I'm probably not the usual suspect for this as I'm only in my early twenties, but over the past few years I have gradually got more and more into growing fruit, veg and flowers. This is the fourth summer that I've been doing it and you've probably gained from me saying summer that I am a bit of a fair weather gardener. Thus far I have only tried things that grow from the last to the first frost, but that's about to change. We only have a small garden so we are now on the allotment list for our village. The man who organises it says we should have one by the end of the year, and I'm really excited.
There are many benefits to GYO - the exercise you get, fresh air, no food miles, saving money. The reason I've become so taken is because I get a buzz from growing things. It really gives me a sense of accomplishment to sit down to a meal and think 'I grew this salad' or 'all these veggies came from the garden'. It's also really nice to be able to share your harvest with friends and family, sending them home with some strawberries or taking them over some beans.
It's also quite a social thing where I live because we are in quite a rural area of Devon and a lot of our neighbours grow fruit and veg too. Hopefully this year I'll have something to enter into the village flower show.
This has been a bit of a dodgy year for growing, what with the erratic weather we've been having in the UK, so if you are a beginner, stick with it!
As you may have gathered, I'm sort of semi-retired; have been for around two years. Retirement leaves you with a certain amount of time on your hands. As my wife still works, my time is to a certain extent taken up with housework. I do the washing up, vacuuming, ironing and so on although I draw the line at cooking, basically because you probably wouldn't want to eat anything I've cooked, which is ironic considering the topic.
Other than that, when the weather is nice, my time is spent in the garden. I've spent a lot of time in the garden over the last two years and it's certainly looking better for it. The rear garden faces just east of south and so enjoys the benefit of the sunshine more or less all day long, or would were it not for the trees that surround the property. Mind you, living in Surrey, the most forested county in Britain,(now, not a lot of people know that!) I suppose that's no surprise. Still, it does give us some welcome shade on those odd few sweltering days.
It's not a big garden and all of it is taken over with bushes, shrubs and flowers, plus a lawn. What vegetables we have grown in recent years have been in tubs on the patio. Mostly that's been tomatoes although we do have a fine selection of various herbs growing along under the windows. However, I wanted to try to expand this but the back garden really wasn't suitable for anything extensive. What we did have, though, was a strip of grass alongside the garage that, frankly, was a pain to mow. However, it is on the north-west side of the property, not exactly promising for growing things other than grass.
I decided on a trial to see if the spot was viable for growing things. I dug over a section of the grass of about two metres by one. Here I met my first problem, but not one that came as any surprise. Where we are is where the ice sheet stopped at the end of the last ice age. Apart from being up on a ridge (so no danger of flooding) the soil is absolutely full of stones. You can't stick the fork in further than a centimetre before you hit something that stops you progress! I wanted to turn the soil over to two spade depths.
I carved off the top couple of centimetres of grass and put it aside and then set to to tackle the subsoil; it was hard work. It took several weeks during which I place the removed turf upside-down in the bottom of each trench and back-filled with the removed soil, minus the stones and rocks. Even though about a third of the soil was large stones, the rest went back and filled the available space. I think that this is mainly because the original soil was very compacted, having not been touched for maybe 25 years. The replaced soil had much more air in it, and that's good for growing plants. Finally I dug in composted garden waste from our composting bins to a depth of about ten centimetres, since the soil would not have had much natural goodness in it.
So, what to grow?
With a relatively small area I wanted to concentrate on those things we eat most and which don't take up too much space. I also wanted things that would not take too long to grow, such as those that would not be ready until the following year. Consequently we stuck just to carrots, runner beans, spinach and salad stuff, such as lettuces, rocket and radishes. We did try some onions as well.
Carrots are relatively easy: just cut a shallow grove with the edge of a hoe and sprinkle in the seeds. Carrot seeds are very small so it's difficult to spread them out. Don't worry about that: you can thin them out once they've started growing although be careful what you do with the thinnings as they will attract carrot fly, which will leave your carrots full of holes. How fast carrots grow depend upon a number of factors, most especially temperature. You should start seeing green shoots peeping through the soil after a few weeks and these will grow to about 20cms high. The carrots should be ready to pull after a two or three months.
Beans are very easy to grow but are best started indoors in small pots on your window shelf and planted out when they reach about 5cms high. Because of the way my plot is laid out, the sun mostly shines on the fence that divides our property from our neighbour to the north-west. Beans like to climb to I made a frame out of bamboo sticks and placed it along the fence. The sprouting beans were planted at its base and allowed to climb up it. Beans start producing quite quickly, especially where they get the sun as mine do. The flowers develop all the way up the stalks and soon start developing into beans. You should be able to pick beans for a couple of months before they finally stop growing.
