The Kitchen Garden in Review

It’s that time of year when I settle down on a wet February afternoon and plan the planting for the kitchen garden. I’ve also been reviewing last year’s successes and failures and what I might do better. So how has my kitchen garden done in the last year?

Potatoes: the best crop yet – loads of good-sized, quality potatoes free from blight and the dreaded wire worm. 

I planted Maris Piper again – one set in a new raised metal bed, the other in the kitchen beds as normal.
The galvanised planter had fresh soil to avoid wire worm. The kitchen border had the same soil (I always rotate my crops) but, like the previous two years, I went over every square inch of ground with a narrow trowel, removing any wire worms. The robin became my constant companion and we are now on first-name terms. 

Despite the drought, the potatoes grew well and I harvested them quite early. Perhaps this was why they avoided blight?

The only down side of an early harvest is that the tatties have not stored as well as I hoped. They have all spouted despite being kept in optimum conditions. Perhaps it was just too warm an autumn for them?

Onions: my utterly reliable Stuttgart Giants utterly failed. Or at least they should be renamed Stuttgart Minis as they are no larger than a shallot. However, they have kept well and I am indeed using them as shallots so not all is lost. I put it down to the very dry weather last year and move on.

Leeks: ditto as onions. A miserable crop that bolted as soon as the temperatures rose. No sign of rust, though, which is a plus. This year I’m moving them to the big square raised border and see how they do there.

Garlic: not at all bad. I wanted to avoid garlic rust so planted out a few tubs and distributed them around the garden. The resulting bulbs weren’t huge, but they were plentiful and have kept well. They did get a bit of rust, but I was able to harvest them before it could spread.

This year, I planted some out (along with a few spare onions) in November and, despite the torrential rain, they have put on good growth and seem quite pleased with themselves. Time will tell if planting them out in the very wet West was a good idea or not.

Broad beans: last year I planted them the previous autumn in pots, in the greenhouse. By February 2022 they were in full flower. I potted them on and then planted them out a few weeks later. In effect, it meant handling them three times, so three times more work. However, they shot up and flowered their little hearts out. Unfortunately, few of those flowers set (plenty on bees on them) and then the blackfly attacked. We did get a crop, but I don’t think all the extra bother gained us anything at all. This year I planted the beans directly in the ground in November. Every one germinated and were about four inches out of the ground when the December cold snap hit.
I didn’t bother checking them for a couple of weeks. Christmas was coming and I wanted to press on with the latest book project. I needn’t have worried about the fate of the little plants as they laughed off the cold and are still there, looking chirpy.

Tomatoes: the best ever harvest. Every year I have planted cherry tomato types in special pots, tending them with extreme care. And every year, despite large crops, they have been hit by blight and I’ve lost a good third of the harvest. This year, I had a few ‘elbows’ when pinching out the plants, plus a random beef tomato plant, which I bought cheaply at the local garden centre. I thrust the whole lot into a raised bed around a newly planted white beam tree where they flourished, producing big, fat healthy tomatoes. And no blight. Perhaps it was (not) a good year for blight?

Chard: I’ve never grown ruby chard before and probably won’t bother again. It’s still going strong but no one in the family seems particularly keen on eating it.

Sprouting broccoli: beloved by aphids, it was a bind washing the little blighters off the sprouty bits. Nor did the plants produce enough to justify the space they took. 

Butternut squash: mixed results. One plant produced ENORMOUS fruits, while the others were undersized. They’ve all kept well, though.

Courgettes: Not bad all things considered. The season was short, but that was no bad thing.


A mixed year, then. I am ever reminded that our ancestors relied on the food they grew and went hungry when crops failed. Tending my little plot I feel the connection to the earth acutely and celebrate the little wins knowing I cannot predict what next year might bring. There is a long story of  Man’s relationship with the soil stretching back before Antiquity, and we recall just a little of it every time we plant a seed in hope of a harvest.

Can Do Better: Why ‘Best’ Is Not Good Enough.


Do you remember being told as a child that ‘you can do better’? Do you recall how that made you feel – encouraged, perhaps? Despondant? The other day I posted an oft quoted phrase on a well-known media platform and asked for comments. What I didn’t say was WHY I was interested in the feedback. This is the reason.

Some years ago a young person experienced severe self-doubt over school-related performance, which compounded already very low self-esteem. In the course of therapy, this person was told, ‘The enemy of the best is the good enough.’ Devastated, the young person interpreted the quote to mean that only the best is good enough. 

Redoubling their efforts, the young person excelled in their chosen subject at university, only to suffer a complete breakdown as a result. Despite attaining academic excellence, they never felt that they had earned the accolades they had been given, because ‘good enough’ wasn’t ‘the best’.

Subsequently, when the young person recently heard the phrase again, their reaction was one of dismay – much to the surprise of the person who quoted it. And this is why.

The person explained that, during the Second World War, Soviet commander General Zhukov had applied the well-known phrase to the availability of Soviet tanks compared with those of the German army.

The Soviet T34 was fast to manufacture, easy to drive, quick to manoeuvre and reasonably well armed. In the face of such opposition, the German army reacted by producing tanks that were far superior and massively over-engineered. As a result they could not produce enough of these gold-plated versions to outgun the Soviet tanks. In this instance, it was the number of tanks that counted, not the quality. As General Zhukov said, ‘The enemy of the best is good enough.’ 

Hearing this, the young person thought about it for a while and then, looking up, said, “I have spent my life thinking that in order to be accepted at school and to be of value to society, I had to be the best, but no matter how hard I tried I could never be perfect.”

To this young person, the phrase meant the opposite of its intended meaning. 

Throughout childhood and into adolescence, young people are exhorted to try harder, do better, never accept ‘good enough’. A quick search online of the word ‘encouragement’  came up with dozens of images of high-achieving children and advice on how to improve their educational outcomes. Few showed alternative concepts of success. Even where parents are given tips on how to raise a child to be kind, helpful, and resilient, the values placed on these virtues rarely filter into systems used to gauge results. Effective parenting – and by default, the competence of the parent – is itself judged by the success of the child. Attainment is measured in scores and grades, goals set and targets met. By the time they reach adulthood, many people are wired and primed to respond to similar phases in the way the young person did – not in terms of being encouraged, but with raised levels of anxiety at the implied criticism. How many of us recognise the anxious child within ourselves, the one who feels they don’t deserve praise, who ‘must do better’? 

As a society, we want our children to strive and to make the best of the opportunities offered to them. Empty praise is just that and does nothing to encourage individual expectations. But there is also an undercurrent of cultural unease in the way children are raised that speaks of a fear of featherbedding young people and which says that praise will undermine effort and therefore performance. Raise the bar, make them work for it. But the bar is also a rod used to beat under-achievers. 

Attainment is a matter of societal and individual viewpoint driven by a history of ambition and fear. We are all the victims of these pernicious attitudes and the perpetrators. Only by recognising the effect of our inherited perspective towards success and the language that surrounds it, can we modify and change the way we approach our children’s future.  Our best is good enough.