I grow vegetables every year. I have grown at 1000ft with winters of sub minus 20 and also at sea level with drought and long hot summers. I have to live a stress-free and mainly physically undemanding lifestyle. I cannot afford staff!!
These are my canny, tried and tested, tips for virtually guaranteeing success when growing your own food…
Remove Rigidity and Relax: Gardening is about working with nature… not against it or with it under tight control… if you try to control it too much, you live in a perpetual state of angst when you do and guilt when you don’t… have the time and energy to devote. I’ve been there and it can be quite soul-destroying… I realised I was setting myself up for disappointment and failure.
Go Old School when planting your seeds:
One for the mouse, One for the Crow, One to Rot and One to Grow – it is rare for all four to fail. I always aim for a quarter of my seeds to go on and produce vegetables. If I end up with surplus, which I usually do, I give, swap, sell and save and on bad years I normally end up with just enough for the household. I’ve never had total failure unless the seeds were dud in the first place… and that is rectifiable early in the season.
I believe that the word “weed” was coined by a weedkiller producer. We all automatically hate and worry about them but unless they are literally vying for root space with your plants they are usually more beneficial than detrimental…. other than purely aesthetically…. but even that is up to you – I pull mine in a design to look purposeful!
Nettles are necessary so try and embrace them: I pull nettles like the next person but only selectively. Nettles provide important habitat for animals and insects that are garden helpers…e.g. butterflies. I find they also protect from rabbits eating my leaves for some reason…. they provide shelter from wind, rain and cold and they provide shade from the sun. They also help hold the moisture in the ground and prevent erosion and bare patches. You can eat em and brew em and soak em to make a great liquid feed. I let them grow around my beds and pots and containers as protection. You can even broaden this embrace to include other native wild plants… the more you provide for your pests the better…
Immaculation breeds contempt: We all love a neat and tidy garden that looks beautiful and well tended… the thing is, the garden doesn’t really like that so much. Welcome a bit of organised chaos and disorder and you remove the metaphorical neon arrows pointing to your tender young morsels that are exposed for any hungry being to spot and steal. Remember, the birds, beasts and insects were all doing fine before you showed up with your fancy foodstuffs… leave them some of their own scran and they’ll leave yours alone. If you embrace the plants that thrive naturally – please note I tend not to use the negative word “weeds” – you’ll find that they put on a magnificent display when their flowers appear.
Spread Bet: Staggered multiple sowings ensure a longer season and a higher percentage of success. Don’t plant all the same seedlings in the same bed – spread them around a bit. Put some in containers too. All sorts of silly things can cause crop failure – from bad positioning to dodgy soil and pests. If you have a few here and a few there you should always get some whatever the season throws. Pests usually won’t be in 5 places at once if you’re canny with positioning.
Cram them in: I plant seedlings quite close together. After years of panicking about exact measurements, I now cram them in and thin (and eat!) regularly – most veg seedlings and young plants are perfectly delicious.
Squat don’t bend: For weeding, and all the other ground based jobs, don’t kneel or bend and constantly strain your back…. squat – preferably with flat feet if you can. It’s simple – it keeps your back aligned, straight and supported. Don’t be self-conscious, that doesn’t help anything, squat and work between your legs… if you are female just wear something appropriate.
Let it go to seed if it wants to: Things go to seed, that’s just the natural cycle. If your veggies are turning to seed, do something about the ones that haven’t yet… if you want…. but let the others continue to full term. So you have slightly less food this year… next year you’ll have no seed outlay or more seed – one in the bank for the future, as they say, and many plants produce tasty edible seeds anyway.
Plants have a drive to survive too: If you are growing native plants… or those that are generally happy in your climate and soil… they will work hard to look after themselves. You can over-Mother plants to the point of expiration. Quite a few veggies, I find, thrive when left to their own devices. Obviously growing extreme produce in the opposite climate is a different matter and requires precision and care and skill on the whole… then again someone grew a lemon outside here, through neglect!
Water is the primary concern: Too much or too little, water is the deciding factor. That’s what I’ve found. We humans are comprised of over 70% water… most veggies have a higher content than that… I’ve never yet managed to overwater anything… although I find that most herbs don’t like to sleep with wet feet – particularly Basil – so water them before midday. Nuff said.
I put in the hard graft in early Spring – if everything has a good start then I can potter and gently maintain the garden, consume the produce and divide my time, throughout the rest of the year. A bit of focus again in Autumn to make sure everything is snug for the Winter and the ground has a good feed in preparation for the Spring… and so on. Once you have your old faithfuls identified you can use the extra time to experiment with more exotic delights, safe in the knowledge that the bread and butter will reliably continue.
Books are useful for reference… but not the law! Enjoy learning on the job: Watch your garden grow. See what is happy where. Identify where the worst pests lurk or live. Adapt, Adapt, Adapt.
We don’t have to work at making the weather or the seasons… they aren’t always ideal but in extremis is the point where our human intervention should come in, in the form of sun protection or watering or whatever is required.
The planet is designed for us to feed ourselves – Don’t insist on making it so impossible for yourself