We have a vegetable crisis.
In the garden I have 15 raised beds, all neatly organised and rotated. They are a thing of wonder.
Or so I thought. I know, I’m a vegetable bore. I insist that unsuspecting dinner guests take a tour of my vegetable patch before they can enjoy our canapés.
But the other week, as soon as some friends arrived for supper, the husband asked to see my garden with just a little too much enthusiasm. This was suspicious.
“How’s it going?” he asked, as we passed the greenhouse, aubergines fighting cucumbers and peppers for space.
I sensed a dangerous smugness in his voice. I showed him my bulging peas and beans, calmly growing towards their moment of destiny. He moved on, feigning as much interest as a member of the royal family. But I knew he wasn’t really looking. He was comparing.
Boy, was he confident. Sure enough, his putdown was devastating:
“I’ve think I’ve found the secret to vegetable growing”.
He was staring at my summer cabbages, which had been strangled by giant turnips. Interplanting, the experts call it. I put some turnips amongst the slow-growing cabbages with plans to pick them as perfect little white balls. But who fancies turnips in June? So I forgot about them, and now they are giant white footballs, asphyxiating everything around them.
He was already getting his smartphone out.
“I’ve put in new double-height beds – I rebuilt them with railway sleepers”.
No, please don’t show me your vegetable garden – this is supposed to be about mine. But two clicks later, there it was: rows of firm and pointy cabbages; lettuces in military order; carrots thinned and ready for action. How I hated him at that moment.
Vegetable envy is a terrible thing. So I showed him my beetroot.
I have yellow, white, red and stripy. Nobody I know has four types. He retaliated with 5 varieties of garlic.
Vegetable wars is a male phenomenon. Women have no interest in my vegetable garden. Especially my wife. She thinks I just go into it and potter around to escape the washing-up. What nonsense – everyone knows tomatoes have to be watered immediately after dinner.
Last year I put my vegetable garden on Facebook and all my friends in London, from their handkerchief-sized back yards, praised my green fingers. But they were lying: they actually feel sorry for me.
“Poor Tom has nothing to do up there. If he still lived in London, he’d get a proper life and go to Waitrose like the rest of us,” they think.
Well, we do have Waitrose – it’s only ten minutes from the house. I grow my own because I suffer from a serious infirmity that afflicts all men of a certain age when they have a big empty garden: the overwhelming desire to take on the forces of nature and become self-sufficient.
Actually, we are self-sufficient. But only during August. This is the month when everything decides it wants to be eaten, right now.
Yesterday I picked nine bulging cauliflowers, an entire bed of peas and several kilos of broad beans.
It’s not just me. Yesterday our neighbours came round with a pot of jam.
“Too many strawberries?” I asked.
The wife nodded grimly. I offered them courgettes in return.
“You’re kidding!” said the wife, looking darkly at her husband.
“I told him not to plant so many. The wretched things won’t stop sprouting – now we’re making courgette jam”.
Her husband and I looked at each other sheepishly. This is just the beginning.
Already our lettuces are bolting, our broccoli bulging, we have forests of seeding rocket and mizuna. We have chard, onions, artichokes, and we haven’t even started on the potatoes. And, horror, I just picked my first French bean.
Nevertheless, this morning Jo looked up from her vegetarian cookery book and said: “Do we have any leeks?”
I shook my head: mine won’t be ready till Autumn.
“We need leeks”.
So I sighed, got in the car, and drove to Waitrose.