Ah, July. The happy month of fruit harvests! Strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, gooseberries,currants. The apples ripening on the tree. Even the Timperly Early rhubarb is happily producing its third crop of the year. Nothing is so blissful as pottering out on a sunny morning, picking a few sun-warm fruits and munching on them as you sip the say’s first caffeinated beverage of your choice.
Only…About 3 months ago, following an investigative potter in the garden, I bounced into our kitchen and said, in a gleeful voice, “It’s going to be a good year for currants.” And my husband, instead of being thrilled, said “Again? Oh. Great.”
I probably took him to task for his less-than-enthused reaction. After all, there’s an incredible pleasure to be found in tending a plant, caring for it, watching it bud, leaf, flower and fruit, knowing that you will be the recipient of the every day miracle of pollination.
And then July arrives. Currant month. We have three currant bushes: a red, a white and a black, and they are extremely productive. Last year I gave away or sold two thirds of the crop, and still ended up with six ice cream containers filled with currants in my tiny freezer. Three of them are still there.
And last week, first in burning sunshine and then in torrential rain, we were out in the garden, picking this year’s crop. Another set of ice cream containers filled up. Another round of panicked posts on Freecycle, offering punnets of currants to all and sundry. Because, you see, it turns out that red and white currants are a) prolific; b) hard to use, being too sharp to eat and too time consuming to turn into anything edible and c) very, very hard to give away. I might owe my husband an apology.
The point of this little story is about experience. When we moved to our house, I had very little proper gardening experience. Inspired by Alys Fowler’s book about the Edible Garden, I spent the first six weekends digging out a fruit and herb bed, which would provide us with lots of fresh flavours for cooking, and reduce our shopping costs through growing our own fruit. It sort of works.
Certainly between late June and early August we have an abundance of fruit, which (apart from the currants, obviously), my three year old loves to eat, and it’s wonderful to step out of the kitchen for a handful of thyme or oregano or chives. That pleasure only goes so far, though; experience has taught me that you can have too much of a good thing, and that one currant bush would have been fine, and a vegetable patch instead would have been even better.
And then you take into account the pests that afflict the garden at this time of year. In particular, I suffer from gooseberry sawfly and toddlers.
When I started planting the fruit area, I carefully placed the beautiful rhubarb, with its horribly toxic leaves, behind a ring of gooseberry bushes. For the first few months of the growing season, it looks amazing: a sea of greenery. Then the sawfly arrive. Before you know it, the gooseberries are stripped as bare as January, leaving little thorny skeletons to bravely guard the rhubarb. This year, I’ve carefully watered the area with Nemasys, an organic nematode system that (according to the manufacturer) should kill off the caterpillar-like larvae as they cheerfully decimate the leaves. So far, it has been semi-successful: there are definitely fewer larvae and more leaves, but I’ve also been going out in the garden for a few minutes every day, picking off the caterpillars and squashing them. It’s not fun.
The other major pest in the garden turns out to be my daughter. She loves the garden. Give her a trowel, or a watering can, and she’ll be happy for ages. But sometimes she’s almost as big a problem as the sawfly. Her favourite activity, when not carefully “weeding” the newly sprouted salad bed is to make confetti….out of leaves. So far, the strawberries, lavender, rosemary, currants, roses and forget me nots have all been conscripted, as she merrily strips the leaves, rips them into tiny pieces and then throws them joyously into the air, shouting “CoooonnnnFETTi!” and giggling. It’s adorable. And dreadful. But, to be honest, I’d rather see the loss of my plants than spoil her enjoyment. The one thing she won’t use is weeds; I wish I knew why!