Sunday, December 09, 2012

The Good Life

Last night I dreamed I went to my new vegetable patch and overnight, everything had grown to lush, bulging readiness and my brussels sprouts had, well, sprouted. I woke up hungry.

For those of you who are not aware, I am staring down the barrel of my fortieth birthday and rather than turn to hell-raising to avoid the threat of middle age, I appear to have taken up vegetable gardening.

I have flirted with it a few times before - but only in the way that you might flirt with a regular client by email because he lives in Outer Mongolia, Milton Keynes or somewhere so similarly far flung that you know you are very, very unlikely to ever meet him in the flesh and there is absolutely no risk attached. But I've never really seen it through.

(Who am I kidding? I've yet to see it through this time. The dream was not realistic at all - my brussels sprouts seedlings are still only 2 inches tall. Incidentally, a 500g bag of sprouts here costs around GBP £10 - hence my hunger for growing them, amongst other staples or costlier vegetable treats.)

I started planting seeds back in September. There is a boat stored in our compound (belonging to the landlord) and the upside down hull makes a perfect seed tray area to keep tiny stems out of the way of the four dogs that live in our compound. Plus it's right below my balcony so I can do lazy watering from there which is much easier. Here's a photo of my boat garden - it looks a little depleted right now as a lot of seedlings have just been transferred to the beds.


Last weekend it was finally time to start planting out, as I gather the phrase is. I nearly broke my back hoeing the murram and mixing in 'black soil' which you buy locally from the many garden centers lining Kampala's suburban roads. I also now know what pinching off means when dealing with tomato plants, and I when I first read about someone having their 'pak choi bolt' on them I had to look that up - there's a whole new gardening lexicon to deal with.

(By the way, a garden centre in Africa is not a large Sainsbury's Homebase type affair, with trolleys etc. It's just an open air nursery garden by the side of the road, usually in areas where the road passes through a swamp, or runs parallel with a small, often flotsam filled river, so that they have a free but smelly water supply for their plants.)

But now I have two beds done - one with tomatoes, lettuce, cucumber, sugar snap peas and courgettes. The other with carrots, parsnips, brussels sprouts, leeks and spring onion. My salad bed is all transplanted seedlings and I have also spent hours winding sisal twine round bamboo in various wigwam contaptions, so that's looking quite professional, even if I say so myself.


God knows if I will actually be able to see this through - both in terms of personal motivation and the sorts of meteorological obstacles faced. It's either baking hot or torrential rain here and last week we had a small earthquake for god's sake. It hit 4.9 on the scale apparently - which sounds impressive but is probably sod all - and happened at 7.30pm one night after work JUST as I was parking in a multi storey building... Great. Of course, I didn't feel anything (everything in my car rattles anyway) but it would have been just my luck. 

But here's the thing. All the cliches about gardening are true. Your back aches, you get filthy, covered in mosquito bites (maybe that's more an occupational hazard this close to the equator), and you go into work Monday morning with mud engrained in your fingernails and toenails, but it's hugely therapeutic and calming, and very very satisfying when things actually start to look like they're meant to. 

Just look at these courgette plants on the go!


I finally understand the appeal. 

Next week, join our correspondent as she takes up golf and learns to cross-stitch.

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