“Now that we spend so much time at home…” – was the only acknowledgement of the current situation in the second episode of 2020 Gardeners’ World last week. Indeed, what more can we possibly say? Who could have thought this was possible? Who could have thought there could be so much time for stay-home gardening this year? Spring is marching ahead, unaware of our predicament, no one has informed her of the world pandemic. And so, the seeds must go into the ground.

This year on the allotment, we wanted to be more deliberate with our planting. Last year’s tomato extravaganza, albeit instructive and memorable, was quite stressful and left little space, physically or emotionally, for anything else. This year, tomatoes were still going to feature prominently in our vegetable garden, of course, I just needed to remember to use waterproof markers and allow for 95% germination-to-maturity rate. But somehow, in these last few weeks, I just could not stop sowing seeds. Mostly, tomato seeds.

I sow two oxheart varieties and Malinowy Ozarowsky, a raspberry-pink (“malina” means raspberry), meaty, sweet-flavoured and scalloped in appearance, a gift from a Polish friend. I sow Black Russian, my last year’s hero, dark and dense-textured, like the infamous Slavic soul. I sow Golden Queen, a sweet medium-size variety known as “the queen of all yellows”. Also, Yellow Pear, a cherry variety, the ones that were so incredibly prolific last year and just a joy to look at, yet alone snack on. My Italian allotment neighbour looks at them with scorn and calls them mushrooms. He does not like my Black Russians either, I understand they spoiled the immaculate redness of his salsa di pomodoro. He is unlikely to look after them in the greenhouse if we do go away in the summer, so they will need to go into the open ground and hope for the best. Then again, it is very possible that, a bizarre thought only a month ago, no one is going anywhere this summer.

So, I end up with 25 strong seedlings on my windowsill at home, one third of last year’s, an exercise in restraint. Then, inspecting the greenhouse last week, I find a small forest of tomato seedlings where the last year’s fruit must have fallen. I will have to plant them on. This year, even more than usual, I am compelled to give living things a chance. So young and so tender, they already leave a strong green smell of early summer on my fingers. I will have more than 75 plants and no idea which is which variety. The situation is completely identical to April 2019. I must find solace in what seems to be the birth of a tradition.

There has been much sowing of other vegetables, too. Beetroot is obligatory for our family and we have planned more space for it on the allotment. Even then, I sow way too much. My daughter remarks that a beetroot seed look like a caricature of corona virus. Last year we would not have known the words. Then again, until this week I would have not understood the expression “if you can garden safely”.

We are trying out a couple of new things, too, like bell peppers and chili peppers, and jalapenos. I thought I might pass on the beans, as I found my last year’s harvest a bit too paltry and fiddly. Perhaps that was because we had our hands full with the tomatoes. (Quite right, just blame the tomatoes for anything that didn’t quite work last year!). But the sumptuous-looking Wonder of Venice won me over. Ok, just that one then. I will make “sparzha”, a dish of wide flat yellow runner beans blanched slightly and fried in butter and breadcrumbs. We used to make it almost every summer day when I was small. They say you need to return to your roots in times like this. Taste and smell, the quickest road to one’s childhood.

We then sow two varieties of corn, which I banned last year on the grounds of its being too “rough-country” and a space waster. This year, it feels different. The beans will go in-between corn stakes, and we will plant marrows around the edges – the Three Sisters Method, a new discovery.  We are also finally giving in to sunflowers. And there will be lots of cornflowers in those two beds. A Ukrainian landscape in miniature.

And so, a seed at a time, we go through the quarantine. Never did sowing feel so compulsive or so therapeutic, or more life-affirming. Never did I have so much time for it.

7 thoughts on “Quarantine, one seed at a time

  1. I was just thinking of you yesterday and instructing myself to write to you ! I liked the subdued tone of Gardeners’ World this week (but sometimes all their enormous gorgeous gardens annoy me – what about us humble mortals with stamp-size plots?). Indeed, who could have imagined… And now I so wish I had a bigger garden. I would love to try some of the tomato varieties you recommend – if only for their names. The sun made me sow some things yesterday too, random seeds I had in my box, from last year’s flowers – ammi majus, a verbascum. Also tried seeds of the Vittoria cherry tomatoes we buy from the supermarket. It was a very fiddly business because the tomato seeds were stuck at the bottom of a bowl where my son, who wholeheartedly hates them, had left them a few days before. Who knows if any will germinate. I may try again tomorrow with seeds directly from a tomato. But then I don’t have a greenhouse and the garden is too full…
    I am very happy to see you sowing and preparing for summer, after the very tough winter you went through…

    1. Thank you very much, dear Frog. Oh, I sooooo relate to your annoyance with the grand country estate gardens of the Gardeners’ World! They are from a different world indeed. With an army of gardeners. Smaller or urban gardens make an appearance as a special feature, far and between, unfortunately. But I do love GW’s plant profiles, Francis’ bits about allotments and anyway I would forgive Monty anything, really 🙂 About the tomatoes, though, it’s a funny story about your son and the seeds stuck in a bowl, does he hate the seeds or eating tomatoes? I am just thinking, I believe such varieties as Moneymaker and Sungold (the latter a cherry one) do grow quite well outside, you don’t really need a greenhouse. And my Black Russian did amazingly well outside last year, too! And, although vigorous, you can easily keep it in check and in fact it then produces much larger fruit. I wish I could send you some seeds, to try it out for free this summer.

