Gardening with ME: planning the kitchen garden year

The dark days of December are over. The light at the end of the tunnel, that is, the ever lengthening days of January and the promise of a new kitchen gardening year, are in reach. Like many gardeners, I suffer from seed catalogue syndrome, aka my eyes being bigger than my plot.

Seed catalogues tempt you with new cultivars, promises that this squash really will be the one you have been looking for to deal with the vagaries of the UK climate, and will overload you with more squash than you can ever hope for. Terms such as ‘blight resistance’, ‘carrot fly resistance’, ‘club root resistance’ offer hope for pest and disease free crops. Resistance is not useless! Then there is the oohhing and ahhhing over a new variety of chard with all the colours of the rainbow. It’s all very exciting.

But. There is a but. I’ve decided to take a step back and think more carefully before I get overrun with new ideas. I’m getting a little better at managing my ME and this means I’ve recognised that I only have X amount of energy and I need to make sure that I put my gardening spoons where it they will biggest impact for least amount of energy expended. Which is also a very permaculture way of looking at things. I’ve made some decisions and here is how I’m going to focus my energy in the 2015 kitchen garden year.

I am going to use my limited energy growing what I know and love, and get better at that rather than try anything new. 
In recent years I’ve been attempting to try growing a new vegetable each season. This has led me to add new (to me) vegetables such as fennel bulbs and kohl rabi to my growing list. It’s great to try something new, and I plan to do so in the future, I’d love to try Oca, for instance, but it takes more energy and time as you read and learn your way around a new crop.

I’ve decided I want to get better at what I’m already growing instead. For instance, I really do want to get better at growing pumpkins/winter squash. I adore pumpkins and they are a key autumn-winter food for me, but I’ve not had any success with them in the last couple of years, and it’s not just because of the weather. The 2014 pumpkins all got blossom rot and I think I need to improve the soil conditions, amongst other things. Yes, I will try a new variety, Galeuse D’eysines Winter Squash from Real Seeds, I am a humble-gardener looking for the perfect-in-the-UK-climate-pumpkin after all… I’ll just focus my energy on trying to get this crop right rather than have my head turned by fancy new vegetables and then end up trying to managing both badly.

I’m going to grow what I like, not what I think I should like.
Growing perennials is the cornerstone of a permaculture kitchen garden. And personal energy wise, as well as soil etc energy wise, it makes sense as once a perennial takes off, it’s just a little maintenance, in contrast to annuals which need starting over again and again. However, you have to like the perennial, don’t you, otherwise, you are wasting your time and the limited resource (space etc) on something you don’t like. So, as mentioned in my end of month/year post, I’ve decided not to continue to grow the perennial Kale. It’s coming out. Because I don’t like it very much. I prefer the taste of dwarf curly kale or the nero di toscana type of kale. This means my ‘perennial veg bed’ will be left with one plant of non-flowering sorrel, which I do love eating, and some space for something else.

That something else is going to be some cut flowers. I used to grow cut flowers, but kind of forgot about them for a couple of years. Following, on Twitter, people such as @TheFlowerFarmer of Common Farm Flowers and @wellywomanblog, author of The Cut Flower Patch, in recent months has reminded me of the joy of cut flowers. But no, I’m not going to expend lots of energy on learning about new plants. I’m going to keep it simple and grow something I know, have grown before, and love, Cosmos. I picked up some pretty Cosmos Antiquity which I picked up from Hardy’s Cottage Garden Plants last year and I’m excited about growing those in place of the unloved perennial kale.

I’m growing because I enjoy it and I love the food, not to be self-sufficient
A few years ago, when I was a much healthier person, I got to the point of being around 6 months self-sufficient in vegetables. For example, I grew 10-12 potato varieties each season in 6 x 1 metre beds, and we had enough stored to get us through 6 months. And I grew beds full of courgettes, tomatoes, carrots, parsnip, beans etc. It kind of became a thing I had to do, rather than a thing I loved. I mean, I did love the growing and the work, but I also stressed myself about trying to be more ‘self-sufficient’.

I have a smaller garden now. I have ME now. New rules are needed. Rule number one is that I love being in the garden and growing my vegetables and flowers, and that in itself, is enough. Take time to smell the garlic, and anything extra is a bonus.

That also means I don’t have to save seeds from every crop I grow in order to be seed-self-sufficient too. I don’t need to be seed-self-sufficient. Yes, I hope to save some seed from my favourite (heritage) dwarf French beans and lettuce. But if they end up not being saved, well, there are plenty of seed catalogues out there.

Workability: I will accept that even with all my hopes and planning, it may all fall apart
In the context of the above, I have plenty of plans. I can almost taste this years broad beans with feta and mint salad. I can see a vase of Cosmos sitting on top of the stove in the lounge. But, ME happens. I hope that I won’t have to lose another crop of climbing French beans to ME. But I might. So I need some ‘workability’ (as my counsellor called it). Work with what I have and take it from there. If I don’t get to eat the beans, well, the bees will have had some food. And I still would have enjoyed the growing.

Planning my kitchen garden year hasn’t turned out to be a set of plans with dates, numbers sown, germination rates, expected harvests, etc. It’s a frame of mind. I’m comfortable with that. Happy growing.

* * * * *
Tim over at Notes of Nature has joined in with the #GardeningWithME meme, and has written a great post that fits into the theme of this one, on planning and pacing, making choices and changes, in his latest post Gardening with ME: Getting Started. Do visit his blog.

