Who needs experts eh? For the last two years I have been amusing myself with a blog about retirement in the style of Brexit. Creating a fiction of my own life reflecting the absurdities of what Brexit leaders were saying and doing was better than banging my head against the wall. At times it was difficult to keep up with the chaos but I struggled on.
But all the time I was mocking with my lightweight blog, I was subconsciously doing it for real. I was ignoring the experts. The gardening experts.
My big retirement plan was to revive my vegetable plot and grow my own food. All retired English people know how to garden, don’t they? It’s built in, part of the culture, a natural skill, we can all do it, can’t we?
Before I started I read up on gardening: about the management of soil; the type of plants I may be able to grow easily; how to plant and space plants; what precautions to take; what problem may beset me in the shape of bugs, bacterial, viral and fungal infections; too much water; not enough water, it was a seemingly endless list.
By this time next year I’ll be self sufficient
Ah, sod that I thought. I’ve grown a few things before and I had a few mates who told me how easy it was so I just launched in, impatient to get results, dreaming of fresh, home grown food. Determination and belief is all I need, those problems I’ve heard about only happen to other people. I’m gifted with green fingers, just like all other retired English ladies and my garden is special. Who needed the experts? By this time next year I’ll be self sufficient.
It wasn’t cheap. I hadn’t realised I’d need quite so many bags of compost or so many canes for the beans; or how much water. And I didn’t know that I needed larger pots to get a decent crop. Or that you can’t just plant anything anywhere. And weeds, what do I do now? Which were the seedlings and which were the weeds?
But worst of all I didn’t know what to do when the plants developed problems. Was it serious or not; which of these bugs are friends or foes? How do I let in the insects to pollinate but keep out the little blighters that mine the leaves? Oh my god, how many diseases with spots can plants develop? Why are the fruits dropping before they are ripe and why have all the leaves curled up and fallen off my pepper plants?
I could bluff my success to other non-experts
Still I could bluff my success to other non-experts. I was often congratulated by those who knew what my garden had been like two years earlier, almost certainly because the derelict beds and overgrown plot looked orderly and neat. I produced enough fruit and veg to show friends and relatives. Look at this lovely aubergine and these juicy peppers. Try these deliciously sweet tomatoes or these fresh beans. They naturally assumed everything in the garden was just as rosy.
I am not self sufficient, and won’t be for years, my home grown veg has cost a lot more than supermarket shopping and I’ve had to adapt my diet to cope with the gluts. There are only so many times a week you can eat beans.
I learned the hard way that growing a few tomatoes in a grow bag on the patio or a few herbs in a trough on the window sill didn’t qualify me as a vegetable gardener, even on only an allotment size scale, and that being a retired English lady hadn’t bestowed magical gardening properties on me.
Last year’s solutions for this year’s problems
Before the start of my second season I resolved to follow more of the expert advice so I disinfected my greenhouse, my tools and pots; I found a more reliable and regular method of watering; I checked what size pots I needed for the different plants and I ALMOST but not quite followed the plant spacing guidelines (except for the onions and garlic which I measured to the centimetre) – surely I could squeeze in a few more?
The cost, the cost! Bigger pots lead to need for far more compost; insect mesh of various grades; cloche hoops; fertiliser; winter fleece; spray bottles; disinfectant, water troughs, capillary matting;
Last year it was hot and dry and it hadn’t occurred to me that the solutions I’d found for last year’s problems might not work when it is warm and humid with occasional hot then much cooler spells; and indeed some of those solutions may make things worse. Not to mention some of the spotty and mottled plants I dumped on the badly managed compost heap last year. I might have spread infection everywhere by now.
Reality catches up
It is going to take me a long time to develop the experience I need to run an efficient vegetable garden and I know that even experts face problems. The difference is they are more likely to recognise the problem and deal with it before it causes catastrophe than I am and they are much better at taking precautionary measures.
Wilful ignorance is bliss; head in the sand it won’t happen to me gives delusion of reassurance, then reality catches up. Fortunately I was only gardening for myself, not running a country.