When in doubt, dig.

I expect that I am echoing people up and down the country, around the globe. This is starting to feel very real.

This week has been about adjusting to a new normal. And then another new normal comes along. And then another.

I was exhausted by Friday. I expect you were too.

It is a mental exhaustion. It is exhaustion from hungrily watching a screen all day in video conference calls. Seeing the faces of my friends and colleagues. Wanting to reach out to them, so that we feel one another’s support.

It is exhaustion from worry. Worries which chase us through sleep, and are there to greet us in the morning.

Despite mental exhaustion, or maybe because of it, I have a thirst for movement. For the outdoors. For purposeful activity.

The best purposeful activity I know is digging.

Stevie and I have been talking recently about increasing food production. We have been thinking a lot about living more sustainably. I have been reflecting that a lot of my gardening is about flower production, and wondering if more it should be about food production.

We have about seventy-five square metres of raised beds in which we (well, Stevie) grow veg. We vary what we grow each year, but it might include purple-sprouting broccoli, leeks, onions, garlic, cabbages, cauliflowers, potatoes, peas, beans (broad, french and runner), courgettes, squash, sweetcorn, beetroot, carrots, parsnips, turnips, asparagus, artichokes (globe and farty), tomatoes, cucumbers, chillis and salad leaves. We have a fruit cage of strawberries, raspberries, blackcurrants, white currants, redcurrants and gooseberries. We have a rhubarb patch. And finally fruit trees: apple, pear, plum, damson, greengage, quince (so far fruitless), mulberry (getting there), apricot (swoon), fig (swoon and fall over, eyes rolled back).

This sounds like loads. But spread across a whole year, or more like six months, given that the harvest is minimal from November to May, it does not feed a family. Some crops fail. Probably a quarter of these crops will be disappointing. Seeds don’t all germinate, slugs and snails get hungry, pigeons too, the crop bolts and runs to seed when your back is turned.

So, we concluded, some more planting space would be welcome. We thought this as we gazed out at the lawn.

I was also looking for a project. A family project. You know, something that would get us all outside. And teach our girls an important life skill.

So yesterday morning, out we all went.

Making measurements

Stevie and I have a very different approach to making a new bed. Whilst I tend to just start digging and hope for the best, Stevie likes to measure. Thoroughly. It involves pegs and lines, a fair bit of pacing, and a fair bit of head-scratching.

His beds end up being straight. Mine are kind of wobbly.

Cutting and lifting turf

We also discovered we had a different technique when lifting turf. I dig a deep clod and then shake off the soil. Stevie said this was removing too much top soil.

He showed me his technique of cutting in sideways and rolling the turf. It was hard. I couldn’t do it.

So Stevie did his thing, along with Cate, and I emptied the wheelbarrow. I made a nice lego stack of upside down turf at the end of the compost bays. In a year or so, this will have rotted down to a nice friable consistency, and we can feed it back to the beds.

I couldn’t help admiring my tulips as I waited for more barrow-loads of turf.

Ziggy and Ruby appreciate a nice tulip too.

It’s easy to get distracted by tulips.

Tulips ‘Cerise Parrot’ and ‘Showcase’. The first to flower in my raised beds.

Now it might not have escaped your notice that I appear to have two raised beds full of tulips. Could these be used for vegetables?

If things get desperate, maybe. But for now, the tulips are safe. I have 20 different varieties of dahlias potted up in the greenhouse to move into these beds once the tulips are done. You can eat dahlia tubers. They are, apparently, similar to potatoes.

Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.

For now, let’s get digging.

Objective achieved! All the family is digging! Oh, except me.

Once my younger daughter joined in and took over the wheelbarrowing and turf-lego stacking, there weren’t enough jobs to go around.

I decided I should make the tea. And a cake. I made ‘lockdown simnel cake’. I had to make a few substitutions owing to restricted ingredients, but it turned out pretty well.

And, a couple of hours later, as if my magic, we have a new potato bed!

