Article, kitchen garden, Kitchen Garden

Gardening while growing a bump

After discovering I was pregnant last August, I naively thought that not much would change in my daily life until I was ‘really’ pregnant (except the obvious dietary restrictions). I would soon discover just how wrong I was! Now at 8 months, I’ve decided to reflect on the ups and downs of gardening while pregnant, and to share my learning curve in the hopes it might help to prepare, motivate and ultimately reassure other people on this crazy journey.

So back to the beginning. It was the middle of August in 2022: the weather was still incredibly warm, tomatoes, chillies and apples were ripening in the garden while corn and squash neared harvesting time at the allotment. I was preserving basil as pesto, blackberry syrup and plum chutney. I had big plans for the autumn and winter too: there were tulip bulbs to plant, garlic varieties on order, harvests to store and a garden and allotment to put to bed and then prep for spring. But that would all be fine, as it wouldn’t really be until spring that I’d need to slow down…

Green plum tomatoes in the greenhouse
Plum tomatoes in the greenhouse
Fresh basil and cashew pesto in a bowl
Fresh basil and cashew pesto
Red cayenne chillies drying in a basket
Cayenne chillies drying in a basket

Online photos of perfectly toned pregnant people in the gym certainly didn’t help, but the simple fact was that I had no idea what I was getting into. In my first trimester, the tiredness hit me with full force, and I found myself napping every evening after working at a desk job, let alone getting outside. Gardening slowed to almost a complete stop, and I was harvesting only. It was enough to keep on top of picking our fresh produce – and that was my priority: I didn’t want anything to go to waste.

A pregnant person in red dungarees
Challenge time: fitting my 8 week bump into gardening dungarees
Autumn planted garlic growing at the allotment
Autumn planted garlic growing at the allotment

In no time at all, it was mid-November. 17 weeks of pregnancy had flown past and those tulip and garlic bubs needed planting. The garlic went in at the allotment in jeans held shut by a hairband around the top button (if you know, you know!) and I was already struggling to squat down to pop the 81 cloves one by one into the earth. I was very glad of my husband Chris’ help with that! The tulip bulbs continued to sit in a tray in the greenhouse. I potted up the new bulbs I’d ordered into individual pots, and created a few bulb pots for the garden table – the rest, saved from last year’s pots, stayed in that tray.

December meant everything shifted towards Christmas plans, family announcements and sorting through winter veg for the big day. We found out we were having a little boy, we ordered nursery furniture and a pram in the Black Friday sales and planned paint colours. The garden and allotment were left to their own devices – as was my list of jobs.

By the middle of January, I was so behind with my list of garden jobs that I had all but given up actually achieving. The tulips in the tray were shooting and I had floppy sweet peas and broad beans in the greenhouse, along with dead and moulding chilli plants from last summer. It was time for a new approach.

Holding a bunch of carrots with leaves still attached
Pulling Autumn King carrots grown in a bucket for our Christmas dinner
Frosty grass
Frosty grass: the garden sleeps

Finally accepting that I needed to look at things a little differently, I split up my bigger jobs into small ones, removed anything non-essential, and started with a fresh list on a wipe clean board on the fridge. I set myself a new, more achievable challenge: if I had 20 or 30 minutes free at lunchtime while working at home, I’d pick one thing from the list and go and do it. In this way, I worked through clearing out the dead chilli plants from their pots, a few at a time. I emptied spent compost onto our flowerbeds to help replenish soil levels, cut back the autumn raspberry canes and finally planted those tulips amongst the spring shoots in the flowerbed.

Raspberry canes on the table after pruning
Raspberry canes after pruning
Potted tulip bulbs ready to plant
Potted tulip bulbs ready to plant
Tulip bulbs held by a gardening-gloved hand
Planting tulip bulbs

Slowly but surely, the garden is edging towards being ready for spring. The allotment is still untouched, but that needs some heavy labour, so I’ve delegated clearing, weeding and prepping the large beds for potato and onion planting to Chris. By the time we’re ready to plant the potatoes and onions I probably won’t be able to bend down to help, so that will be up to him too – and that’s okay! I don’t need to be there directing every move on the plot. In the meantime, I can focus on jobs like sowing seed, raising the seedlings and growing spring salads for our first harvests of the new growing year.

The greenhouse
The greenhouse

In short – there is plenty to be done, but we don’t have to do everything right now. Knowing that the first few months of being a new parent are likely to be demanding, I’ve scaled back the plans for this summer to a more manageable level. We’ll focus on the core veg at the allotment that need less attention: potatoes, onions, garlic, greens and beans will almost take care of themselves, with a little hoeing. In the garden and greenhouse, we’ll have tomatoes and chillies, salads and perhaps some melons (purely because last year’s harvest were so delicious!). These will be taken care of in the bite-sized moments I can steal whenever I get them. Everything else can wait for next year. That’s the beauty of gardening: there is always next year.

So, what have I learnt? Reality isn’t perfect (not even close!) and I don’t have to have done everything to have achieved something. Despite what all of the books say, late is better than never – if you didn’t get something sown or planted at the right time, try it anyway, or choose something else that might work instead. I have learnt not to set unachievable expectations, to work within my new limits and most importantly, to have patience and kindness for myself as we set out on our new adventure.

Overwintered butterhead lettuces growing under cover for our first salad crop
Overwintered butterhead lettuces growing under cover for our first salad crop

My top 5 tips for managing your garden jobs:

  1. Make a (realistic) tick list that you can cross things off of – the satisfaction of physically removing an item from your list is so worth it!
  2. Split up big jobs into smaller ones. Remember those tulip bulbs in the tray? I split them between 5 boxes and split the flowerbed into 5 corresponding sections. Suddenly the huge job was 5 small ones that I could easily fit into a lunch break in the garden.
  3. Give yourself a set amount of time or number of times a week that you can stick to without feeling overwhelmed. This is a big one – don’t over expect of yourself so that you don’t want to stick to it or even start. A little is better than nothing at all!
  4. Plan and prepare before starting a job. It’s annoying at the best of times, but having to go back and forth or get up and down for the things you forgot is even more frustrating with the added challenge that a bump brings. You’ll thank yourself for having everything you need to hand!
  5. Enjoy your handiwork! Not every trip outside has to be productive. A 5 minute walk around to appreciate the things you’ve done and notice the little changes nature brings each day is sometimes just what you need to feel engaged and connected with your space.

Have more tips to share? I would love to hear your best in the comments!

iris bulbs flowering in pots
Signs of spring: iris bulbs flowering in pots

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