Spinach is also very easy to grow. The seeds are larger than carrot seeds and so are easier to plant spaced out to give each plant room to grow. I grow perpetual spinach, which grows new leaves all the time so that you can cut what you want without killing the plant. Each plant should produce leaves for months. The danger is to plant too many plants and have more spinach than you can reasonably be expected to eat, unless you're Popeye.
Salad stuffs are also easy to grow. Radishes can be sown directly into a shallow grove in the soil but lettuces are probably better started indoors on your window shelf and then planted out. I haven't bothered much with spring onions because I have found that they do take a very long time to grow. They usually haven't reached anywhere near the size that makes them worth picking until long after all the rest are ready. They also don't much like being transplanted: they tend to sulk before picking up again!
Our first year proved that this was a viable spot despite the shadow cast by the garage roof for much of the day. I decided, around October, to dig up the rest of the grass and convert the entire space to growing vegetables for the following year. I sure got a lot of exercise. It took me about two months to completely dig over the 6 metres by 1.75 metres plot to two spade depth and remove the tons of stones buried in the soil. Once again I dug in a whole compost bin of manure and added some commercial fertilizer, I use Westland Growmore. Use generously and dig into the topsoil.
You may consider using composted farmyard manure. My advice is avoid this for anywhere where you are considering growing root vegetables such as potatoes, carrots and parsnips. I understand that these types of vegetables don't take kindly to that sort of compost. It's OK for your flowerbeds though, so I am told.
Once again it was time to decide what to grow. This time we decided to get a bit more adventurous. We decided to stick with favourites like carrots, spinach and salad stuffs but branch out into things a little more exotic as well. We also decided to change from runner beans to French beans. We chose sweetcorn, courgettes and parsnips.
Sweetcorn I planted at the end of the vegetable patch. This was a mistake. Sweetcorn needs lots of sunshine and the plants closest to the garage grew much slower due to the shadow cast by the roof. I should have planted it along the fence, beside the beans, so that it caught as much sun as it could. I will remember for next time. However, it is growing; it seems to grow just stalk, for ages. Then, suddenly, the male flowers appear at the top and the cobs start growing rapidly from the leaf junctions. So, have patience.
Never underestimate the amount of space courgettes take up! They start very small and end up spreading all over the place. Don't plant anything near them or they it will get swamped. Courgettes are easy. Just watch out for the odd fruits that start to rot at the end before fully grown: simply cut them off and discard them. They grow quite quickly and carry on producing throughout the summer.
Parsnips take a very long time to grow. They seem as though they're doing nothing and then all this greenery pops up. However, the root takes much, much longer. I'm leaving mine until Christmas to pull, to have roasted with our Christmas Dinner. Yummy.
We've also stuck in some potatoes that had started sprouting, as we had some spare room. I have no idea if they are going to produce anything but I won't be bothering lifting them to check until late autumn. If there's nothing there, well, we haven't lost anything! Had some lovely flowers on the plants though, which I wasn't expecting.
The French beans are the major success though. We started them out in small pots, not too small as they won't grow at all otherwise, on the windowsill to germinate. We then planted them out, and went on holiday for a fortnight. This was a mistake! When we got back they were all over the soil and not climbing the frame. I spent hours trying to untangle them and get them trained up the sticks. However, they have produced tons of beans, and there's still more to come.
So, growing vegetables really isn't that hard, once you've completed the back-breaking job of preparing the soil. We are enjoying fresh, wonderfully tasting produce, virtually for free and, boy, do you notice the difference between this and the stuff that gets served up in the supermarkets. Now we've got the hang of it I'm looking forward to even better results next year.
If you want to get an idea of our vegetable patch and just what can be done with a relatively unpromising piece of land, check out the photo I've posted on my Facebook profile, in the "Latest" album.
Growing your own fruit and veg can be a really good idea, especially in the current economic climate; where every penny counts. Different plants do well in different places, so it helps to know what you can and cannot grow, which is why this year I am trying loads of different things.
I've never really been one for gardening, but with the birth of my lovely boys I decided to give it a go, as I wanted to know my boys were getting the best. I decided to start quite big and throw myself in at the deep end, so my veg patch is huge! This year I have the following growing:-
Courgettes - 2 plants hopefully should be enough for my little family.
Peas - 12 plants, I love fresh peas, so I've planted 12 plants in the hope that we can have a few good harvests!