      1. I agree with you, the plant profiles are the best, with the lovely Carol ! My husband has a crush on Francis, I quite like her too.
        My son hates tomatoes. He will endeavour to eat one or two cherry ones to please me but only after having dug out all the seeds. But then he is very peculiar with his food textures (one of the few things that would fit his ASD diagnosis). I grew Moneymaker last year but they ended up quite tasteless even though they looked good. The previous year, our Shirley something were very tasty. But since I read your post about tomatoes last year I have wanted to grow Black Russian ! And your picture of the yellow pear-shaped cherry tomatoes is also very appetising.

  2. Sounds like a lot of tomatoes. I used to grow a lot of them (24 plants) and then can them. Now, I just grow 4 plants and 1 cherry. I don’t grow them from seed, so hopefully in 5 weeks from now when it is safe to plant them out, the garden centers will still be open for business.
    Are you restricted from going to your allotment? We don’t have much of that here in the U.S. since most gardening is done in ones backyard.

    1. Cindy, this is exactly the amount of tomatoes I have been planning this year, after last year’s tomatoes extravaganza! I really thought I would just have four full size plants and one cherry. I don’t know how this happened that I just kept sowing… And tomato seeds just germinate so well and survive so much, it’s extremely gratifying. Especially in these crazy times… Which tomato varieties do you grow? Do they do well outside? Luckily, we are not restricted from going around just yet, I really hope it won’t come to it here. We have a number of restrictions and all the cafes and restaurants are open but we can still definitely go to the allotment. It’s about 20 min drive, not too bad. I would have loved to have a big backyard just by my house (my brother lives in Canada and I am hugely envious of his plot), but here in the most densely populated part of the most densely populated country in Europe… we only have a quite shady, urban style garden.

      1. Unless you live in a big city or apartment, everyone has yards here. California might be the exception, where everyone is stacked on top of one another in the cities, even home owners have little to no land unless you are rich. But in the midwest where I live (Ohio), land is plentiful, and I have not only a large back yard, but a large front yard too.
        I have cut back on what veg I grow, mostly because it’s just me, the older I get, the less I like to can, and canning time is always the hottest days of the summer. I sadly have found, that I enjoy growing veg more than eating it (except for the tomatoes). I love watching everything come up and fill out the raised beds, but then I don’t want to harvest it. I guess I’m just more of a flower person. Now in my 4- 4×10 foot raised beds, I reserve one for tomatoes, one for raspberries, one for zinnias, and one I’m turning into an herb bed, which again is mostly because I love all their colors and textures. I rarely use the herbs, I just like growing them.
        Everything is closed here except for grocery stores, pharmacies, post office, home repair stores, and fortunately, our garden centers are still open, although one feels guilty for going there. I have gone out much more than I should, and get scolded by my daughter and sister regularly. Restaurants are closed, except for drive through or pick up only. It’s been hard on people, and some don’t listen. But most comply, and it sounds like from the news that it is helping. Virus cases are still on the rise, but hopefully the curve is flattening. A new test has been just created to see who has had it and is now immune, and speedier tests have been developed within the last week. But making the tests, and getting the immense population tested is another matter. Now we just need a vaccine, and life could start to go back to normal.
        Most fortunately, the weather is warming, so the garden is a great help, and I have projects inside and out to keep me occupied. I can’t imagine dealing with this virus if we were going into winter and our American football season was cancelled. That would be the worst part of all for me. Even now, there is talk that football (which doesn’t start until September) might be cancelled, but I’ll not think about that right now.
        I don’t have any particular tomato varieties that I grow. I don’t grow them from seed, so I just buy whatever starts the garden center carries. A tomato is a tomato to me, especially when canning them. I do always get at least one cherry plant, but they come on faster than I can eat them. Tomatoes grow well here in the states, where we have excessively hot and humid summers. When I heard Monty Don talking about tomatoes not growing well for him outside, I could hardly conceive of that. Even people who don’t garden here, usually grow a plant or two of tomatoes, even if just in a patio pot. So many people grow them, that if you have too many, they are hard to give away.

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