Vegetable dilemmas

It’s the weirdest thing.  You grow vegetables in order to eat them, right?  How is it, then, that when the time comes to pick, the knife can hover over them, poised for the kill, but waver in vacillation?

I’m not, like Villandry (below), in the business of growing vegies for their visual appeal (though they’re undeniably pretty). DSC_0129

So you’d think that the harvest would be relatively dilemma-free.  But detection of distant, quietly rumbling dilemmas is something of a superpower of mine (being of the conviction that I don’t actually face any more dilemmas than the average, I’m just better at detecting their presence and bolder (or stupider) about confessing them), and there’s a few (very small) hurdles that get in my way when its time to pick.

My beetroot and lettuce bed, being fattened for the kill.  My much-loved Clematis x durandii in the foreground.

My beetroot and lettuce bed, being fattened for the kill. My much-loved Clematis x durandii in the foreground.

Firstly, there’s the questions – is this the best time to pick?  Should I wait a bit longer?  I’m rarely tempted to pick before anything has reached, say 80% of its size potential.  The trouble is that at this stage of their growth, they’re often growing like the clappers, and if you don’t start eating into a crop earlyish, it’s probable that some of it will be past its best, possibly even inedible, by the time you get to it.

The carrot bed from which I'm currently picking, and may well have left my run too late.  Complete with now-obsolete anti-cat palisade still in place.

The carrot bed from which I’m currently picking, and may well have left my run too late. Complete with now-obsolete anti-cat palisade still in place.

Carrots I sowed back in August (to roaring success, thanks to my new winter-sowing theory that took a mere 30 years of gardening to think up) were really too small to eat about a fortnight ago.  We ate some of the thinnings, but they were tiny, and hilariously fussy to prepare.  Now the biggest of the carrots are at serious eating size, and I’m starting to panic about whether we’ll get through them while they’re still at their best.  And then there’s the later crop racing along behind.  It’s freaky.

The kind of stuff we're picking now, from a mid-August sowing.  I didn't space the seed very well, hence the variation in size.  But even in a well-spaced crop you'll get some variation, which is useful when you're picking over several weeks.  These could last in the ground for several months, if it wasn't for the fact that I can't water over summer.  That's my deadline.

A sample of the carrot crop sown 13-8-14. I didn’t space the seed very well, hence the dramatic variation in size. But even in a well-spaced crop you’ll get some variation, which is useful when you’re picking over several weeks. These could last in the ground for several months, and still have plenty of growing potential, if it wasn’t for the fact that I can’t water over summer. That’s my deadline. Brick paving there for scale…

Likewise the beetroot (sown 25-9-14).  We ate some weeny baby ones a couple of weeks back, though it felt like a bit of a waste.  They’ve positively ballooned since, and now I’m thinking that half the crop will be oversized and woody by the time we get to them.

IMG_2818

But once I’m past that dilemma, the next, and bigger, one looms.  Now this is really lame, but I’ve got to acknowledge it.  I often hesitate over picking, simply because I don’t want to spoil the look of fullness – of spilling abundance – that is so much of the charm of a good vegie garden.  I mean, I’ve nurtured these plants for months, protecting them here, and nudging them along there, and their success – there for all to see – is an (albeit minor – lets keep things in perspective) source of pride.  It’s worse still when they’re all in nice, evenly spaced, highly geometric rows. I know I’m going to spoil it eventually, for the vegies must be eaten, but is now the right moment?

Moments later the job is done, and I’m heading for the kitchen.

The follow-up carrot crop, sown 19-9-14 - the seed much more carefully spaced due to 1) the expense of this particular F1 hybrid seed and 2) the rare occurrence of me following the instructions on the seed packet

The follow-up carrot crop, sown 19-9-14 – the seed much more carefully spaced due to 1) the expense of this particular F1 hybrid seed and 2) the rare occurrence of me following the instructions on the seed packet

 

 

 

 

 

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10 thoughts on “Vegetable dilemmas

  1. I liken this situation to a hedge cut, indeed a haircut. Just as the cut achieves it’s full potential and looks really good it grows too long and it is time to cut again.
    There is no stasis in nature and perfection is ephemeral!

    • Perhaps a blessing but unfortunately not a dilemma in my veggie patch what with a grandchild and partner who enthusiastically pick without aesthetic consideration

  2. Just to add an additional dimension to this conundrum (‘cos I can…), I find myself apologising to all the itty bitty seedlings that I must thin from carefully but exuberantly sown beds. Carrots are the worst at pricking my conscience whilst I am pricking them out. They are just so tiny, and full of potential, and here I am ripping them out so that I can have the neat, well-spaced rows necessary for good production. I require at least a couple of glasses of red to ease the guilt.

    It is sooooooo good to know I am not alone in this :)

    • I don’t find myself apologizing to the dead and dying, but I kind of expect that those left behind will strike in a symbolic move of solidarity with the dead. I’ve gotta say, every bit of time spent carefully spacing the seed of those carrots in the last pic was time well spent, saving me hours of thinning-stress.

  3. Yes, here too. Trying to guess the size of the carrots by scraping the soil around the tops and pulling up the biggest can get the gap tooth effect which REALLY ruins the look. I should admit though that I plant carrots as an edging on my vege beds and have great difficulty harvesting any of them. :)

  4. Totally agree with you, Michael, and Janna! Some time in the past I had left the curly purple lettuce to grow and flower among other plants just because it looked too cute to kill. In the vegetable garden proper, if anything grows past pick-and-eat date, can’t we just pretend it was designed that way? Carrot flower heads look so pretty, and last well in the vase. The huge white fluffy “brooms” of overgrown broccoli it not just nice to look at, but the bees love them too… Do we need any more excuses to procrastinate? :-)

    • Wow, I am super impressed that you have worked out vase life on your veggies, Adele. I have much to learn! Mind you, you’re doing better than me if you manage to pick flowers from the garden – such a hard thing to do!

  5. I share your dilemma. I too hate to spoil the look of fullness. I often find myself waiting until after a visitor has been and gone before harvesting! OR finding myself explaining to the visitor that “you should have been here earlier as the recently harvested veggie was amazing and they would have been impressed. Freud would have something to say about all this!!

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