Ever since I started growing vegetables, I have been a dab hand at growing carrots. In the first few years that I grew them, the children would form a queue for the place where they could pull up handfuls of baby ones. The carrots would get a quick rinse and then the kids would munch them down, smiling at the sweetness and texture as they did so. At that time, I thought I had the exact formula for growing great carrots. It was obvious really. My carrots were better than everyone else’s, and I had plenty to spare. I could smile the smile of the person who knows how carrots grow best. As I told anyone who cared to listen, all you needed to do was dig the well drained soil on the allotment over to a fine tilth, make a shallow line, water the bottom of it, sprinkle the seeds as thinly as you could and then cover them over with a dusting of compost. Put some fleece over them, until they get going (and to keep off carrot fly). Water well in dry weather and you’re sorted. Carrots-r-us.
How wrong could I have been?
A few years into my carrot growing career, I realised that my perfect formula actually wasn’t so perfect after all. The carrots weren’t doing what I wanted them to do anymore. They were being all temperamental. They were slow to germinate and prone to carrot fly despite my efforts to keep it away. 2016 was a particularly bad year. We didn’t get to eat a single carrot I had grown myself last year, despite me sowing loads of seeds. Perhaps it was the weather. Perhaps it was the two million slugs that invaded my allotment. Or perhaps it was just, you know, 2016. But whatever it was, it showed me that I am not invincible. That I do not know it all and that I still have much to learn. Certainty of outcome is not a given, when you’re dealing with something as complicated as a carrot.
Today as I dug over the allotment in preparation for a new growing season, I came across a lone carrot. The one brave survivor of the Great Carrot Growing Disaster that was 2016. Despite all my attempts to manipulate the environment to get the carrots to grow, that one seed had gone on and grown despite, not because of me. As a gardener, it is tempting to over play my role in growing plants, and to underplay the role that the plants have to play in growing themselves. To take a bit too much of the credit for myself. If I was so inclined, I could use chemicals to up my yield, and to make sure that nothing came between the sowing of the carrot seeds and the outcome of a plate of shiny unblemished carrots. But in the end, the carrot is going to do what it has to do. I smiled as I dug out that carrot. It was grubby, the carrot fly had got into the end of it, and it wasn’t going to win any prizes at the local flower show. But it had got through without my constant intervention. And I admired it for that.