. They like being with each other and keep pests away.
And, of course, my flower garden, in the courtyard, was fine. It’s well-sheltered and well within watering grasp.
As it is, the vegetable year is over, and it’s not just on this side of the Atlantic that it’s been a bit of a hit-and-miss year. This post from Matron of Husbandry tells how it’s been in the Pacific Northwest. Of course, that place is mahoosive compared to mine. And this old Iowa guy explains why he doesn’t have crop insurance. It sounds a lot like the crops round here – corn and sunflowers almost exclusively. However, there are more and more wheat fields and colza fields and barley fields in there. It’s shame most of this is animal feed. That tells you a lot. Meat-eating is not only labour-intensive but commands almost all of the fields round here not given to grape production for cognac or pineau. Most crops for people seem to be grown up north in poly-tunnels, or in Holland and Belgium. I did see a field full of onions though. That was a nice sight. Especially since they’d gone to seed. It made me feel like less of a crap gardener.
There’s something about a crop failure that always makes me blame myself.
But what is true in the garden is true of life. Sometimes, there are crap years. Sometimes there are productive years. It’s a combination of being enough ant and enough grasshopper to both profit from them by storing for the future as well as enjoying the here and now. If I hadn’t frozen and bottled most of those tomatoes from last year, or those courgettes, I’d have none. As it is, there will be enough to take me through to next year.
This year, peas and beetroot have been my ‘pay-it-forward’ crops. That’s not so good, but if it looks like being crappy next year too, I’ll be more prepared and more wise. Such is life. You learn from this year so you can make provisions in the future. Being in tune with the weather means I’m much more at ease with what it can bring.
As Maddie said of a soap opera when told it couldn’t get any worse, she said: “well, there could be a tornado…” and she’s right of course.
There could always be a tornado…