The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Grow your own

runner beans with flowersJohn Coe helps me in the garden every other week. His main interest is the vegetable patch, although he likes to see me till the soil. He gives advice, orders and supplies some of his own good seedlings.

He is Sole Carer of Lawn, Edging and Hedging. The main structure of the garden.

When we need to replace/shore up fencing he is there. When we tackle house repairs together he is the king. With a background in the building industry he has a wealth of experience. My role is always ADC, and this is the one time that he calls me Dear, which is both companionable and keeps me in my place. I hold the nails whilst John drives them home.

I knew that something was wrong the moment he came through the front door last week. He slumped into the big chair looking haggard. I tentatively passed him his mug of coffee
“24 yards of potatoes have got the blight. I’ve never had it before. I ripped them out.”
He sipped his coffee.
“It broke my heart.”

“And the rabbit is back, the one that I thought was a baby last year. It’s a pigmy, sod it. It’s probably three years old with loads of experience. It has masteminded chicken mesh dug in to at least a foot.”
The man that has sixty yards of asparagus, grown from seed, leant back in his chair and quietly announced,
“I’m thinking of borrowing a gun.”

At 75, John is part of what used to be a dying breed. That crazy bunch who have grown all their own vegetables and soft fruit for the past 50 years. His bungalow sits on half an acre with the traditional small flower garden at the front. The back is dedicated to all that is edible.

When I first came to the cottage he was amazed that I only grew flowers and shrubs,
“It’s very beautiful, but such a waste.” He forced his spade through the stony ground and stared intently at me.
“What on earth do you mean?”
Suddenly awkward, he swallowed and added “You could be growing vegetables. Useful stuff.”

Believing that he needed more to interest him in my garden, I hatched a plan. There was a dull strip of land at the bottom of the garden, overshadowed by the neighbours’ Leylandii and full of weeds. He could dig it over and plant some vegetables.

I imagined the complete range of vegetables magically ripening in season. He would be in his element and it would be handy to have a few vegetables if I didn’t have time to get to the shops.

I was so excited with my plan that I broached it on his next visit before he had even kicked off his boots.

There was silence. He carried his Wellingtons through the kitchen and propped them carefully beside the back door.
“No.” He muttered emphatically..
I was stunned. He caught my eye.
“You wouldn’t look after them properly, Fiona.”
Did vegetables need special care?
“They need watering, weeding, daily attention. You are in London for five days a week.”
“But the flowers do fine.”
“I don’t know about flowers. But I do know about vegetables. It would hurt if I saw my vegetables were not tended well.”

Having grown vegetables for a few years, I now understand what he means. Vegetables and soft fruit need to be cherished. Even if it’s just the daily drift down to the patch to water and check that all is well.

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  1. Fiona Nevile

    Hi Don

    I haven’t tried it but I know that it works well. Magic Cochin at has tried it and has several articles in this method.

  2. Hiya, I’m really getting into organic gardening / permaculture, etc. I don’t quite believe in biodynamics yet though but I love companion planting and the like.

    Have any of you had any success with the three sisters method (sweetcorn/beans/squash in same bed) or know of anyone who has?


  3. Fiona Nevile

    Yes, Lynn, he is a good friend. Steady and reliable. I need to get on top of the kitchen garden before he arrives on Wednesday. We got blight too so I need to turn the beds and plant new stuff.

    Insects are a nightmare, if you want to be organic. I don’t think that we have flea beetle in the UK, yet. That sounds nasty.

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