Runner beans - 8 plants, just like the peas I wanted a few good harvests, hopefully 8 plants should be enough!
Broad beans - my husband doesn't like these, so it's just me and the boys. I have put in 6 pants, which should be enough.
Carrots - I've planted 2 rows, about 2 meters each. Hopefully should get around 100 carrots.
Parsnips - 1 row, about 30 parsnips.
Beetroot - about 20 in total
Onions - one row, hopefully around 30 onions.
Leeks - one row, about 50 leeks.
Raspberries - 3 canes, not too sure how much fruit they will produce.
Strawberries - a bought this last year and left it in the pot outside over winter. I meant to throw it out but forgot, and I was shocked in spring because my plant has gone crazy! Hope to get about 150 strawberries.
Mushrooms - I've thrown a whole packet of seeds onto the compost heap, and I'm just going to see what happens!!
I'm going to see what does well and what doesn't and next year I will grow less things, but more of them! I know the compost is important; we have a huge heap which has all our vegetable waste from the house, and all the garden waste thrown on, along with the leaves from autumn. We turn it over about 5 - 6 times during the year so that the grass cuttings from summer and leaves from winter all get mixed in. We also use accelerator to speed the process up a bit.
There's nothing better than pick your own, especially when you only have to walk down the garden to get it!!
In these times when money is tight and the price of food keeps going up, what better way to get some healthly fruit and veg than to grow your own? Ok - so the "start up" costs may add up, for example I bought a greenhouse at the cost of £50, and some pots/troughs/dirt, but now once I have paid out for these the only thing I need to buy is each year is seeds (and that's assuming that I've used up all the ones from last year). You can of course minimise costs by using sites such as Freecycle and Ebay for pots, seeds etc, and you can grow stuff in almost anything such as buckets, old biscuit tubs, and its even been suggested to grow potatoes in a stack of old car tyres filled with dirt!
But once you get started, its so addictive!! Seeing the seeds that you planted and nurtured grow into large plants that produce food is really rewarding. My sweetcorn grew from a tiny seedling into plants that were as tall as me! I looked in to renting an allotment as they are quite near my house, but in the end decided that growing it all in the back garden would be best as if I want to water the tomatoes in my pyjamas I can!!
Our back garden is concrete so my husband built me some raised beds with wood from B&Q. I started off just wanting to grow tomatoes, but I soon got addicted and ended up growing sweetcorn, runner beans, peas, beetroot, potatoes, cucumbers, melons, peppers, radishes, carrots and spring onions! Now I have never, ever grown veg before, so it was literally trial and error, plant the seeds and cross the fingers, but almost everything turned out brilliantly! All you need to do is read the seed packet and see whether they like sun or shade etc, and remember to water them! I used tomato food as a general all-purpose feed for all my plants.
Once you have tasted fresh veg from the garden, you will never buy the no-so-fresh stuff from the supermarket again. Sweetcorn is my best example of this - take the cobs straight from the plant and boil them and they are delicious. I bought some from the supermarket when I had eaten all that I had grown, and couldn't eat it as it tasted so old and plasticky! Potatoes also have a more "potatoey" taste straight from the garden!
Also it gets you outdoors and digging can be good exercise!
I know that the set up costs might seem a lot, but eventually you will recoup these costs from the veg that you grow, and once you have tasted your own veg it'll all seem worth it!
I have never had green fingers and tend to drive most of my houseplants to an early death so I don't really know why I decided to start a vegetable patch in the back garden....
I had been growing things like salad leaves and tomatoes in pots before but that was relatively easy - buy the plant, put it in a bigger pot, water it, take off fruit to eat. I think my main reason for starting it was the challenge of what I might achieve and I had no real expectations.
My plan was to have a go at everything (within reason - I only picked plants we liked eating) from seed and see how things went. That way next year I could plan better and decide what was worthwhile for the effort and what was a waste of time. I got a couple of Grow your Own magazines with free seeds included (the magazines cost over a tenner themselves so I can't really call the seeds free) and started.
I quickly discovered that growing from seed is the best way to start as you can't help but feel a warm glow when those first shoots start to appear out of the soil. The colour green was so fresh and spring like that I was instantly hooked.
One of the first early mistakes I made was sowing too much. My patch is less than 2 metres squared and I had about ten pots of each plant before I realised there was no way I could use them all. My reasoning was that not all of them would germinate but they did!!! Luckily the spare courgettes and tomatoes have gone to good homes.
