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In the garden: Even in the calm of the vegetable patch, it can be hard to stay mindful and focused

If you can get out of your head for an hour or so, you’ll automatically feel calmer – but the challenge is getting there, writes Michael Kelly.

Michael Kelly Grower

IF YOU CAN get out of your head and into your hands for an hour or so in the veg patch, you will feel remarkably calm and at peace. But I find that in the veg patch, as with most places, it’s often a challenge at first to stay mindful and focused on the job in hand.

I had been hand-weeding a bed of leeks which, like everywhere, has become weed-ridden almost overnight. My weeding muscles have grown lazy after a glorious summer when weeds, like all plants, struggled in the heat. But with a return to more normal temperatures and rainfall, weeds are popping up in abundance (as are other pests of the garden – welcome back, slugs!).

My mind was distracted at first. Agitated. Impatient.

I had resolved to weed just this one bed in one evening to make the bigger task more manageable. A single bed of about 4m in length, 1.2m wide, should take about 45 minutes. A bitesize chunk from the larger ordeal. I reasoned if I did a bit like this each day then the whole patch should be done in a week or so. It’s like a bit of bargaining you would do with a small child. “Let’s just do this job little by little and we’ll get through it in no time,” I assured my mind.

But my mind was having none of it. As I started weeding, working through the weeds one by one with a trowel, my mind got busy. It constantly went back to reminding me how big the veg patch is, and how many weeds there are, and how I deserved this for not staying on top of things. I yanked a dock from the soil and cursed how it snapped off, leaving the root in situ. “Bloody docks! That always happens.”

My mind directed my hands outside the bed we’d agreed to focus on, and into an adjoining one. I focused it back gently. “Why focus here when it’s just as bad over there?” it said petulantly. “Why did you let things get this bad? Why isn’t anyone else out to help?” I suddenly become acutely aware of a sense of remove, of detachment. There’s the moany, whiney me, and then the other me, watching, slightly bemused.

After 10 minutes or so, the moany me gradually seemed to give up complaining and I became more mindful and at peace. I focused attention on my body. Knees resting heavily on the kneeling mat. A stretch in my spine as I reached to another weed, relieving the slight ache. The feel of the sun on my face. A prick from a bramble seedling. Sounds. A bird. A passing car. Wind chimes. Sights: among the tender annual weeds, I spot what looks like a tiny bulb fennel seedling which must have self-seeded from last year. (“How on earth did that get there?” my mind asked). A ladybird scampered over a weed. (“We’re ruining its habitat by pulling out all these weeds, you know”). A bee buzzed around over my shoulder flitting between borage flowers. Another ladybird.

And then retrospectively, I noticed there was a gap. There had been no thoughts at all for a time there. Just my senses. Just the trowel in my hand going from weed to weed. I ran the rake up and down the path and the soil beneath turned crumbly. I noticed my footsteps in the newly prepared soil and raked it againto get rid of them.

I was finished. More to do tomorrow. But a sense of satisfaction and calm for now. I walked back up to the house. Turned around to look back at my work. “Sure that wasn’t too bad,” my mind said.

The Basics: August Sowing

There’s still some sowing left to be done before all the growth goes out of the year so this week I have been busy in the potting shed, and direct sowing in the small polytunnel. It’s great to back sowing seeds again. Getting a good crop of green leaves under way is particularly important in August to ensure a good supply right in to the winter months. I always ensure I get a sowing of oriental greens, claytonia (Miner’s lettuce – so called because it was valued by miner’s in south America for its vitamin C content) and chervil.

Here are the green leaves I’m working on:

  • Another tray of beetroot which I will plant out in to the polytunnel in the hope of getting a small crop before the end of October or in early spring
  • A full module tray of lettuce for transplanting in to the tunnel
  • Small module trays of claytonia, coriander, chervil and basil
  • Direct sowing in the polytunnel of oriental greens (mustard red frills and mizuna)
  • Direct sowing of chard, annual spinach and kale – all for use in salads

If you are lucky enough to have a polytunnel or greenhouse you could also try sowing French beans, baby turnips, perpetual spinach, spring cabbage.

Recipe of the Week: Beetroot Burgers

I serve these in a fresh blaa with a yoghurt and dill dressing and a seasonal salad. This makes 6 large burgers.

Ingredients:

  •  500g beetroot
  • 100g bread crumbs
  • 100g porridge oats
  • 3 eggs, beaten
  • 1 small red onion, very finely chopped
  • A large handful of finely chopped dill, thyme and parsley

Directions: Peel and grate the beetroot and put it in a large bowl. Add the breadcrumbs, porridge oats, beaten eggs, onions and herbs, and season well. Mix it all together well with your hands. Season well. Shape it in to 6 or 7 burger-sized patties and then put them on a plate in the fridge for an hour or so. This will help ensure that the burgers don’t fall apart in cooking.

Preheat the oven to 180C/350F. Heat some oil in a pan and fry the burgers briefly on each side to seal them. Then put them on a baking tray and bake them in the oven for 20 minutes and serve immediately. They are even better on day two if you have any left!

Michael Kelly is founder of GIY and GROW HQ. 

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About the author:

Michael Kelly  / Grower

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