* * * * *
I welcome your comments and thoughts. And if you blog about gardening with ME/a chronic illness, link to this post in your blog, and leave a comment below with a link to your post, so we can all find each other.

About Gardening with ME

Twitter hashtag: #GardeningWithME

Other posts…
  Gardening with ME: sowing broad beans via micro-tasking
  Gardening with ME: weather and energy

10 thoughts on “Gardening with ME: planning the kitchen garden year”

  1. This is excellent advice for anyone whose gardening is constrained in some way. In my case by lack of time. I also used to do far more vegetable gardening than I do now, although I was a long way from being self-sufficient. Planning, and not taking on too much, are absolutely key.
    Funnily enough, I'd also thought about flowers for cutting this year. It will be an experiment starting small as I think my raised beds may be in too much shade.

  2. Thanks for the great advice. I agree that it's so important to grow what you like rather than what you think you should like. My wife and I used to grow certain crops because he parents used to – but then we realised that we didn't particularly like those crops! It felt like quite a revelation at the time!
    Thanks for linking to my post 🙂

  3. It's really great to know this is useful to others. I'm starting to think a lot of what I'm calling 'gardening with ME' will be just as useful when I'm well again.

    Yes, the thing about a lot of 'cut flowers' is they do tend to like full sun. Your comment prompted me to look it up and I found suggestions for flowers like Astrantia and Heuchera, which do ok in part-shade (or even full shade for the latter), can be used as cut flowers, so there will be some flowers for that raised bed. That's useful for me too – I have a large astrantia bush – big enough now that I can also use some of that for cut flowers.

  4. It's weird how we expend all this energy on doing stuff because we think we should. I would rather not have ME(!), but I can say it has helped me learn alot about how I can garden differently and more effectively.

  5. Super post. This really resonated with me. I have arthritis so have my own physical limitations. I also need to think hard about what is achievable and what is worthwhile and what in my garden makes me feel good. I love the taste of homegrown food and with a tiny patio garden will never be self-sufficient, but I too have sacrificed some food growing space to flowers because they cheer the soul and that brightens the mood on the days when the pains acute… Putting a permaculture-ish take on it, that uplifting effect is part of my overall 'harvest' or an 'abundance'.

  6. Thank you for your kind words Meg. Focussing on what makes us feel good is important; growing flowers and the happiness they give offers just as an important yield as homegrown food.

    I just visited your curiousity cabinet – most curious! I shall visit again 🙂

  7. Fab advice. I've no idea where to start now our allotment will actually be ready to plant this year. Do you use any planning journals etc. I need something that will tell me when to do stuff like planting seeds etc. We have no green house and no garden. I've moderate-severe me/CFS/fibro and hubby has young onset Parkinson's as well as 2small children so we need to carefully plan/pace ourselves by choosing the things we can realisticly do. Xx

  8. Hi Chez, glad you enjoyed the post. I do use spreadsheets etc, but I did before I got ME too, I'm a bit of a nerd when it comes to such things. I don't think you necessarily need to do that though – I think you would be better off starting small.

    The book I tend to recommend people starting out, and one which I still use even after 15 years of gardening, is the Hessayon 'New Vegetable & Herb Expert' It has straight-forward info on what to grow when etc. It's not an organic growing book, it's one downfall, but I just ignore anytime it mentions pesticides etc!

    I would start with the veg that gives you the most punch for the least amount of work and that don't need a greenhouse. All veg will need work, it's just some doesn't need much as others. The easiest I find is:
    garlic (at this stage in the year, go for spring-planting varieties, it's too late for autumn-planting ones really)
    beetroot (same family as chard and you can also eat the leaves like with chard)
    Kale & Kohl Rabi are the least troublesome brassicas (these could do with horticultural mesh but you can usually get a crop without, the others (cauliflower, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbage) all need horticulural mesh otherwise they will be destroyed by white cabbage moth)
    Raddish (I don't grow this as I don't like it, but I understand from others that it's a very easy crop to grow)
    The main attention for all of these is watering. I mean, they of course need good compost/soil etc, but they don't need regular feeding.

    And don't forget herbs, some low maintenance ones: Rosemary, Thyme, Oregano, Chives.

    Veg that can be grown outside, but cannot be sown outside until May (many people start them in pots Mar-Apr in a greenhouse) are: french beans, dwarf & climbing, courgettes & pumpkins. These will need more attention in the sense that they need a lot of nutrition (manure, compost) and regular feeding.

    I've left of tomatoes & potatoes. Tomatoes because they need lots of attention, feeding, checking for disease etc, and potatoes because they need lots of attention earthing up, plus a lot of watering if we have a dry spring. It doesn't mean you couldn't grow them, I'm just think the others above are easier and need less attention.

    This is all just my view. Others may say 'hey what about x', so it's always worth asking for more opinions.

    Lastly, just remember, only grow what you like. So if you don't like chard, don't grow it just because it's easier. As from my post, you have limited energy, so grow what you will enjoy.

  9. Sounds like an excellent plan, it accepts the limitations ME brings without being a slave to illness. I do something very similar, focusing on relatively easy to grow things with a good return viz harvest to effort. I've given up on growing troublesome crops that take up space for a long time, and experiment much more with new varieties than new types. Though I did try oca this year. Not eaten any yet though!!


Leave a comment