Honestly, how can it take so long to learn such simple lessons? I’m more than happy with the idea that gardening can keep you on a steep learning curve for a lifetime, but I really thought that what I’d be learning at this point could be made to sound more worthy of the length of the journey so far – that I could preach from lofty heights of hard-won wisdom.
I guess it’s part of the essential humbling of the gardener – perhaps of anyone working with nature.
The latest realization, as obvious as it sounds once you’ve heard it, is that every different vegetable has a fundamental critical mass, and that if you don’t have enough space to reach this number, it is hardly worth growing it at all.
This profound bit of simplicity emerges from frustration with my peas.
I’m not going to pretend, even in the interest of indulgent self-deprecation, that I ever thought that the single punnet of pea seedlings I planted in late September was going to produce much. And in my own defence (against my own argument – this is getting ridiculous), I’d never normally plant peas from seedlings anyway but I was hours away from going OS for a month, and wanted to stick a few things in that would be starting to produce upon my return. Having said all that, I should have known that a single punnet was never going to produce enough peas at any one time for even a single meal for my family of five. The best I’ve achieved so far is to add about 8 or 9 pods, sliced diagonally, to a salad. Lame indeed. I usually just pick them and munch away while I water. Useless.
If you’re veggie gardening, as I do, with limited space, and in my case in twelve raised beds 1.5 metres across, then there’s a heap of veggies that you just shouldn’t bother with.
For instance, I’ll never grow asparagus. As much as I love the idea of cutting brittle, turgid spears just minutes before cooking, there simply wouldn’t be any point unless I could ensure at least a dozen spears at a single picking. One or two a day would be more irritating than none, being enough to make you feel obliged to do something with them, but not enough to make anything worthwhile.
Neither is there any point in a single carrot. With baby carrots, you’ll want at least twenty at a time. If you’d like to achieve that for five meals, then guess how many you’ll need to germinate? (I say germinate rather than sow, as with carrots in particular, there’s a massive difference).
Lettuces, on the other hand, will remain a staple. A single lettuce can form the basis of a decent salad. At most you’ll want two. A punnet of 12 plants (or the equivalent sown from seed – far preferable) is therefore likely to contribute to between 6 – 12 meals.
Cabbages are so productive that you might only want half, or even a quarter, for a meal. That makes me lean towards the mini-types, as I rarely need to ingest cabbage more than once a month, so the refrigerated remains won’t last between usages. I’ve also come to the conclusion that the McCoy family really won’t want more than about six cabbages a year, so we plant accordingly.
Tomatoes might take up a fair bit of space, but there’s not really a critical mass issue. If you’ve enough of them, you can make vast quantities of pasta sauce, and if you’ve only one, you can add them to a sandwich.
I haven’t really thought about this enough to make a thorough list of the best and worst veggies to grow in limited space. That’s a long way off. But what emerges from the above realization is that there’s a linked question of how long vegies will last in the garden once ready to pick. That’d better wait for another post.