They grow rapidly, produce lots of foliage and make a good green manure. As soon as they start to flower I will cut them down to ground level and dig them into the soil. I’ll probably scatter some compost as well and then wait for a couple of weeks before planting some seedlings of broccoli, cabbage and tomatoes that I’ve got in a seed tray. In the process I hope to reshape at least one area of the garden to make a keyhole vegetable bed as recommended in permaculture design. (See Gaia’s Garden by Toby Hemenway). This is a round bed about ten feet across with a small path into the middle of it, where a slightly larger circular area is needed to enable you to turn around. You should be able to reach all parts of the bed without treading on the soil, and in the process use less of your garden for pathway and more for growing food.
I am not a good gardener, and I’m very slow to learn, tending to make the same mistakes time and time again. However, anybody who keeps up to date with what is happening to the world’s climate and to our vital resources such as oil – which makes modern agriculture possible – must come to the conclusion that food production is going to be a big problem in the near future. Everybody should be trying to find ways in their own lives of reducing their dependence on fossil fuels and thereby reduce their carbon emissions, and growing some of your own food is the best possible place to begin. By growing things organically you do away with the need for oil-based pesticides and other inputs; you can help to build up the fertility of the soil; you can increase biodiversity both in the soil and above it; you can eat fresh, chemical-free food; and you can observe and interact with the natural world in a way that is thoroughly absorbing and invigorating. However, I think a lot of people don’t realise that gardening is a skill, and as with any skill it takes a long time to learn how to do it properly, and even then you never stop learning. You wouldn’t expect to learn to play a musical instrument overnight, yet some people make a stab at growing food, produce very little, and then give up, saying, “I haven’t got green fingers!” This is a cop-out. The skills of gardening need to be worked at and improved constantly over time. Don’t expect to produce the magnificent fruit and vegetables that you see in all the gardening books – these represent the best efforts of the best gardeners, and such books can be quite disheartening when you look at your own puny efforts. However, feel pleased with yourself for any successes you do have, and build on those successes by connecting with and learning from other gardeners in your neighbourhood, if you can.
For me, this is not just a hobby, it’s also a way of dissociating myself to a degree from the soil-destroying, poison-peddling, profit-obsessed activities of modern food production systems. It’s a way of aligning myself with the world of nature and the earth under my feet rather than the deceptive conveniences of the globalised industrial machine. The way things are going, it may well turn out to be a life saver, as well.