Quite literally the latest catastrophe of 2020 is…
Blight on my tomatoes took out over half of my plants and crops.
I spent most of yesterday triaging them all, deciding which I could possibly save, picking the green tomatoes that had not yet rotted from the ones I could not, and cutting back the infected leaves and fruit from the ones I am hoping will make it. It was devastating. All that time and money? For this?
I have been planning an update for a couple of weeks now. Quite frankly, I simply got burned out by my special series and life. Every day on my Twitter feed and the news, something bad happened. And just when you thought it could not get any worse – it did. I felt like I was one of those biblical prophets, crying in the wilderness…and no one was listening. So, as most of them did, I ran and hid.
In my garden and writing.
Not that that is as bad as ‘god’ always made it sound. Sometimes, we all need to take a mental health day, or week, or month, or a few years. And it was not like I wasn’t doing anything.
That is just a bit of the produce of my fields…
Honestly, since mid-May, our @HomeCrazzyHome has not only been mostly self-sufficient in vegetables and fruit, but we have shared the bounty with others. I have gone from using words like ‘garden’ and ‘grow your own’ to #urbanfarm and #urbanhomestead. This blight aside that is remarkable.
Even the blight illustrates the most important lessons I have learned from this season…
Grow what is native to your area…
Tomatoes are not native to rainy Wales. And while they do like all that water from the heavens, they simply are not getting enough sunshine to thrive. I have struggled with my corn and squash in the same way.
On the other hand, those native plants like my kale, spinach, lettuces, and peas have thrived. Kale especially. The six plants that I grew provided meals at least twice a week.
That is the other lesson…
Plant what your family eats…
We love kale. I had never eaten or even heard of it until I moved to Wales. Now, it is suppossedly some super food, whatever those are. But it was my partner that introduced me to it. It is super to me because:
- It is delicious – steamed or par boiled with just salt and a spritz of lemon. It has become one of my favorite vegetables. And when I am dieting as you see, half of plate is kale.
- It is easy to cook – as I said, steam it or boil for a couple of minutes, but you can also deep fry to make a crispy relish or even bake. You can add it to soups and stews. Or with things like quinoa.
- It is easy to grow – Of everything I have grown, kale may be the simplest and most productive.
But we also are huge fans of peas. That is the one vegetable that I did not manage to be self-sufficient with. But that is because of the sheer amount of peas that we consume in a week. If I ever ask Alan what vegetable he wants, it is almost always peas.
Of course, those tomatoes were one time that this rule backfired. I love tomatoes, but when they are homegrown, picked fresh from the vine they become a uniquely different species – a mater. And I have gotten some this year, and may still get plenty. I got greedy, I over invested in something that does not grow well in this area.
Speaking of which, squash. This one has been my biggest mistake this year. First of all, the squashes whether courgette/zucchini, butternut/acorn, or pumpkin take up HUGE amounts of space. I bought 80 liter plastic storage tubs to plant most of mine in. Even companion planting them with their natural counterparts, corn and peas (Native Americans called this combination the Three Sisters and many felt it was sacred), that was a substantial investment of resources: the cost of containers and compost as well as that precious garden space. For a non-native plant that has struggled. I had plenty of blooms, but only half of those produced fruit. And of that fruit, at least half rotted on the vine because it was too wet. Even then…I had more squash than we could eat. Alan won’t eat it at all, and honestly just how much zucchini can one fat chick consume? Most of it has gone to friends and neighbors. Next year, I will be much more judicious about this one.
And of course, the other lesson…
Eat in season…
That was easier growing up in America. In South Carolina, Texas, and California, you could grow almost year round. Maybe not maters, but other things. Here in rainy Wales, that is a bit more of a challenge. Not because we are that much colder than South Carolina, at least, but being this far north, the amount of daylight is much, much less.
Even then, I discovered last year that some things to manage to ‘grow.’ That is not quite accurate. They don’t really grow as much as they survive. That means planting them now, so that they are fully grown by September or October. Leaving them in the ground is sort of like an outdoor larder or refrigerator.
And there are several that do really well here, in fact: kale, onions, leeks, brussel sprouts, and cabbages. You can even manage to get a second crop of peas, carrots, and potatoes with good planning and some luck. That is what I am doing as soon as I finished this blog – transplanting some of my fall/winter veg into those pots that held the dead tomatoes.
Is it possible to be self-sufficient if you live in an urban environment?
Yes and no. Self-sufficiency is mostly a myth. An unsustainable dream like happiness. Something that is fleeting. Sometimes, yes, and other times, no. Even in those ‘good old days’ (that never were), a single family was never self-sufficient. It took a boarder community to achieve that.
That is probably another failing of this season. I have several friends and neighbors, who also grew their own (though not to this degree). Unfortunately, there was a vast amount of duplication of work. While my best garden buddy and I exchanged seedlings several times, we had not planned our resources well, it was mere happenstance.
Having said that, we came incredibly close to not only being self-sufficient in terms of vegetables but to achieving that #urbanfarm level. Fruit was a weakness. While my strawberries did wonderful, that was the only fruit that I planted. That is one my agenda for the future.
With the notable exception of peas, I have had to buy very little vegetables since mid-May.
But to achieve that I had to be adaptable. Take radishes, for instance. I hate radishes, almost as much as Alan does squash. But they are incredibly easy and quick to grown, and great companion plants for loads of other things. But I still could not force myself to eat the darn things, especially raw in salads. So, I googled them. And discovered I prefer them roasted, even more than potatoes. With butter and a bit of cinnamon, they are fantastic.
Like the old adage says…
If life gives you lemons, make lemonade.old midwives everywhere
So, if it rains tomorrow like they predict, this girl is going to be making…
Salsa verde…green tomato ketchup…green tomato chutney…and yes, green tomato pie.
Well, off now to those brussel sprouts, leeks, autumn peas, and cabbage. Oh, and next week, I’ll share with you some more specific changes I’m going to make next year.
Until then, goddess bless and provide for you and yours,