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Gardening with Hannah Genders

Growing gains

Posted on March 18 2008 at 2:53:19 0 comments

Garlic

Hannah Genders plants some ideas for anyone who would like to enjoy the pleasures of eating home-grown vegetables and fruit.

I was working it out the other day; I must have been growing my own veg for nearly 20 years! I first started learning by taking on an allotment in South Birmingham, mainly because I was feeling so out of place living in a city having grown up on a farm in Somerset.

I have to say once I got growing I was really hooked and have never looked back. I think that an allotment was such a good place to start, as it’s where I learnt all the basics of growing my own produce.

The one thing I never thought would happen is for vegetable growing to become as popular as it has; almost fashionable! And yet there are plenty of people who would love to have a go, so I want to encourage you to get out there and get planting.

This is the ideal time of year to start and with a few tips and advice you could reap the rewards of your own produce this summer.

So as a complete novice where do you start? Well, first of all you need to clear a plot, either in your own back garden or on a local allotment site, if you are lucky enough to find one. These can be a bit daunting as the average plot is quite large, so just clear some of it in the first year if it’s very overgrown.

Work out where you are going to plant and where you are going to have paths; ideally the beds should be an arm’s reach from each side so you don’t walk on the soil. A width of 1.2m or 4ft is average but if you have really long arms, so much the better.

You can make raised beds using wood or similar to lift the soil area, but it’s not essential. Check out the BBC website to get some help on how to build them (details at the end).

Once you’ve decided where to plant, the next thing is to decide what to plant. I would start with a simple question: what do you like to eat?

It is amazing how much even a small plot can produce in a season, so don’t grow loads of cabbage if you and all the family hate the stuff.

I generally recommend potatoes as a good first crop for a number of reasons: they are very easy to grow and will always produce plenty of potatoes from the one seed potato; they are good at clearing new ground and getting the manure mixed in for the next crop; and last, but by no means least, home-grown spuds taste fantastic.

The early varieties (so called because you get them in and crop them earlier than the others) are a really good place to start, especially if you are a little short on space. Salad potatoes and new potatoes come into this category and these are all I grow now.

To get started, choose your seed potatoes and let them “chit” or sprout on a windowsill, but not in full sunlight. This can take about six weeks but will help get the potatoes growing well.

Plant out in mid-spring, about 4–6ins deep in soil that has had a good amount of well-rotted manure added, and “earth up” the soil to a mound over the row.

You will need to keep earthing up the row, scraping the soil up around the newly-emerging plants to stop light getting through to the potatoes and turning them green. Harvest them once the plants have flowered and the tops begin to die down.

The great thing with spuds is you can dig up as many as you need and leave the others in the ground, only digging them up as you need them.

So what else could you grow that’s easy and will encourage you to do more? Onions from sets are another one – sets are like little bulbs that are planted out and left to swell with very little input, apart from hoeing off weeds and a little feed.

These onion bulbs can be bought at most garden centres or online from websites listed at the end of this article.

My other recommendation would be salad crops, especially if you are used to buying those mixed salad leaves from the supermarket. You can plant salad seeds throughout the summer at three-week intervals and this ensures a continuous supply.

Choose seeds like salad bowl, mixed salad leaves or loose leaf salad mix. All of these will produce plenty of leaves but won’t “heart up” like a traditional lettuce.

Plant the seeds in rows where you have raked the soil to a fine tilth; the site must be sunny for them to do well. Once you have sown the seed, only use the tiniest amount of soil on top so the seeds get plenty of light.

Then firm them into the surface very lightly with the back of a rake and water them. This can be repeated to give you a continuous crop.

When you harvest the leaves a few weeks later, don’t pull up the roots but trim off the leaves and the lettuces should keep cropping on that row for a number of weeks too.

If you don’t even have a garden, try the same idea in pots on your patio.

It really is that simple, and I can guarantee you one thing, once you’ve started and tasted your own produce –you’ll never look back.
Vegetable seeds from http://www.gardenorganic.org.uk or http://www.edwintucker.com
Advice and help at http://www.bbc.co.uk/gardening and http://www.growfruitandveg.co.uk

Picture by Julia Gross


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