The Raised Beds Lark
Before I started gardening in New Cairo, I had a dream… It had to do with a series of raised beds, filled with lovely, crumbly, richly organic soil, producing seasonal crops in healthy rotation. Rather like the many incredible kitchen and market gardens I see regularly on Instagram, where gardeners all over the world, and especially in Australia, seem to have perfected the art and science of growing anything they want.
It had rather less to do with the brutal reality of my four-and-a-half raised beds where the soil is lifeless, seeds won’t germinate – except for volunteer borage (above), the bugs and snails are having feast days, and … and … and
I think part of the reason for my frequent lapses of concentration, not to mention wandering off the straight and narrow, has to do with simple discouragement. I can’t get the beds to work.
In October, ever hopeful, I sowed salad leaves, rocket, coriander, flat leaf parsley, spinach and radishes in RB4, the best of the main beds. The rocket is doing well:
Spinach and radishes have germinated poorly and are being regularly raided by snails:
(Poorly focused images, but I’m not sure that it matters. Truth is, there isn’t much to see).
Of parsley and coriander there is almost nothing.
However – and there’s always a “however” in gardening, as plants have a habit of springing surprises where you least expect them – there is a good sprinkling of flat leaf parsley in a bucket full of debris right beside the bed containing October’s sowing!
I am aggravated. According to gardening folklore, you shouldn’t transplant parsley: “Immemorial disaster looms over the parsley transplanter” warns my handbook The Gardener’s Folklore* . Unless you do it on Good Friday, when there is a chance you will be protected from unfortunate consequences – but better not bank on it.
It occurs to me to wonder whether this refers to flat leaf, or curly leaf parsley. Or is the question academic? Better leave it alone, I suppose. I’ll let the seedlings thrive in the bucket of rubbish, offspring of discarded seed heads from last season’s crop, among the stones intended to stop local cats from using it as a toilet. I can’t remove the stones, or the cats will be in there in a flash, so this is a necessarily self-limiting sowing.
Meanwhile, in the raised bed, why do I suppose parsley would have germinated within a month? It is notoriously tardy. I should leave it at least another month, try another sowing, and maybe pour boiling water all over the freshly-sown seed (The Gardener’s Folklore, again). There must be some logic hiding in this story somewhere…
RB2 has also been planted this month with rows of salad leaves, mizuna, rocket, coriander and chervil. Again, there isn’t enough compost for more than a sprinkling in and around the seed drills, so the soil has not been sufficiently enriched. But there’s hope – as one volunteer mizuna suggests:
The addition of chervil in the bed is a bit left-field, perhaps, and I don’t know why I have it. But, again, I have come across Instagram-ers who are filled with enthusiasm.
RBs 1 and 3 have to wait while I ponder how to improve the soil. The latest idea is to turn them both into compost heaps, literally removing the soil and filling the entire space with kitchen and garden waste. I’m not sure I have the will-, or the muscle-, power to do that. Or the patience to wait a year or two for it to transform into the soil of my dreams.
- The Gardener’s Folklore – Margaret Baker pub. by Sphere Books