Second mistake was planting things too closely - I'll remember this well for next year. I just wanted to cram as much in as possible but found out this is counter productive as pests spread easier from one to the other and yields are smaller.
Talking of pests - slugs have been the bane of my life ever since I've started this. I have tried everything including Nemaslug for the ones that live in the soil, beer traps, copper tape and nightly slug patrols for the fat juicy ones. The patrols are the most effective but really disheartening - I go out with a feeling of dread of how many I'll find, I sometimes found as many as 16 big juicy ones in one night. Apparently it's best and fairer to the slug if you chop it in half but I can't bring myself to do it so I ask my other half to!
Anyway the rewards are now starting to show themselves. We've got raspberries, strawberries, radishes, spring onions, potatoes, tomatoes, courgettes, lettuce and basil. We've yet to see whether the corn, brussels, leeks, peas, squashes and peppers have come to anything - roll on the indian summer they're predicting.
One of the best results of gardening is how much my two year old son gets out of it. He goes out almost every day and says "They're getting bigger and bigger". He points out all the different vegetables, learns the science of how the plants need water and sunlight to grow, counts the number of tomatoes we pick off, tastes and enjoys everything we harvest and spends quality time outdoors. It's amazing how he wouldn't touch a tomato on his plate but if I've just picked one he eats it with relish!
I've got so many ideas of what to do next year - it's going to be bigger and better and I'm going to invest in a greenhouse too.
I never started this to save money - the patch is much too small to make much of a dent in the shopping bill - but the satisfaction of watching something you've looked after and cared for is much greater than I ever expected. Anyone can do it, on a big or small scale and get results.
I am happy to say that, since my eldest son and his family moved into a house with a very big garden, they have all gone gardening mad and have the most fantastic vegetable garden and fruit trees.
The garden was very rough and mostly laid to lawn when they first moved in, and it was also on a slope. My son has since altered the slope so that he has three levels; the one nearest the house and the one at the very bottom end are both flat, the middle one still has a slope but he has compensated for that by making three raised vegetable beds which he has staggered - they look very effective and are extremely productive.
He gardens completely organically and you can tell when you taste the results. This year he grew some stringless runner beans which were a great success - having had complaints from his wife in previous years about having to string thousands of beans! He has also grown mange tout, broccoli, cabbages, sweetcorn, radishes, carrot, courgettes, onions and spring onions. They have all been delicious - we all have loads in the freezer to use up during the winter. His salad crops have been great this year, despite the lack of sunshine, as have the raspberries and strawberries. Alongside these, he also has a grapevine that, apparently, has been growing in the garden since the house was built in the 1930s. The grapes are very small but sweet; I have yet to persuade him to have a go at making wine from them but I have a cunning plan to get him some winemaking equipment for Christmas to help him make his mind up!
He has two apple trees, one a Cox's Orange Pippin and the other a Laxton's Superb which we bought for him as a very welcome birthday present a couple of years ago.
The most heartwarming thing about his love of gardening is that he has passed it on to my grandson, aged 8, and five year old granddaughter, and it's wonderful to have them show me around and tell me what each crop is. They have their own gardening tools and gloves and love to join their Dad when he is weeding and watering. Best of all is that they know where their food comes from, that it doesn't get to the dining table via a can or a plastic bag from the supermarket. They are eating the healthiest fruit and vegetables that nature - and hard work - can provide, with no harmful additives or pesticides, plus they have all the enjoyment of picking them and seeing how many they can get to the kitchen without eating them all on the way!
They grow lots of flowers and shrubs, too, which we have added to ourselves, either with cuttings, garden vouchers or gifts from the garden centre. Last year, I bought them a tiny live Christmas tree from an online company called thelittlechristmastreecompany. I bought three for the grand total of just £11.75. They each came in a little jute sack. I kept one and gave one to each of my two sons. These three trees have been in healthy competition with each other since they were planted out last December and they are all doing well.
All in all, I think one of the most valuable lessons a child can learn is about where their food actually comes from and, if they can help to grow it, their knowledge will stand them in good stead throughout their lives. The discipline that comes from having to look after tender plants, the dedication and commitment that a garden demands, the true facts about how nature works to feed us and the sheer fun of looking through seed catalogues to plan next year's harvest, are all things that they will never forget and will always benefit from.
With the credit crunch now having a great effect on peoples lives.. with the ever increasing prices of fuel, heating and food, people are now trying to re-evaluate where they can save some money to try and stop the ever increasing cost of living.
In recent months there has been a great increase in people starting to look at the way our grandparents used to live, and especially when things were tight during world war II, where they had the motto dig for victory.
