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Growing your own food - what to think about.

We hear more and more about food miles, trying to only eat produce that is in season and trying to have a greater awareness of food traceability. We’re asking more and more about what’s been used to grow the food that we eat in terms of pesticides and fertilisers and how it’s been harvested and washed before it’s popped into the plastic bag that it so often, and unnecessarily, comes in.

Not these though!

We’re lucky in that we have an allotment – we’ve had our plot for several years – and we’ve had varying degrees of success! Some years are better than others, some plants grow well and provide us with a bountiful crop, some plants grow less so. And the weeds? They always grow!

We were chatting to a lady the other week and she wanted to have a go at growing her own but she didn’t really know where to start. So with the seed catalogues starting to fall onto the doormat we thought we’d share our thinking with her. These are the things that we consider when we start thumbing through the catalogue:

What do we actually enjoy eating?

There’s little point in growing produce that no-one wants to eat! I love broad beans so they feature every year, but if you’re not a fan of them then why would you grow them?

Another consideration is cost.

For instance, onions have become a staple part of our diet – and are freely available at the supermarket or greengrocers – and at a reasonable cost. Leeks on the other hand are more expensive to buy – so growing produce that would otherwise be expensive to buy might be worth considering. Bistro salad leaves and rocket is another good example - expensive to buy, but cheaper to grow.

How much space do we actually have?

Every year we buy more seeds than we know what to do with, and have seedlings that we give away or raffle off for We Hear You. You don’t need to have an allotment or a large vegetable plot in your garden – you can grow leaves and herbs on a windowsill or many types of vegetable will grow well in a container or a sack – potatoes for example. Some can even be grown vertically – lettuce in pouches created within a pallet. However the amount of space that you have will influence what, and how much, you can grow.

What’s the soil like and how much sun will the area get?

That’s important as certain vegetables prefer certain types of soil – in terms of things such as how much organic matter is in the soil and the soil texture. For instance carrots grow best in deep, rich sandy soil and don’t thrive in soil that is mainly clay, is stony or has been freshly manured. Sun is important as it helps everything grow! Using containers or building a raised bed are both ways in which we can “cheat” and manipulate nature in a friendly way to enable us to grow what we want!

How much time have we got?

This is a consideration both in terms of committing to growing our produce and how long we’re prepared to wait. If you grow from seed then time will be needed to nurture the seed through their germination process, then pricking them out, potting them on and then introducing the young plants to the changes in temperatures in the spring. Then they’ll need to be planted out, watered, perhaps staked and you might even need to have an evening slug patrol! And if like us you’re impatient then you need to remember that cress grows far quicker than Brussel sprouts!

Are we going pesticides and herbicides, or organic?

One important reason for us growing our own is that we know exactly what’s been sprayed on our vegetables – in our case, nothing! All plants need food of their own to thrive and do well. Some will provide that through artificial means, some will use natural sources. Where our plants need it we use healthy, well rotted manure or liquid seaweed fertiliser that we make ourselves. Rather than spray the plants to ward off predators we either cover them in a net – to keep the pigeons off those broad beans – or try companion planting – we’ve grown leeks next to carrots as each help deter pests that might otherwise devour our crops. And the garlic that we’ve grown? Well, we use some of that to make a garlic infused spray – that seems to help keep the slugs and snails at bay.

Then and only then can we start to look at the catalogue, and perhaps gaze in awe at the wonderfully perfect looking vegetables, leaves and herbs that adorn those pages…..

But don’t let any of that put you off. Even if you’ve tried before and were disappointed to find that those Tumbling Tom tomatoes that you’d nurtured from seed and whispered to every night succumbed to blight and were a disaster, try again. After all that’s what gardening is all about – the sowing of something now where there’s no guarantee of a perfect crop.

And if you don’t have a lot of space then why not be creative? This is the plan of our veg bed in a bed that we put in our front garden this year.

We bought an old Victorian cast iron bed that no-one had slept in for many years, built a raised bed out of old sleepers we had left over after a job and then filled it with soil.

To create a "bedside" table we used another container - galvanised of course - drilled holes in the bottom, filled that with soil and planted some rosemary, lavender and a bay tree. So far so good. All going according to plan!

As you might be able to make out we had grand ideas – heritage tomatoes, tromboncinos and strawberries.

This is what it looks like now! For one reason or another it didn’t quite come off but you can see how it might have worked! And guess what? We’re giving it another go next year!

Now then. Time to light the fire, have a damson gin and start thumbing through those catalogues..............


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