We will grow potatoes in the first year to break up the soil. Then we will add some goodness to it in the form of home-made compost next winter. We typically rotate our crops to reduce the build-up of viruses in the soil. A typical crop rotation pattern is peas and beans, which fix nitrogen into the soil and improve it, then hungry brassicas (broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower, kale, turnips) on enriched soil, then roots on depleted soil (carrots, parsnips). You can add potatoes or salads or sweetcorn and squash into the rotation if you like them. You can break the rules a little bit if you like.

Tulip ‘Showcase’, with the new potato bed behind.

This activity was a brilliant distraction.

The news is not good, and increasingly we are going to be affected by this horrible virus.

Please stay as safe as you possibly can. One person can potentially infect 59,000 other people if they do not practice correct social distancing.

This week, around the country, NHS staff are being redeployed to roles they never saw themselves in. Physiotherapists, Occupational Therapists, Speech and Language Therapists, Health Visitors, Health Care Assistants, Paediatricians. Staff are stepping up to do what is needed where it is needed.

We are going to have to dig deep in order to get through this.

Sending love and courage to you all.

Ali xxxxx

Courage is not the absence of fear.

But rather the judgement that something else is more important than fear.

This quotation has been attributed to various people, including Roosevelt. Whoever said it, thank you.

I will do my best to write regularly through this crisis. If you would like to receive an email notification when a new post is published, click on the blue ‘follow’ button below.

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28 Comments Add yours

  1. Claire says:

    To my dear Ali,

    You are so inspirational in so many ways!
    I love reading your blogs, and through these challenging times and beyond, long may they continue x

    1. Thank you Claire, for your support in a myriad of ways. Xxx

  2. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this- just measured our potato plot out. I’ve got 5 different sorts chatting.

    1. Ooh, that is exciting! We’ve got three varieties, but one of them is blue! 😀

  3. Beautiful pictures, and thank you for this inspiration. John and I have been talking a lot lately about growing more food, too. Times like this make you really think about how to be more self-sufficient, and I think that’s a really good thing. I look forward to hearing more about your vegetable garden!

    1. Thank you Shelly! I will post more of the veg production, I think.

  4. Glad you’re well. I sowed my squash, courgette and broccoli seeds today, it really lifted my mood. Our garden is too small for us to be self-sufficient but I enjoy growing some of our own fruit and veg, but it always makes me realise just how of our food comes from other countries and how much we eat out-of-season.

    1. Seed-sowing is very therapeutic, isn’t it? Even growing one or two food crops makes you appreciate and tune into seasonal eating I think. It just makes sense.

  5. Jo Shafer says:

    You’ve been hard at work, Ali. Yes, digging is a wonderful distraction. Right now, for me, it’s clearing out old growth from last year as I neglected to do that in fall. Now, my tulips are having to force their way through all the bracken. Blessedly, my gardener stopped by earlier today (no body in church these days) to inspect the place. He’ll devote this coming Tuesday to working on my place. I’ll reserve the herb garden for myself, however, because at my “advance” age of nearly 80 I still can handle it. However, the brick walk really ought to be dug up and reset; it’s a great sit-down job for me, so I think I can manage.

    Once, the perennial beds are cleaned out, I can plant dahlia tubers. I didn’t know that they’re edible! Thanks for that tip.

    Take care, dear Ali. I feel I’ve come to know you the past couple of years through your lovely blogs, especially as we’ve all begun to share more of our personal lives with each other, from Washington state to Cornwall, Canada to Australia.

    Blessings to you all,

    1. That is so inspiring, Jo! Thank hope I am still out there planting dahlia tubers when I am approaching 80. There is no place I would rather be.

    2. I agree, it is lovely to share our passion for growing around the globe. We are all connected, all part of the same universe, all in this together.