People are now starting to realise that by growing more fruit and vegetables in the garden, this really can save the pennies.
Your dont have to have a huge garden to grow some lovely fresh vegetables, you can grow loads of diff veg in containers and growbags, or even on your windowsills
Not only can you save some money by growing fruit and veg, the taste is so different to what you buy in the shops with the freshness.
We have started growing tomatoes, chillis, potatoes, turnips and a lot of different salad items.
The upside of growing your own regardless of how much or how little room you have, you will save money, you cant beat the taste and the freshness plus look at the airmiles you are saving, even with just a few plants that you are growing.
If we all grew just a few things, which we would use for a few meals, look at what we would save on the carbon footprint on the transport. Plus you would know exactly how your fruit and veg was grown ..with no pesticides .
I would totally recommend people should grow some of their own veg.... and taste the difference..and pocket those pennies
My Gardening Year
A Grand Plan for 2007
Its Christmas time. Lots of lovely food has been consumed. Presents opened with wild abandon and floors throughout the house piled high with the remnants of wrapping paper. There have been Christmas specials galore on the telly-box, late night film watching (no work tomorrow syndrome), and an almost daily feeling of having eaten one too many mince pies/after eight mints/turkey sandwiches.
The New Year awaits. And for me, that means the long wait for green buds to appear on the trees and the shrubs, the earth to warm enough for plants to go in, bulbs to push through the dark rich soil, and the promise of warm sunny days in my beautiful garden. All day today I have been quietly dreaming about my garden, planning in my mind what tasks need to be done, what needs to be planted and where, a slow, gentle remembering of that peacefulness I feel on a May morning with blackbirds pulling worms at my feet and swifts filling the blue morning sky with their returning.
I think if it had not been for the malingering drizzle and the fact that in all the Christmas cheer I seem to have managed to misplace my hat, scarf and gloves, I would have been out there like a shot, digging, pruning, leaf collecting and generally breathing in the gardens sleeping scents.
So instead, I am here, writing what will be, a plan, perhaps, for this years vegetable garden. And to be fair, its quite a good idea to write down your plans. It gives you a sort of guide to follow later in the year when there seems so much to do you cant quite work out where to start. A sort of checklist, but inspiring and helpful, rather than boring and overwhelming. I think that is my first tip for all you vegetable gardeners out there. Write down what you want to grow, where, what preparation you will need to do and so on. And more than anything else, only grow what you will actually eat. There is no point in growing asparagus if you loathe and detest the stuff! A lot of the things on your list will be changed and adapted as you go along, and as you learn more about gardening and growing, but its good to write it done in the first place.
When I first began gardening here, in my little hill house, I had a general idea of what I wanted, but I sort of made it all up as I went along, and only really succeeded with my potatoes and raspberries. My carrots got eaten by carrot flies, my onions suffered through lack of watering, and I managed about 3 turnips, the size of small tennis balls, out of a crop of about 100. Pretty pitiful, but I could not have been happier!
My garden was laid to grass when I first bought the house, but now I have curving paths, topiary arches and bowers of honeysuckle, winter flowering jasmine which is currently shining brightly at me from the bottom of the garden, bathing a small corner of my plot in sunshine yellow. I have a grass circle, which will burst into fritillary flowers in a couple of months, I have a hawthorn hedge, an apple tree, raspberry canes, a herb garden, a pond, a woodpile for friendly slug eating hedgehogs, 2 compost bins to enrich my soil, and four square vegetable plots, divided by reclaimed brick paths, ready and waiting to burst with fruit and veg next year. I can hardly wait to get started, but this time of frosts and cold winds is the perfect time to master the art of patience, and to throw my energies into planning and dreaming and laying the foundations of a bountiful summer of growth.
My first task will be to turn over the soil, and remove any perennial weeds that have taken hold. Dandelions are particularly prevalent in my garden, as well as the tall michealmas daisies that look so grand in my borders in the summer, but which produce huge amounts of seed and will grow practically anywhere!
Digging is a warming task, though my advise is to take it easy, and dont try and do it all in one day. I like to get my digging done before the first frosts, so that the bitter cold can break up the soil, meaning there is less work to do in the spring to get it to a fine tilth ready for planting. When the warmer weather comes in March, Ill empty my compost bins out, and use the well rotted stuff from the bottom of the heap to spread over the veg plots, and let the worms work it in. Then Ill put all the semi-rotted compost back into one bin, which means Ill have a new empty bin for this years compost making. By the time, mid-summer, this bin is full, the other one will have finished its rotting down process and will be ready to spread over the flower beds and apple tree at the end of the year, as a mulch and feed.
