What are you growing this year?
Every year we grow a little food. We’re not experts but we do manage to get a decent harvest from most crops.
There has been a lot to learn along the way and now we know what crops thrive best and which ones are easier for us to buy than grow.
We’re fortunate where we live. Anything that doesn’t grow easily can be bought nearby. I can take my pick of three organic farm shops and several orchards and soft fruit farms. But I have to admit, there’s nothing quite like stepping out of the back door to select your own meal, warm from the plant or soil.
My biggest learning has been about taking on what I can handle. I have visions of living a bit like the Waltons; tending to the land every day, being totally self reliant, spending hours preserving, bottling, harvesting. But you know what? With life, a home to take care of, a child and certain health conditions to contend with, it just didn’t happen…
This week, for our Change the World Wednesday Challenge, small footprints has asked us to share our secrets. She writes “If you are a gardening guru and plant veggies each year, please offer us any tips, ideas and advice. We’d like to know if you plant in containers or till the soil … how do you fertilize your garden … and what about keeping pests away. We want to know it all!”
Managing your space
We plant in a variety of ways. When we moved in here there were six soil beds filled with roses. Roses are food for the soul for sure but they don’t feed tummies particularly well. There was a lot of soil between the plants that was full of weeds so we saved the best roses, moved them all into one bed, grassed over three of the beds (we tried to manage six beds for a few years but had to admit defeat) and now we have three beds that we take care of. One of is full of flowers, herbs and trees and the other two are used to grow vegetables.
I felt terrible when I grassed those beds over; like I’d committed some kind of sin or like I’d thrown the best gift from Mother Nature away, but I’ve reconciled the guilt now and accept its better to run two beds well than six badly.
My first tip then is, what can you manage? How many hours can you dedicate to growing food each week? What are your commitments? In all honesty, don’t take on more than gives you joy…
Containers or soil?
How much space do you have? I maintain that even in the tinniest of gardens you can grow something delicious to eat. There are pros and cons for digging in the soil and growing in pots.
In the soil you have more space and it usually needs less watering (unless you live in a very windy area or your soil is light). Roots can penetrate deeper so you generally end up with more hardy plants. The flip side is tending to the soil is more work; you have to feed and nurture it, weeds can penetrate deeper too and a bigger space to take care of means more time and energy needed by your.
Pots can be moved around, if the soil gets a disease you can simply start again and you can adjust them to any height you want so that even if your mobility is limited you’ll find a suitable container to use. The downside is you are limited by the amount and size of crop you can grow, containers need frequent watering, which isn’t so ecologically friendly, and it can be expensive to set up a container garden.
My second tip – assess your budget – can you afford to set up raised beds and containers or will it be better to buy a fork and start digging the soil?
Whether you grow in containers or straight into the soil, the soil needs to be top quality in order for you to get the best harvest. We’re lucky that we have heavy, clay soil because the upside is it is nutrient dense. Yes it holds weeds, water and you can’t put a fork in it until May but clay’s ability to hold nutrients is second to none.
It is simple to grow your own fertiliser in one of two ways. If you’re growing food in containers buy yourself a wormery. You’ll end up reducing food waste (worms will eat your cooked food scraps) and in exchange you’ll get both compost and liquid gold which is the most amazing fertiliser. It’s so potent it needs to be carefully diluted before using.
If you have a garden plot get yourself a comfrey plant. This beautiful plant will be full of bees all summer long and you can make the perfect compost ‘tea’ from it by seeping the leaves in water for a few weeks. If you’re disorganised, simply dig a trench in the soil where you plan to sow seeds and line the trench with comfrey leaves. It breaks down so quickly (in fact adding a couple of comfrey leaves to your compost heap will kick start the process) that you’ll soon be releasing much-needed fertiliser into the soil.
My third tip – there is no need to buy expensive and dubious fertilisers; for small spaces set up a wormery and for larger spaces grow comfrey.
Every garden gets pests, but if you set up your garden in co-operation with nature, rather than trying to control nature, you shouldn’t get many problems. Yesterday I mentioned how all the medicines we could need are provided in nature and the same is true for plants and crops.
Companion planting is a simple, effective and cheap way to protect your crops. For example planting onions next to carrots protects the carrots from carrot fly. Calendula looks so pretty, can be made into macerated oils for the skin AND it keeps many pests away from your plants. If you plant mint next to cabbages it helps repel the cabbage flies.
By attracting beneficial insects to your garden you’ll be introducing natural predators to keep the eco system in check. For example ladybirds eat aphids, ground beetles will eat slugs.
In addition you can make your own ‘plant medicines’ for example horsetail is antifungal and is a great remedy for blight.
Fourth tip. Don’t try and control your garden. Leave some areas ‘messy’ and wild to attract beneficial insects. When deciding what to plant, look out for companion plants to help boost your harvest.
What about you – what crops are you growing this year and what tips do you have for us for a successful harvest?