My house reeks of vinegar. Despite opening all of the windows, my clothes have a sharp aroma, my eyes gently sting and I fear I’m slowly pickling the dog. No, I’ve not developed an unhealthy obsession with chip shop eggs… it’s chutney making season again.
In my life before Pulmonary Hypertension, there was no chutney making season. Ever. In fact, there was no chutney. Like most people, each Christmas I bought one posh jar, which would live in the back of my fridge, half eaten, slowly growing mould. However over the past five years, chutney has gained status in our house. ‘Chutney making weekend’ is a key event in the calendar, homemade pickles are wrapped up to be gifted each Christmas, and Phil eats lashings of the tomatoey goodness for lunch each day!
Neither Phil nor I showed interest in gardening as children, yet strangely ‘land for a veg patch’ was an important criteria when buying our first house! Thankfully we found a property with garden aplenty… and even more thankfully, we adored growing crops (it would have cost a fortune to pave over! 😛 ). With Phil living and working away a lot, for the first few years I did it all on my own. I was head gardener. I planned, I planted, I potted up, I pricked out. I dug and weeded and shovelled. Every seed and seedling and plant and vegetable was touched by my hands. Homegrown certainly tastes better. We moved into our second property with grand plans to build an even bigger patch and be joint gardeners; but then it all seemed impossible when I became ill. I struggled to lift my arms above my head, never mind dig a hole. I struggled to tie back my hair, never mind tie-up beans and tomatoes. I struggled to be active for longer than a few minutes, never mind the hours and hours required to maintain a vegetable patch. Homegrown suppers seemed inconceivable.
However, happily, Phil and I have found ways to make it work. Thanks to teamwork and adjusting our sails (see my previous blog), we’ve successfully produced crops during each of the past six growing seasons. When I’ve been unable to do any activity, I’ve supervised and directed and guided Phil from the comfort of my recliner. When I’ve had some strength, I’ve completed the easiest and least tiring jobs only (like planting seeds and picking fruit). And when I’ve enjoyed seasons of extra vigor, I’ve joined in with everything; half of the gardening; equal partners. We both love it! Over the years, our fingers have got greener, our veg patch has grown bigger and we’ve learnt how to outwit those pesky slugs. And we’ve enjoyed hundreds of homegrown suppers. 🙂
Miraculously, this year, for the first time since getting ill… I was head gardener. I did it all. 😀 I felt strong enough and well enough to do everything.. so aside from digging in manure, Phil has had a year away from the crops. By working on it ‘little and often’, I’ve managed to stay on top of all the many many jobs. Sowing seeds, re-potting seedlings, planting plants. Tying growing crops to canes, pinching out tomatoes, pruning overgrown bushes. Watering every thing, every day. And so so so much weeding! It shocks me that I was well enough to turn my bare patch into a thriving plot of gorgeous crops on my own. Courgettes, marrows, sweetcorn, climbing beans, broad beans, tomatoes, radishes, lettuces, spring onions, cucumbers, carrots, spinach, beetroot, garlic, leeks, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries. It feels amazing to nip into the garden to cut my salad for lunch. It feels amazing to take a basket outside and return with dinner. And it feels even more amazing knowing that it’s all due to my hard work. I’m incredibly proud, and incredibly thankful to my fabulous body for remaining well this summer.
And furthermore, this year, for the first time… I also made the chutney on my own! Thirty-six jars of Charlton Chilli goodness cooked over two long days! Chopping is exhausting with fatigued muscles, so it took a full day to just slice the tomatoes, courgettes and onions! (I did have 6kg of tomatoes!). The second day was stirring and simmering, washing and sterilising, funnelling and spooning. After many hours of work, I finally screwed on the last lid at 9pm. Exhausted. Although I spent the next day on the sofa (smelling of vinegar!), it was worth it to finish the season in the same way as I’d gardened throughout it… independently!
It’s been a super summer in our garden. We enjoyed our largest ever tomato harvest (thank you heatwave), I successfully grew an inaugural crop of delicious sweetcorn, and the spinach didn’t get eaten by any snails! And I was head gardener for the first time since developing PH. Thank you wonderful body for letting me achieve that. I’ll be toasting it all on Christmas day when we open our first jar of spicy chilli chutney.