This year I have decided to buy in plug plants to save on energy and time. I havent been well this year, and still get very tired, so plug plants will reduce the effort involved in raising new plants from seed. All I will have to do is unwrap them when they arrive, and plant them out. I have planned where each type of plant will go, and as some plants grow better with others (companion planting) I have tried to incorporate this in my plans. Its also important to rotate your planting every year. This is because if you grow root vegetables, like potatoes and carrots in the same beds every year, any diseases they may suffer from will sit in the soil and the veg will take them up again the following year. Rotating plants means you are less likely to have this problem. Companion planting is where one plant helps out its neighbour. So if we look at carrots their main problem is carrot fly. Carrot flies can smell carrots a mile off, so it you plant them with chives, onions, or garlic, which all have a very strong onion smell, the carrot fly gets confused, and flies away! Another example is nasturtiums, which help to keep woolly aphids off apple trees. So as I have a huge colony of said woolly aphids on my apple tree next year I will have a huge crop of nasturtiums clambering in greens and oranges all over my apple tree, and hopefully get rid of the woolly aphids!
So what will I be growing this year? Well my order is already in with Dobies of Devon, a gardening company my dad used to use when he was alive. Some of the order has already been delivered my onion sets and my potatoes, as well as some seeds and the mushroom spawn that is currently in the door of my fridge! As far as plug plants are concerned, I will be getting courgettes, broccoli, leeks, brussel sprouts, French beans and asparagus crowns. Ill be planting the French beans over the top of my potato bed, and using bamboo canes to support the growth. The leeks, carrots and onions will all be grown together in one bed, hopefully keeping away the ominous carrot fly! Broccoli and courgettes will be in the next bed, parsnips and Swede in another, and the final bed will be asparagus, which can stay where it is long term, and brussel sprouts, which probably wont be ready till the end of the year. Under the apple tree I will grow nasturtiums, and I will have garlic and annual herbs like coriander, dill and basil growing in pots in a sunny spot near the kitchen door. The raspberry canes will stay where they are by the apple tree, and hopefully Ill get another good crop from them. This year I had about 4 pounds of fruit, and made an enormous amount of apple and raspberry jam. Maybe I will make some raspberry wine next year!
There is something truly wonderful about growing your own food. You really appreciate it, savour it. I always think you can taste the difference between shop bought and home grown fruit and veg, but maybe its just a mind thing. What I do know is that it gives me such joy, such pleasure to tend a garden, to grow food, to support a mini eco system in my own back garden. It is hard work, but so rewarding, and I can honestly say its the most amazing feeling and better than any drug if youre feeling a little sad and blue. It is the one place where I feel most serene and the feeling of eating something youve grown is like nothing else on earth.
Good luck with your gardening year.
Thank you for reading, Kate x
As my profiles states, I, along with my husband grow fruit and vegetables organically. We are fortunate enough to rent 2 allotments just at the back of our house, and during the spring/summer months, can usually be found out there. We are by no means experts, and wild flowers and weeds are close neighbours to our crops, but we do manage to grow more than enough fruit, and the vegetables that we like, to see us through the year. The first allotment we took on was the one nearest our house. It is not a full sized allotment, but was adequate for us to start with. Nowadays, this one is what we fondly term as our orchard! It is our main fruit allotment. The whole thing is edged with blackberries, which although sometimes lethal when picking, are so delicious, so versatile, and so prolific, that we feel it is worthwhile growing them. We have planted a number of fruit bushes on this allotment; 3 different eating apples, a cooking apple, a Victoria Plum, greengage, damson, dual pear tree, and we did have a nectarine, but this sadly has not survived! I have hanging strawberry baskets along the fence, five rows of raspberry canes, at least a dozen blackcurrant bushes, a gooseberry bush and a redcurrant bush. Along the open fence, we also have a grape vine, and a strange bush known as a jostaberry. This is a cross between a gooseberry and a blackcurrant, and is ideal for jam making (hence my name!) As you can see from the above, when the season is right, we have an enormous amount of picking to do! One year I think I'm going to have to put a pick your own notice at the end of the street! This is the time of year when the freezers come into their own. There is a limit to the amount of fresh fruit one can eat, and it is too hot for making jam, so the surplus is packed in one of the two freezers until such time as it is needed. Most of the fruit we grow has been propogated by ourselves from just one or two bushes. To create new blackc
