Garden of Plenty


There are a series of landmarks in my gardening year and, however intemperate the weather, by late July, the croft vegetable garden has been transformed into a garden of abundance. The empty trugs of the hungry gap months become horns of plenty and we are sated with green comestibles. A pretentious little literary allegory which means that we have a fridge full of cucumbers, pallet loads of courgettes, enough lettuce to feed a bio-digester the size of a nuclear power station and our friends and neighbours are avoiding us. We can hardly get into the store for sacks of potatoes, the shelves are groaning with jars of preserves, and the freezers are FULL!

It seems churlish to complain, but my garden of plenty has become a garden of excess. If I wasn’t being engulfed in green fecundity, I could smile smugly and show off my green fingers. However, my fingers are green from picking tomatoes from dawn to dusk and the abundance of vegetables has more to do with the weather than my expertise.

We have had a perfect summer, calm, warm with just enough rain to minimise the need for irrigation. The spring was warm and the moisture in the soil from our very soggy winter was perfect for germinating seeds and nurturing young plants. However, the real bonus was the extension of the summer weather into August and beyond to mid-September. So at the very end of September I am still harvesting ripe tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, broad beans and courgettes, and wondering how we are going to eat the early winter broccoli which is ready at least a month ahead of schedule. By now we are usually preparing the vegetable garden for winter, hacking down the tomato vines and making green tomato chutney incorporating the last of the courgettes and defiantly green peppers.

Although I have reduced the quantity of vegetables I grow, I am still a just-in-case gardener and always sow a few extra seeds as an insurance policy again the plagues of Egypt. This would be fine, if I discarded the extra plants, But I always manage to squeeze the extras in somewhere. Hence four cucumber plants when two would be sufficient and an embarrassment of fruit! Although, I lost a third of my young celeriac plants to marauding slugs, the survivors are the size of small footballs so there will be no shortage of Celeriac Soup this winter.

It is rather comforting to know that we will have enough vegetables to keep us through the winter and next year I might even bridge the hungry gap! However, I still have to solve the problem of the vegetable mountain that is threatening to engulf the croft kitchen. My collection of vegetarian cookery books is getting well-thumbed and although the new Ottolenghi magnum opus arrived just in time to inspire me, once again it was the soup dragon who came to my rescue. So if you can’t face another cucumber salad or salsa, you might enjoy Plentiful Summer Soup.

14 thoughts on “Garden of Plenty

  1. You are more productive up there than I am in Devon. You must get great value from that polytunnel.

    • The difference between a calm and stormy summer is amazing. Our biggest problem is always the wind, otherwise our long days create ideal growing conditions. The polytunnel is my insurance policy and it enables me to be productive for most of the year.

  2. So much produce. You are so well organised with your veg. But what a lot of work you have to do dealing with it all.

    • Needs must, by the time fruit and vegetables reach our shops they’re hardly worth eating!

  3. You will be able to put your feet up for the winter soon!

    • Nice idea, but the winter chores are about to start.

  4. You are so inspirational. Myself and my family are visiting Uig at the end of the month to go house and croft hunting. So very excited and wish to be as self sufficient as you are. Good luck in your endeavours. I will follow you for more inspiration!

    • Good luck with the house/croft hunting. I love it here, but it is a very different lifestyle from the mainland so I hope that you are prepared for a very major culture change.
      Growing a wide range of fruit and vegetables is possible, but it takes perseverance and hard work to get going. So I wish you lots of luck and hope that your dreams come true.

      • Thank you for your reply and your best wishes. A lifestyle change is just what we are looking for but we are prepared that, when we visit, if we are slightly unsure of anything we have to make the right decision especially in respect of our boys who are 8 and nearly 7.

        • South Uist is very different from Lewis and Harris, but if you have any queries and you think I can help just send me an e-mail.

          • Thanks! Just one question. How does your climate and soil differ?

          • I live on the NW tip of South Uist and we’re about as exposed as you can get to the Atlantic gales. In general the west coast is windier and more exposed than the east, but it is drier too – the hills on the east pulling in the cloud. So when choosing a location think about both exposure and elevation. Our maritime climate and the effect of the gulf stream moderates winter temperature, so frost and snow are infrequent. Lewis is further north and may be a little colder, but I think it is a minor difference. On the Uists the west coast is machair (coastal grassland, sandy, alkaline) as you move east it becomes peat and acid. Both soils have their advantages and problems. As the east is wetter and more sheltered there are also midges. Lewis is a much bigger island with different topography to the Uists, however the west coast is more like the Uists i.e. generally flatter and sandy. It is certainly the part of Lewis which I prefer. Harris is completely different, mountainous, very rugged although there is some machair on the west.
            Hope this helps.

          • Yes, thank you. All information and advice is welcome. We are arranging to meet a family who run a croft along side their holiday accommodation business, plus the person showing us our house of choice is a member of the local branch of the crofting commission, as I understand. We need to glean as much information as possible for making informed decisions and understanding how we would work and live. Thanks again. Won’t bother you now, enjoy your weekend.

          • I am sure you are being far more organised and sensible than we were – you will need some help and good advice if you are thinking about buying a croft.

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