Growing your own produce is in my opinion the epitome of country life. The thought that you can provide for your family by growing your own veg, and for the more adventurous fruits as well, makes my heart sing. But in the past my enthusiasm has not matched my success. Last year (my first year growing at the Cottage) I had a really good run in spaghetti squash and raspberries and I had courgettes coming out of my ears! But the rest kind of fell disappointingly flat. However, the fear of failure doesn’t deter me as even the small harvest last year brought me a lot of joy.
The whole concept can seem a bit daunting, and trust me I still feel the same every season. Whilst I have a few years of gardening behind me I am still a beginner when it comes to grow your own and I am learning all the time. There is loads of support available for budding alotmenteers and home gardeners. I head to my local garden centre for help on what grows well locally, and my neighbours are amazing at giving me tips and support. I also follow other blogs and people who share their knowledge on successful growing. Have a look on my Instagram account UrbanCountry.Project to see who I am following.
Here are a few things that I have learnt through my dabblings with growing so far:
Seed packet use by dates are relevant!
I learnt this the hard way when I planted a whole bunch of seeds that I had hoarded over the years. Apart from the courgettes, which is the only thing I seem to be able to grow with minimal effort, nothing grew. It was frustrating to say the least.
If you have some seeds that are coming to the end of their shelf life why not seed swap with some friends? Or try a seed dump in an unused area of your garden? Even if only a few things end up growing, it can be a fun experiment especially for kids.
Read the instructions
Some of us, me included, like to go all guns blazing and get stuck into our garden with gusto. Unless you know what you are doing and have been growing for a while give yourself a fighting chance and read the instructions. Seeds are like people, they all seem to like different things and in their own little way. This leads me on to the next thing I learnt the hard way…
The seed instructions will tell you how close together to plant out your seeds or seedlings. This is so each plant has space to grow and there are enough nutrients to go around. I once planted carrots a little too close together, the result was carrots that twisted around each other like a rope. Beautiful, but not entirely practical! (Can’t find the picture for the life of me!)
Keep it simple
I have a habit of wanting to do it all and I want it now! I have learnt that a vege grower needs to be patient and nurturing, so putting less on your plate to start with is a big advantage.
The game plan
Once the cold weather has started to die down and I can see bulbs poking through the soil my mind turns to what I am going to grow. I usually start my planning by thinking about what we eat most. Next I think about the space I have available and finally what gives you the most bang for your buck!
So here is my shortlist:
- Carrots – a maincrop variety and purple carrots
- Courgettes – we have a great list of courgette recipes which I will share with you all soon.
- Spaghetti squash – These are fun to grow and easy to cook with.
- Tomatoes – I am trying 3 varieties this year.. wish me luck!
- Potatoes – I am most excited about growing these. Read my blog on Growing potatoes: How hard can it be?!
- Peas – I have some asparagus peas which look adorable!
- Chillis – I love how these look on the windowsill and love cooking with them!
- Leeks – This is new one for me but I was inspired by The Garden Smallholder who I follow on Instagram to give it a try! The Garden Smallholder is not only inspirational when it comes to the world of sustainable growing but is really helpful for tips about what to do in your garden and when. Find the website here https://thegardensmallholder.wordpress.com/
- Broad beans – This is a job I gave to my son Harry. He planted some in an eggbox and religiously sprays them with water!
- Beetroot – I really like beetroot and I don’t care what anyone else says!
- Winter squash – These are cute and yummy!
I am also lucky enough to have some established fruits growing in my garden including strawberries, raspberries, blackberries (these are wild by the side of my garden room… lucky me!), pears (from next doors tree), quinces and crab apples. The later two I literally don’t have a clue what I am supposed to do with them so please comment below if you have any idea!
As I look at this list I am already feeling overwhelmed, it seems a lot! At the end of the day growing your own seems to be a lot about trial and error. Figuring out what works, what doesn’t, what you like and what you don’t. This year I am determined to be more on top of it all and enjoy the journey. I start the year with the understanding that it is a learning curve and the opportunity to grow in experience and most of all to have fun.
If you have any tips or ideas about where to start when growing your own or particular successes you have had please share them, I would love to hear about them.