Hands in the dirt, head in the sun

The glory of gardening: hands in the dirt, head in the sun, heart with nature. To nurture a garden is to feed not just on the body, but the soul. There is no gardening without humility. Nature is constantly sending even its oldest scholars to the bottom of the class for some egregious blunder. Alfred Austin

Abundant potato growth

Abundant potato growth

After a rather frantic week retrieving chickens from their holiday home (thank you Glad and Mr Glad for looking after them), retrieving dogs from the kennels (thank you Ann at Rhydlewis – a unique place where the dogs are cared for better than anywhere I know), attending a day-long trustees’ meeting and a learning guild get-together, as well as editing a couple of papers and doing piles of washing, I have finally managed to find some time to spend in the garden. During our two-week absence the potatoes have grown like mad and the raspberry canes have become laden with (as-yet unripe) fruit; the mange tout are on their way up (the variety we are growing – yellow-podded – is tall) as are the runner beans; the courgettes and squashes are settling in and the onions are flowering – boo! As always, some things do well and some don’t, but that is the way of the world and gardening does not come with a guarantee.

Squash, corn and beans doing well

Squash, corn and beans doing well

Anyway, overall the week has been quite stressful, but a few hours in the garden are good therapy. I find gardening to be remarkably good for my state of mind – it gives me time to think, as well as allowing me to be both creative and peaceful. I love seeing plants grow that I have nurtured from seed. Even when it comes to the time that they have to be removed, knowing that what is left will go on the compost heap and contribute to the next cycle is immensely satisfying.

But, reading an article in The Guardian today by Alys Fowler, I discover that gardening is not good for me just because of all the things that I’ve mentioned, but also because there are bacteria  (specifically Mycobacterium vaccae) in the soil that have a beneficial effect on health. These bacteria boost production of seratonin (which is a mood regulator) and help to build a healthy immune system if we come into direct contact with them. So, there you are – get out there and get your hands dirty and you really will be improving your health and happiness!

A good use of space

Exactly year ago I wrote a post describing a small patch of ground at the end of our house that was completely unused and explained my plans to make it into a productive area. We had mixed fortunes with it because of the weather, but the containers that we planted up did yield good crops of both mange tout (grown up the fence) and lettuce, as well as some delicious potatoes and oca. We are hoping that we will have better growing weather this year and that this little area will provide us with lots of food again.

I've got a plan!

I’ve got a plan!

Over the past few weeks we have been planting up a variety of ‘containers’ for this spot: dumpy bags with four different sorts of potatoes in them, bags containing oca, pots of mange tout and what was previously a rather unsuccessful strawberry planter that has now been planted up with lettuce and basil. I started off with a design on paper, based on our successes last year. It’s not fully implemented yet and I have been making slight adjustments as I go, but I’m feeling very hopeful.

The potatoes are growing in a mixture of garden compost, grass clippings, shredded paper and cardboard all contained in the big bags that building materials are delivered in. As the grass breaks down it releases heat and so that should boost growth and help the plants along even if the weather is poor this summer. Rather than ‘earthing up’ we will be ‘grass and papering up’ as the season progresses.

Potatoes in dumpy bags and a strawberry planter seeded with lettuce and basil

Potatoes in dumpy bags and a strawberry planter seeded with lettuce and basil

One of the real joys here is that the only things that cost us anything were the seed potatoes (all blight resisters). In fact, the whole of this area is based around waste products, homemade items and things that we already had lying around the garden. So, fingers crossed this year for abundance in this tiny part of the garden!

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