urrants, for example, when the leaves have all died off from the existing plants, cut a few strong new sticks from the old bushes, trim the lower buds off, stick into a trench 6 inches deep, and leave. Within 2 years you will have a new blackcurrant bush ready to transplant into a permanent position. The first year I did this, I planted about 40 sticks, thinking only a few would take. All 40 took! The other allotment people were only too keen to take some off my hands! Our second allotment is the one we use mainly for vegetables, and takes more attending time. Vegetables have to be planted each year, in rotation, in order to get a decent crop. The plot first has to be rotovated (we treated ourselves to a petrol driven rotovator for this purpose) then prepared for each vegetable. Seed potatoes are planted in mid March. We usually do about 5 rows, of three different varieties. There is nothing more tasty that a boiled new potato, freshly dug, washed, and cooked in its skin with a little fresh mint (yes, we grow that too) and a little butter. Mmmmm I usually start tomatoes, runner beans and courgettes off in pots on out patio, which tends to be a bit of a suntrap, and gives them a good start, before being planted out once the risk of frost is past. A tip for starting courgettes off, is to first of all, put them in a container (an ice cream carton is ideal) with some damp kitchen towel, put the lid on, and leave in a cool dark place (cupboard under the stairs!) Within a week, they will have put out tiny shoots, and can then be planted in individual pots in compost (yes, we make that ourselves too, from household vegetable waste!) On the patio, they soon start growing, and can then be planted out when ready. The runner beans (my personal favourite), we grow in wigwams. We tie 4 bamboo canes together to form the 4 corners, then run strings round all four sides, and over the top, to create the wigwam shape. Once the bean plants
have reached about 6 inches in height in the pots, we plant them out around the wigwams, 2 to each string. I also try to use white flowering plants as well as the usual scarlet ones, because they look nice! And I leave a number of beans on the plant each year to create next year's bean seeds. Planting a row of marigolds close to the runner beans encourages ladybirds, which in turn feed on any greenfly which may be attacking the young plants. We always rejoice when we see the ladybirds, and I very rarely have to spray the plants to get rid of the aphids; the lady birds do it for me. Tomatoes can easily be raised from seeds, either collected and saved from a tomato fruit (and dried) or from a packet. I have successfully grown red, orange, yellow and deep purple tomatoes, in all sizes, from the tiny tumbling tomtoes, right up to beefsteak ones. Many of those find their way into the mouth as they are being picked. Lettuces and cabbages etc, can become decimated by slugs. Being loathe to use pellets to get rid of them, we try using beer traps. It doesn't get rid of them all, but it certainly does catch some! Sink empty jam jars into the soil, and one third fill with some sort of beer. The theory is that the slug falls in, and because its underside is wet, it can't get a grip to crawl out again. The next day, you come along and remove all the drunken slugs from the bottom of the jar, and leave for the next lot! As I said, out allotments are certainly not immaculate, but so long as the growing plants are relatively weed and grass free, it does not really bother us to see wild plants growing in the unused places. Indeed, these attract large amounts of butterflies and bees, and give a real back to nature feel This then, is our hobby. Most people won't have an allotment in which to grow as much as we do. But why not try on a small scale? Just one wigwam of beans will produce enough for an average family to have fres
h beans in plenty over the summer months. One or two hanging baskets of strawberries will fill a few dishes. 3 tomato plants can be grown in one grow-bag on a patio. There is nothing to beat the fresh flavour of home grown fruit and veg, and to eat it in the knowledge that it contains no pesticides and no weedkiller. And at Christmas, there is nothing to beat runner beans that have been grown and frozen just for that occasion. Go on....give it a go.
What better for breaking up heavy clay soil than potatoes? They could not possibly be easier to grow, and everyone knows how versatile they are! No matter what size of vegetable plot or piece of garden you have to spare, you should be able to grow potatoes no problem. You can either buy seed potatoes, which come in loads of different varieties, or if you find a variety you like, leave some to sprout shoots and just plant them. There are potatoes to suit every purpose and time of year - Charlotte's or Jersey Royals for salads in summer, Maris Piper for roasting and mashing etc etc. We've even planted the bog standard 'white potatoes' and had a good crop, which are fine for baking or mashing. It's probably a good idea to keep the area planted, so that you have a continuous supply throughout the year. All you need to do is dig over a patch of soil (it's good if you can add some manure). Make a small trench (or several) and just place the sprouting potatoes in the trench, leaving quite a large gap between (about 1 foot). Rows should be relatively far apart too, about another foot should do, but further if space allows. Then all you have to do is wait. The shoots will appear amazingly quickly - and when they do, you should cover them up with a mound of soil - something to do with reaching the light..... If you're like me, you'll be really impatient to harvest your crop, but you need to wait...and wait....and wait a bit more.... They are ready to harvest after the plants have flowered and the leaves start to die back and turn yellow. Even after the leaves are completely dead, the tatties will be there waiting for you. Oh, and be careful when you're digging them up. A big garden fork is the best thing to use, but be gentle! You don't want to end up sticking the prong of the fork through those lovely earthy orbs..... You won't believe the soil texture either - we hav
e really bad clay soil, which is quite stony, but after there have been potatoes in it for one season, it is lovely and crumbly and non-sticky - amazing!
