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"The Answer lies in the Soil"
Member Name: aefra
Advantages: Healthy, tasty, budget enhancing
Disadvantages: Absolutely none.
My title was the weekly assertion of Fred Loads of Lancaster on Radio 4's Gardeners' Question Time back in the late 50's. It remains as good counsel now as it did then. Enhance your soil and the flavoursome joy of picking your own veg can be enjoyed whatever the size of your garden. It does not have to be back-breaking work, nor does your pretty flower filled plot have to look like a mini allotment.
I have a very small garden, my shed is not the potting variety and I don't have space for a greenhouse. The outlook from my house consists of flower filled beds around a lawn and a large pond. Yet I harvest courgettes, leeks, carrots, runner beans and strawberries in narrow raised beds out of sight behind a trellis while fennel waves its feathery fronds behind the lavender. At over £2 per bulb from your local greengrocer this last has to be a good deal.
The jungle- like giant leaves of a couple of rhubarb plants fill otherwise dull corners and tomatoes are in pots against the sunny wall beneath my kitchen window. This has to be a better place than those planted by a young friend on the wide inner sill of her flat above a shop. As the tomato plants grew they not only darkened the room, but from the outside looked suspiciously like plants of another home grown variety.
Firstly, should you wish to tentatively embark on this fascinating and economically rewarding pastime, there is no need to be too ambitious. For me, two of the most rewarding vegetables to grow for a variety of reasons are also among the easiest. Runner beans need only a small area against a fence with long stakes round which their tendrils can wind. Courgettes appear quite bushy and do take a little space, it helps if they are on the edge of a raised bed so that their offspring can reach downwards. The joy of both of these plants is the hide and seek game they play with their producer. Both conceal their fruit behind or beneath leaves so that you will have to search for them. The courgette produces beautiful, very large edible yellow trumpet- shaped flowers, behind which grow their babies. As you pick them you see some small fruits which in days have become ready in their turn to pick. Last year I had 3 bushes and had to give away most of the crop so fast and for such a long season did they grow. Even then I discovered some of marrow size which had managed to escape my watchful eyes.
Both runners and courgettes may be easily grown from seed. I start mine off on my kitchen window sill in early spring and keep them well watered until the seedlings push through. I then reduce the watering to a more even dampness until ready to plant out. If I hadn't wanted to sow seeds, the plants were available from a local nursery for £1.75 for 3 or £3.50 for 9.
Tomatoes are a doddle and so rewarding. Grown in pots in good compost they just need staking before the weight of the fruit bends the stems then carefully remove non flowering little stems as they appear in the v of established branches. None of this attention needs haste about it, but is a gentle way of passing time when you think about it or pass the plant.
The three I have mentioned are all flowering plants and so will always benefit from an occasional watering in of Tomorite; an inexpensive and convenient way to top up the nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous in your soil. Not suitable for stuff you don't want to flower, though, like rhubarb.
Leeks will grow in ordinary soil and don't like manury stuff if you want them tender. They will stay in the soil until you need them, so there is no hurry to harvest and worry about storage. I have a couple of dozen (half of which will mature earlier than the other variety).
You haven't tasted rhubarb as it should be unless you have grown your own. Here it is that Fred Loads of Lancaster's insistence that "The answer lies in the soil" is proved. Last year I asked the nurseryman from whom I bought the crowns why my fruit was so sweet. After all it was just an old fashioned and standard Victoria variety. He told me that it was the soil it was planted in. This happened to be the used stuff from pots emptied at the end of summer, thrown in a heap in a corner and forgotten for a couple of years. There was so much I used it to start my rhubarb bed and added some old manure. A lucky chance.
The single strawberry plant I put in last year has now set so many runners that I shall have to find a tub with holes in to transplant the little ones for next year. These also have the advantage of actually liking frost.
Most of my veggies were bought in single pots and cost a fraction of what I would have to pay with the weekly shop Everything is behind this year, but I am about to harvest my first large juicy tomatoes (money maker).
"Huh!" you ask, "What about all that digging and bending and gum boot stuff?". Don't worry. I am not talking rows of potatoes, although I do need help to bring in my bags of compost. This is a few plants transferred to their space at a time. The same with harvesting. It feels so relaxed and leisured to wander around my garden with a handful of runner beans, a courgette for tonight's stir fry and stop for a moment to twist off a few stems of rhubarb. This last will have re-grown in just over a week.
A most important task is watering. Most vegetables need plenty of water and reasonably good light to prosper. Should you feel the tug of addiction, you will hopefully become bold enough to look for varieties of choice and take a peep on the internet for added tips.
My review is not an expert's guide to gardening, rather in hope that the reader with a patch of ground can know that veg growing can be an unhurried, absorbing pastime with real benefits. When you reach the moment when you proudly hand a friend a few leeks and a handful of tomatoes with the words, "Picked 'em half an hour ago." there is no going back.
Summary: A relaxing and rewarding use of your garden