Tuesday, 10 April 2007

The vegetable garden

Now, imagine this. I've just put up a row cover for the vegetable patch. It's just a flimsy pole frame with plastic sheeting that protects the veg from cold, wind, insects and Trisha, the neighbour's cat. This long low tunnel cost me 20 quid from the garden shop. The minute it's up, in jumps Squirrel, Shark and Tiger and down comes the flap over their heads.

Squirrel says she's a carrot. Tiger says she's a sweetcorn. And Shark says she's a leek. Then the leek says it's time to pull up the carrot. There's a lot of giggling from inside. Then the leek climbs out and tells the carrot to come out. The carrot doesn't want to. The leek reaches in and starts to pull. The carrot comes out through the flap, legs first. The carrot hangs onto the sweetcorn. Then the sweetcorn gets her hair caught in the tubing and starts to squeal; the leek starts to pull the carrot's trousers off; the carrot grabs at the tubing which holds the whole frame together; the sweetcorn's hair gets pulled even more. Mummy grit starts to shout as the frame starts to tremble and shiver, then the leek grabs a pot fish on a stake and starts to poke it wildly through the flap to force the carrot to let go of the tubing. Within seconds, Squirrel, Tiger and a lot of tubing and plastic sheeting are rolling about on the vegetable patch being simultaneously thrashed with a pot fish on a stick while everyone is banned by Mummy grit from the garden forever and ever.

Clearly, vegetable gardening with children is not going to be as easy as they might make out on Gardener's Question Time.

The first vegetable plant Squirrel, Shark and Tiger called their own was a baby courgette. All credit to the thing, it clung on to life for about two weeks after they got hold of it.

The first problem was clearly lack of preparation by the parents. We had to buy the seedling because we'd long missed the chance to start seeds, so it was that weekend or never. It meant the children didn't have the experience of waiting, checking every morning to see if a little green leaf was nosing its way from the earth; there was no waiting at all to enjoy the anticipation of growth, leaves, flowers and fruit. No. It was instant. One minute, no courgette plant, the next, a cute baby courgette plant waiting for some love and attention. And boy, did it get that.

Squirrel was very keen to get planting. Before I got through the house to the back garden it was already being rammed into the mud patch. I tried not to be too discouraging and suggested we might dig a hole for it instead. That took Shark six seconds with her plastic spade before Squirrel was ramming it in the ground again. Then it was Tiger's turn to assault it with the watering can. At that point I knew all was lost for the baby courgette. I came inside to celebrate its short life with a gin and tonic.

The following year, Dig took charge, and grew potatoes. This was partly successful. Dig got the seed potatoes, set them in trays, put them in the office and promptly forgot about them.

Last year's effort's were better. Squirrel grew carrots. This involved watering the little leafy shoots at least seven times a day for several days then totally neglecting them apart from painting a few leaves orange to suggest it might be autumn and time to pull them up. I did pull them up too, one night about 10pm, and inserted in their place a bunch of suspiciously clean carrots from Tesco.

Shark didn't fare any better. She grew peas. She put them in peat pots and hid them around the garden so her sisters couldn't find them. No-one ever has. Tiger grew lettuce. This was doomed from the start. Tiger neglected the lettuce immediately after planting, but remembered about September time when she went off looking for them.

Now this year, we're organised. I have a row cover in pieces over the vegetable patch; we have packets of seeds; a stash of peat free potting compost and lots of pots. Wish me luck.