Save money! Grow your own! Why spend a fortune on chillies at the supermarket when you can grow your own for next to nothing! I have 12 plants growing on my dining-room windowsill at the minute and they are all going mad. Guess what I grew them from? Two dried chillies that I had put in an eggcup last year in my spice cupboard and forgotten about! These were from a plant that I had bought from the local garden centre for about £1.99,which lasted years until we left 'him' with my brother-in-law whilst we went on holiday for a week. I say 'him' because we grew quite fond of it and named him 'Charlie Chilli' he came on his hols to Blackpool with us for two years on the trot :) Sad I know, but when you grow and nurture something that produces fruit for you on a regular basis you tend to become attached. Anyway, I thought why not try and grow some more 'Charlies' from scratch. Wow! I couldn't believe it. From planting about 20 seeds I have these 12 healthy (for the time being) plants (I would have had more but the slugs got at them when I didn't check them for a couple of days). Basically, all that I did was plant the seeds in a plastic seed tray filled with multi-purpose seed and potting compost. Make a hole with a pencil of about 4 CMS deep, popped in a seed and covered with compost. I then placed ours in a plastic greenhouse that I bought from a well-known catalogue store for £20 but if you have a warm windowsill then that would work just as well. It only took a matter of a couple of weeks for the seeds to germinate so no hanging around there! Once they were a couple of inches tall I re-potted them into individual pots placed them on my dining-room windowsill and now they are going ‘mad’! Must be this hot spell but one of them is only about 4 inches tall and has 3 flower buds already. You
will find that these buds normally grow into white/yellowish flowers. I never did biology at school so I was a bit ‘thick’ regarding plants and flowers and how they actually grew. Imagine my surprise when the flowers dropped off and a Chile started growing from the centre of where the flower had been! Anyway, you will find that if you pinch out the top leaves when it gets about 4 or 5 inches tall that you will get more stems/branches sprouting further down the stem so more branches more flowers/chillies. It takes just a matter of weeks before you will get your first chillies and its brilliant when you snap off your first couple to use in home cooking. Don’t forget to save a couple though for the following season in case you lose your plant like I did ( I didn't water it properly for some stupid reason). I have read that you can store chilie seeds for at least 5 years! Not that you would want to, once you have grown your first plant you will be bitten by the bug! Go on give it a try. What is a bag of compost, plastic seed tray and an initial plant going to cost. Less than 2 pints of beer in most places. Good Luck and Happy Growing!
The temptation when growing vegatables is to set aside a patch of garden and relentlessly use it. There are many disadvantages with this - the soil quality will deteriorate and you will need to buy fertilizers. Pests will be able to move freely amongst your produce and last but not least, veg plots are seldom attractive features. Many fruits, herbs and vegetables are attractive plants, but nothing looks good planted in rows. Rather than puting all your plants in one palce, consider adding them to your borders - I have seen runner beans planted to add height to flower borders, and it looked really good. Fruit bushes make excellent hedge plants - apple trees, from experience, can be trained into hedge shapes, thus using less space in your garden and providing a great hedge. Herbs make really good ground cover, especially where you have large plants dominating a border. planting herbs under a rose garden works well, and it provides more colour than bare earth or wood chippings. Pea plants make great screens and can be used to good effect as a feature. Tomatoes are really attractive, as are pumpkins which can liven up an autumn garden. Of course things like potatoes and sweeds you will probably want to hide away the same as usual, but consider letting some of yor fruit and veg out, so that you can enjoy the look as well as the taste.
I have a really good tip, for growing Tomato's. It can be quite difficult to get a really good crop of tomato's even when using the best fertiliser's money can buy. What i do is, put a birth control pill in my watering can, then use this solution to water my tomato's. This method has never let me down yet, and i get a nice big juicy crop of tomato's every year. If you have a spare birth control pill, why not give it ago.