Newest Review: ... 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 chang... more
You never know till you try
Growing Fruit & Veg
Member Name: grahamt
Growing Fruit & Veg
Advantages: Food for free
Disadvantages: Preparing the soil can be hard work ; you have to keep your eye on them
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.
Summary: Much easier than you might think and you can eat the results for free