100 - Lessons learnt from a curious and sometimes over enthusiastic amateur gardener/produce grower.

Thursday, August 27, 2020

Early last year we found ourselves with our outdoors ambitions flying beyond our 4m x 4m patch of garden (living in a mill village in Yorkshire we're pretty luck to have even that).

We wanted to grow our own food, to make a meadow to replace a small patch of those that have been lost in recent years, to grow some trees and to spend more time outdoors with our children.

Through a steady mix of good fortune and persistence we happened upon a rental - 0.1 of an acre. Doesn't sound like much does it? "We'll tame it in no time" we thought. Boy were we in for a surprise.

I think we could be there all day every day and still not re-claim it from the nettle infested compost bin that has overflowed and been straying steadily into the garden like a green stinging estuary, a result of recent years of neglect.

These are some of the things that we have learnt over the past year of trying to grow food and tame our own patch of wild...

1) Don't get too enthusiastic about sowing lots of seeds (too) early in the season. You quickly end up over run with plant babies that are hungry for more space and to set their roots down and will either fall prey to a late cold spell (snow in May anyone) or an unmanageable indoor situation with plants keeling over from lack of space or thirst from neglect.

2) Whilst coffee grounds are a good slug repellent it turns out that too much can make the soil acidic and stop things growing as well as they should (lesson learnt).

3) Learn your local planting and productive seasons. We watch on with envy as people get their elderflower harvests a clear month before us in some parts. Then with glee as our plants are still putting out food long after most other's in the UK's seasons have ended. Whilst most planting instructions state July as the latest sowing time for many seeds, our season usually runs later than most and so I've just fairly recently planted out round two in hope that we might get some latecomers. It's an experiment and worth a go.

4) Ask for help. Even the most introverted of folk will share garden tips with you over the fence.

5) Observe. We thought our old garden / allotment neighbour Keith was a bit bonkers for being on his hands and knees pulling up every single last weed as soon as growing season began. Guess who could focus on their foodie plants and watch them thrive and who was still pulling weeds come July last year! Keith died earlier this year sadly, but I will always think of him as I'm uprooting buttercups.

6) Observe. Yup, same as five, except instead of watching how others treat their plants and gardens, watch for the signs that the plants themselves give. It sounds a bit woo-woo (or whatever you would say) to be in tune with the land, but it really does make a difference. There's also a gentle feeling of empowerment to be gained from it too.

7) The birds will eat every last one of your strawberries if you leave them unguarded. Like it is their earth given payment for ridding you of slugs and having allowed the strawberries to get so big. We didn't get to taste a single strawberry last year.

8) Carrot fly is a very real thing. Last year I planted a stack of seeds in the house because I got a case of number 1 (over enthusiastic seed sowing) and we planted them out with excitement. On telling our parents what we'd done we were met with a sharp intake of breath and "ooooh, aren't you worried about carrot fly?". Carrot fly. Pah! Who heard of such a thing. Not us for certain. We pulled our carrots after a season of nurturing to find that they were indeed infested with the little blighters. The tops were untouched tho and dried for later use as a herb.

9) You've put your energy into growing it, make use of every last bit that you can. Pesto, herbs, ice cubes, preserves, teas, cordials - it is surprising what you can often do with the parts of a plant left over after eating the perceivably edible bit. Make sure with every plant and variety that they are safe to eat though, some are poisonous (rhubarb - stems good, leaves bad for example). https://www.thompson-morgan.com/edible-flowers has a good guide to garden edibles.

- Being deadly serious about the safety aspect of this one and because we have to say - you accept any risk as being entirely your own.

10) Skinny rhubarb means an undernourished plant we found. FEED YOUR PLANTS! We have taken to brewing a particularly foul smelling nettle brew for ours. There are all sorts of home put together alternatives to shop bought feeds if you worry about chemicals.

I was going to go for a nice round 10, but...

11) Soil is key. Don't stint on the good stuff. To invest in your soil is to invest in the growth of your plants. No good will come from undernourished soil.

12) Don't give up. There are no failures, just lessons to learn and things to experiment with. Keep a journal of what works and what doesn't to save you repeating the same mistakes twice!

I use Instagram for lots of gardening inspo as it's quite a good seasonal helper. Here are some great accounts by people we are constantly inspired by (and sometimes a bit envious of) for their amazing gardens, initiatives, veg patches and green fingers...

@lobsterandswan   @ourtwoacres   @heather.birnie   @alysf   @twofieldszakros  @noughticulture  @anjadunk  @higgledygarden  @xanthegladstone  @the_farm_camp  @gracealexanderflowers  @theethicurean  @dawnyowl  @beyondthefivebargate  @theallotmentflorist  @localplantlady  @theallotmen  @cedarmagazine  @hawardenestateexperience  @soul.farm  @thepreservejournal  @quarantine___cookbook  @campwell.uk  @wilder.botanics  @farmstofeedus  @saturdaykitchenproject @farmco.wales   @hackneyherbal @theolivetreesandthemoon

This year our seeds and compost came from Tamar Organics - not sponsored, we were just really impressed with them.

If you have any tips or inspiration you'd like to share, pop them in the comments, we'd love to hear from you.

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