It was all going so well. My plan this year was to get from mid April to October without having to buy any lettuce. After an inspirational day with Charles Dowding, the salad growing guru, I even harboured ideas of winter lettuce. Gone would be the bag of soggy salad leaves with all the verve and vigour of a teenager in the morning. We would be self-sufficient in lettuce and leaves; that shouldn’t be too hard. In the past it’s been my organisation, or lack of it, that has let me down. Starting off well, I then forget to keep up with the sowing regime for the holy grail of successional crops and, inevitably there ends up being a gap.
This year would be different and it really would have been, if it hadn’t been for the slugs and snails. It started well with harvests of ‘Freckles’, ‘Rubens’, ‘Dazzler and ‘Little Gem’ all from the plot. I was priding myself on how organised I was being by sowing some trays of salad leaves before we went on holiday, in June, so that these would follow on from those at the allotment. I prefer to grow salad leaves in containers at home. I did try them in the ground last year but they were quickly infiltrated by weeds and at one point it was hard to distinguish what was weed and what was edible leaf.
Well they say pride comes before a fall and, whilst my organisation skills may have improved, my ability to protect my salad leaves from slug attack hasn’t. Three troughs and a large pot have all been annihilated. One container was 6ft off the ground, for heaven’s sake. All I can say is slugs must have an incredible sense of smell. They even bypassed hostas to climb the equivalent of a mountain to them, to dine out on my specialist Italian salad leaf mix. The tiny seedlings which had appeared just before we went on holiday had gone by our return.
I’ve resown twice and moved the containers but each time, just as I see little green shoots emerging, they disappear just as quickly. Strangely lettuce on the plot hasn’t been touched, thanks I can only think to the resident song thrushes and blackbirds but in recent weeks with warmer weather my plot salads have bolted and now reside on the compost heap.
And so, with a sense of guilt and disappointment a bag of salad leaves and some cos lettuce made its way into the shopping trolley at the weekend. I never expected to be self-sufficient when I took on the plot but I think because lettuce is so easy to grow that I should at least be able to achieve it with them. We had some non-gardening friends stay with us back in June and when we were preparing food they kept asking what was from the plot and it felt a little embarrassing that so little of it was from there. Similarly, looking in the trolley at the weekend I did think we should be buying less vegetables in August. Surely the plot should be providing more. I’ve accepted that without a greenhouse and living in the damp west of Britain with perfect blight conditions that tomatoes are a lost cause. Carrots are impossible on the carrot-fly ridden allotment and although I’ve had tasty baby carrots grown in containers at home these were never going to mean I could stop buying carrots over the summer. The courgettes have been slow to get going and I’m by no means inundated. I’m actually missing my courgette glut. Peppers, and aubergines both need the extra warmth of a greenhouse. I had about a month supply of new potatoes but don’t want to devote more space to spuds.
My plot growing is still in its infancy, as this is only my second season, so some of it is learning what is most productive and easy to grow but it’s also accepting that the veg growing portrayed by the glossy gardening magazines isn’t always the reality that the majority of us experience. Just as with other aspects of the media constantly showing us images of what constitutes perfection, the immaculate house, the flawless body, the most desirable products there is a danger of ‘growing your own’ becoming another element of our lives where we feel we have to live up to ideas of perfection. There is an immense feeling of satisfaction when I can cook a meal from the plot but to do this is difficult to achieve over a sustained period. Perhaps the disparity between the portrayal of fruit and veg growing in the media and the actuality of it is one of the reasons why many new allotment holders hand back their plots after a few years. The idea of the River Cottage type utopia is very enticing but the reality is somewhat different.
I have salad seedlings on the go and I’m keeping a close eye out for further slug attacks but whilst I wait for them to achieve an edible size I guess I shouldn’t feel guilty that my plans didn’t quite come to fruition.