When lockdown down hit, I found myself out of work and out of money. My 21 year-old son was furloughed and with the Scottish weather glorious, our sights turned to an unloved patch of land at the end of the garden covered in rotting pallets.
‘We must dig that over and turn it into a vegetable patch,’ I’d said many times before. But now we were out of excuses and so we cleared the land and dug, pulling up weeds, edging beds with scraps of wood, turning over the soil. When the world seemed so uncertain, there was a regularity and comfort to be had from focussing on the ground beneath us.
We bought twenty packets of seeds at 99p each – a variety of things we thought might be simple to grow. We had little experience of gardening and didn’t know what would work; we are in Central Scotland, high in the hills and partially shaded. Our weather can be extreme and our growing season short.
We found a free greenhouse on social media. Two days of washing it all down, puzzling the pieces together, plus £30 in acrylic sheets to replace the broken glass, turned out a sparkling greenhouse. We sat in the sun and made paper pots filling them from an old bag of compost we found in the shed.
By the first week of April, tiny green shoots appeared and by May, we were hardening off the seedlings – putting them out in the sun during the day and back in the greenhouse at night. By mid-May, we were planting out. We repurposed an old pallet, filled it with the soil someone had dumped at the bottom of our road, and planted it with lettuce.
By mid-June, we were harvesting salad leaves every day, garnished with our own radishes. A local gang of crows took to pulling out all the plant labels and seedlings but we fashioned some old clothes, a few bits of wood and a deflated football into a scarecrow which did the trick and ‘Wilson’ now stands watch over the garden keeping the deer and crows at bay.
An infestation of aphids got at my peppers but a post in the Food Community Facebook group soon provided a diagnosis and treatment (wash down with soapy water). By July, the glut of lettuce from our pallet was even keeping the neighbours fed. The courgettes, mange-tout and sugar-snaps produced a regular supply, and by August, we were pulling the first of the carrots and cauliflowers and even a few tomatoes. By September, the first purple-sprouting broccoli shoots appeared – so tender they barely needed cooking at all.
We are still harvesting broccoli, carrots, kale and beetroot. We’ve set aside a bed with carrots, parsnips and sprouts to pick on Christmas day for our lunch. I haven’t bought vegetables since the beginning of July and the freezer is jam-packed. Best of all though, it brought us calm when we needed it most. My son is as proud of our achievements as I am and now that he’s back at work, the first thing he does when he gets home each evening is take a walk up the garden to see how it’s doing. You can’t put a price on that.