A bean-counter

A Numbers Game?

I’m not a great one for statistics, I don’t count the number of potatoes I harvested, or their weight; the number of courgettes a plant produces; or whether dwarf beans produce less beans than climbing; the difference in yields from tomatoes grown outdoors or under cover; the number of garlic bulbs harvested in comparison to the number planted, let alone how long the garlic will last us through the winter.

I simply don’t have a clue. Maybe stats are a bloke thing, a competitive thing, or something to fill in the gaps.

I grow what I grow and we eat what we have, and when we run out, we run out.

I have no idea how much I spend on seeds, compost, seed trays, canes and netting. I can’t even remember exactly how much my rent for the allotment is. Maybe it’s because I don’t like the counting or maybe I see counting as a dull way to describe a hobby. It would spoil the pleasure knowing how much the spuds cost me, or how much garlic I’m getting back for my investment of new bulbs each year; let alone working out the actual cost the vegetables I grow compared to the price in the shops.

It’s not like I’m wallowing in money, or that I’m a spendthrift or that I’m careless with money. It’s just that for me I can’t justify the pleasure of growing and eating my own food by quantifying it.

For me gardening and growing my own fruit and veg is purely qualitative. How do I quantify the pleasure of spending time outside, in all weathers, tending my vegetable plot, or sitting at the table sowing seeds, or nurturing those seedlings, or spotting the first flowers on an aubergine plant, or a lettuce heading up, or noticing that in a couple of days time the pak choi will be ready for picking. Then comes the next level of pleasure – the picking and the cooking, then there is the sharing food with my loved one, and my friends and family. Impromptu shared meals in the summer to help us eat our way through a glut of courgettes, beans and potatoes. Planning and researching new ways to cook the food I’ve grown. Knowing that no chemicals have been used. Only graft, and horse muck!

How do I justify trying new veggies and new varieties? How do I measure that? They might not grow well for me, or I might not particularly like them, so I won’t grow them again, and I might swap the seeds for something else, or just give them away. But there’s the possibility that I will love them, they might become a new firm favourite in the vegetable garden. I could cost the seeds out, maybe figure out the compost used. But the time and effort? Nah, the pleasure was in finding something new out, and I can’t measure that.

I could measure the time I spend researching new varieties to grow, how to save seeds, the actual time spent gardening, and put an hourly rate to it all. What would that achieve?

What’s the cost associated with digging up some leeks on a frosty January morning and taking them home to make into a hearty winter soup? Do I measure the health benefits from the exercise, and the good home-grown food?

How do I quantify a bunch of mates sitting round the dinner table, eating Aloo Bonda, made with freshly dug potatoes, followed by a Green Bean Thoran, or a fresh green salad, or a zingy tomato salsa, rounded off with a fruit pie or pudding, and sipping on a glass of wine pontificating about love, life, the universe and everything?

I can sit up on the allotment and listen to the birds, the wind in the trees, notice the bees around the lavender, listen to the crickets in the grass, look at the patterns of light and shadow thrown around the plot, watch the clouds scud past and the sea glinting on the horizon. What is the cost?

When the world around you is in flames and uproar, I can go to the allotment for peace and respite, to work through my whirring mind, and put the world to rights. And then to trudge wearily home, with a bag full of goodies, planning the food for that night’s dinner.

I realise writing this that I actually daren’t count the number of seed packets I have. I just know I have a lot. And some time over winter I’ll have a sort out, check the expiry dates, look at what has grown well, what needs re-ordering, and what I fancy giving a whirl next year. Marvelously unscientific and non-statistical!

Gardening and growing my own fruit and vagetables is both priceless and unquantifiable. Statisticians and bean counters go and count elsewhere!

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