  6. Heyjude says:

    Well I don’t have enough space to dig any more beds, but I will be looking at some plastic crates that can be utilised as planters for some salads, kale and spinach and maybe even courgettes! Worth a try anyway and maybe this crisis will make more people appreciate what they have. And what they can do for themselves.

    1. That sounds like a brilliant plan, Jude. And gives me an idea…

  7. pommepal says:

    A lovely big area to work in Ali. Autumn is veg planting time over here. I went to get seedlings and seeds last week and they had non left. I think many people are getting back to nature.

    1. Oh, that’s interesting, I didn’t know veg planting happens in autumn in Aus. But it makes sense. Yes, that would be a good outcome, if we get more tuned in to natural rhythms and resources, and living a more balanced life.

      1. pommepal says:

        Its just in the tropics and sub tropics when we don’t get frosts and summer is so hot and humid, not good for veggies or us to be out in the heat. Commercial growers grow all year round but they probably have shade houses. I love this time of the year

  8. prue batten says:

    I love reading your blogs because they’re so uplifting and quiet, in so many ways. As to growing food, we’re right there with you. Normally we shut our veggie beds down for winter and grow a green crop to revitalise the soil. This season we are keeping it going with cabbage, kale, spinach, Asian greens, carrots and beetroot. We manage to feed ourselves and our adult children from our veggie garden and we hope, in this crisis time to keep food on everyone’s table. Good luck with it all, I’m sure it’ll be fab!

    1. That’s such a lovely thing to say, Prue. I am naturally quiet, and it means a lot when that is recognised as a good thing!
      That sounds like a good winter haul of veg. I can see the lovely colours on a plate!

  9. Shirley Rydell says:

    Thank you for this bit of fresh air and encouragement! I will get out there and start digging, something i love doing!

    1. There’s nothing more calming and satisfying, is there?

  10. bittster says:

    It looks promising, and so nice to have everyone outside helping! I have to admit I’m also a peg and string kind of gardener 🙂

    1. The professional kind of gardener! 😀

  11. Val says:

    Having bought a whole load of veggie seeds earlier today, and compost last week, I completely agree with you about growing your own food plants. My husband is the gardener around here – I’m the appreciator of his efforts – but I think when the weather gets warmer, I shall be out there too, doing my bit. Extending it over the lawn area wouldn’t work for us, though, as we have so many birds visiting… and I expect in the warmer weather we’ll get our usual visiting bunnies…

    I understand about the mental exhaustion – it’s been overwhelming us both, here. It seems to overcome us at odd times, too. Today I’ve been absolutely fine for most of the day (even when I had to mend some trousers, a job I loathe) but this evening, have had periods in which my mind’s gone a total blank and just can’t do anything at all. It’s all too much to take in, isn’t it?

    Be well, Ali. Thanks for a lovely post as ever. And I absolutely LOVE your tulips!

    1. That is great, Val, it is so therapeutic to just potter around in the garden. Watching the birds is one of my favourite parts of being in the garden.
      It does continue to be very wave-like with emotions. I am trying to tune into my energy levels and pace myself.

  12. Cathy says:

    Gosh, your tulips are early, Ali! Looking at all your grass you have plenty of scope for more beds, whether for veg – or tulips or dahlias or roses even! Here I have apples and damsons and soft fruit, but only tomatoes by way of ‘veg’. I have a made a token extra effort by starting off some sprouting seeds for the first time in years though…

    1. Yes, my fantasy would be raised beds all over the place. Though they do dry out in summer, so maybe for more mediterranean veg. I hope you are keeping well, Cathy. I expect that you are quite contented pottering around in the garden! I was thinking yesterday when I sat outside for a coffee that is is so strange that it feels idyllic at home, and that I couldn’t be more contented when the sun is shining and the birds are singing. It is good to have a reguge and a place of peace.

      1. Cathy says:

        We are very lucky to have gardens and to find pleasure in what is growing in them, aren’t we? A refuge indeed

      2. Yes. I feel like it is such a resource to draw on.

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