RURAL magazine’s gardening correspondent, Gill Maccabe, ‘gardens for victory’ during lockdown
AS others have sewn scrubs and face masks for victory, our household has gone into full time salad production. Forget the moniker Gill Maccabe keen amateur gardener, I’m feeling pretty professional now.
As soon as it became obvious that my almost daily trip to the local store for salad leaves would in no way be deemed essential, I realised I had to raise my game and devote more space to growing vegetables. I had always hankered after raised beds, had always admired those in friends’ houses – and of course Monty Don has them.
Quotes were gathered and many were thrown out – when did a humble railway sleeper become so expensive? Eventually some eight weeks ago an area of the garden near the compost heap was cleared and the process began. Our plans became more adventurous as the day went on until eventually we ended up with a six sq. metre area with sides three sleepers high and with a length of pole sticking out from each corner. The idea is that sweet peas will grow and cling onto these, making an attractive frame of seductive colour and scent, a feast of pale blues and pinks, drawing the eye away from the business end behind with its serried ranks of lettuce and kale.
The new raised area is already draining far better than what was there previously and I have been able to build up a growing area rich in humus and bone meal and all the other good things the underlying ground didn’t have, plus the height protects the growing plants from predatory slugs and any pests that our companion planting marigolds and nasturtiums don’t attract first. Finally, I have not had one twinge of backache.
I settled on triangular beds within the square as I had read somewhere that was easier to plant and weed, the jury is still out on that one but it is early days.
We decided against potatoes as we don’t really need the calories and anyway we have a world class potato grower with a stall five minutes cycle away. The idea was to have enough salad vegetables, beetroot, swiss chard, kale and spring onions in the raised beds, for all the extended family and friends, leaving the established vegetable beds for beans, courgettes, tomatoes, raspberries, artichokes and (fingers crossed) aubergine.
Germination began in earnest in mid- March, as the potting shed became my happy place far away from Covid 19 press conferences. I whiled away many happy rainy hours listening to music or Woman’s Hour on Radio 4 filling all sorts of containers such as cardboard egg boxes with soil and seeds, identifying each one with an old lollipop stick or similar with the seed name and date scrawled in pencil.
Every two weeks as seedlings grew three or four leaves, I sowed more and so on. I`ve learnt quickly that the first must-haves are the cut-and-come-again salads – you harvest the leaves, leaving the roots to continue to grow. You can start picking at one end of a line and by the time you get to the other, the leaves where you started have regrown.
For the last two weeks a bowl of home-grown salad leaves, rocket, spinach, garlic chives, parsley, swiss chard and baby kale have been at the centrepiece of every lockdown lunch. I pop out to the patch with my scissors two minutes before the gong is banged and the taste is fresh and exquisite, and the supplies show no signs of slowing down. If you don’t have the space, then cut and come again salad leaves can grow happily in deep pots in a sunny corner of your windowsill or balcony.
I’m not alone. Caryl Kemp, the managing director at Samarès Manor and Botanical Gardens who has been involved in gardening, teaching and garden design locally for over 37 years and was the head of the landscape department at Durrell for many years, has been inundated with telephone queries about vegetable planting as well as the more usual herbs which Samarès has long been famous for, and so a new line has been born. She is expecting the first vegetable plants to be ready for sale within the next week or so in mid-May and should you wish you can send in a picture of your patch and Caryl will design a vegetable and herb border for you.
They are operating a free Island-wide delivery service on all orders over £30 to all those who are self-isolating. There is a huge stock list available, call 870551 or email email@example.com for details. The shop only is now open from Monday to Friday 10-2pm and Saturday and Sunday 10-4pm. Unfortunately, the Manor grounds are not open yet but we will keep you informed as and when things change.
For those who have left it too late or don’t have the space for vegetable growing, a Facebook page and digital map highlighting some of the scores of honesty box stalls dotted around Jersey selling local produce grown or harvested on farms and allotments has been created to help Islanders find what they are looking for. Campaigner Bethan Watkins, who RURAL magazine featured last year with her local food challenge is behind the project that has collated over 50 stalls, farm shops and organic stores with more being added daily.
You can find the digital map online as Hedge-Veg map Jersey. The associated Facebook page is called The Jersey Honesty Box – Hedge Row produce.