We have a bit of a surplus of carrots at the moment; largely our own fault for chucking seed at a bare patch of ground in the summer “to see if they’d grow” – you know how it is, people are always saying things like “this allotment doesn’t do well with sprouts” and so, without any sort of planning we shoved in some Chantenay carrots and then when they germinated we sowed more Nantes. Of course plants are a good deal more resilient than we give them credit for and they’ve all thrived and kept us in roots for several months. But now with the first frosts, the green tops have started to die back and so today we removed the tops, dug a few of the oversized ones for the kitchen and then covered the rest with fleece because we’ve nowhere to store them at the flat. Ideally we’d have eaten them a month ago when they were at their sweetest and rather smaller, but we didn’t and so it’s stocks and soups for them. I’m not the greatest fan of carrot soup but Madame loves it and our children were fed gallons of the stuff when they were young and it never did them any harm; in fact it was their favourite soup.
Eating things you’re not mad about hardly counts on the frugality scale, but I’ve noticed that generally speaking we’re more willing to give something new a chance if we’ve grown it ourselves. However I’m definitely not one to lecture the hard-up on making do with less. I can’t think of anything more insulting or pointless than lecturing homeless people on the money that can be saved by making your own granola.
But sometimes the thrift goes bad on you and today we had a particularly fine example. We were up at the allotment grabbing a few dry hours with great joy and catching up with some outstanding jobs. Top of the list was planting out as many of our infant broad beans as possible and then it was carrots, cleaning up around the brassicas to discourage pests (especially slugs) and giving the overwintering peas some breathing space. Weeks ago I sowed four rows of Douce Provence which will overwinter in the UK and give an early crop. When we removed the fleece we found that three rows had germinated perfectly – pretty much 100% – but the fourth was quite empty. What could have been the cause? We postulated a mouse with OCD that only eats seeds in straight lines but that seemed a bit far-fetched even to a couple of old hippies. We discarded every possibility until, at last, I recalled that I’d run out of seeds for the last row and found a few in packet in the shed. It took two minutes to discover that the seeds in row 4 were one year out of date – just one. I’d always assumed that the germination rate declined slowly in a nice gentle downward curve, but no – evidently these peas had all switched off simultaniously, like lemmings charging over a cliff.
So as soon as we got back home I checked our large and completely disorganised collection of old seed packets and discovered that over a half of them were out of date, so they were all ditched. More surprising was the fact that we’d bought several packets of out of date seeds from a local garden centre this year. So we shall be carefully checking the use-by dates from henceforth. I had no idea that parsnip seeds are only viable for one year, for instance. Prior to that my worst experience with seed was trying to germinate Sweet Cicily which seems to demand an absolute beating with severe weather before it will consent to poke out a single cotyledon.
But by the time the rain started again we’d got the broad beans in and ‘though I say it myself …. etc. I even managed to get one more board up and finish a wood chip path. Now we are both aching, but we’ve got a rough and ready cassoulet in the oven and everything in it apart from some sausages and the celery was grown by us. In the spring, when the allotment is all expenditure and no returns, it’s easy to wonder whether it’s worth the expense. In December you know it really is worth it.
Later again I walked to the local supermarket to buy milk – we don’t drive 25 miles to get organic milk from a friend’s vending machine because that would be silly! Imagine my joy at seeing that the use-by date is 21st December, the solstice. So use-by dates bring sorrow and joy in the same day. That could be the subject of an exceptionally boring sermon.