This month we launch a new series on growing by with the accent firmly on resilience.
Ipassionately believe that growing some of your own fruit and vegetables is one of the most empowering, therapeutic and lifeaffirming experiences going. I’ve interviewed many smallholders over the years and, for most, an initial backyard veg patch or allotment was instrumental in fuelling a desire for greater self-sufficiency. It’s no surprise, then, that a productive veg patch has pride of place on most smallholdings and so, over the months to come, I’ll be demonstrating an altogether wilder form of gardening with greater resilience at heart.
With longer, wetter winters and predicted extremes of weather really starting to bite, I believe it’s more important than ever to get prepared. The good news is that letting nature in to lend a helping hand by creating a supremely diverse, wildlifefriendly space helps a great deal and saves time and money to boot. Having some form of cover such as a polytunnel for your crops is also an increasingly smart move, so we’ll be looking at this also, with lots of advice, techniques and interesting news in the world of grow-your-own besides.
Fruit and vegetable growing is often made out to be a lot more complicated that it really needs to be. So, for gardeners of all levels, I’ll be explaining all the things you don’t need to do, as well as recommendations for enjoyable, fussfree, productive harvests. Putting the fun back into grow-your-own is also important because I believe the activity is as important as the final product – having the potential to make you feel really rather good about yourself. Whether it’s feeling proud of something you’ve cobbled together, picking raspberries, peas or cherry tomatoes and popping them straight into your mouth like sweets or simply sitting and staring at a bee, listening to the sound it makes as it pollinates a plant. It’s wholesome, nurturing and real in a way that much of modern society is seemingly not.
So please put away your spade (at least for a bit), forget about exacting crop rotation or pH testing of your soil and come join me over the coming months for lots of practical and effective alternatives for growing fruit and vegetables in harmony with the natural world.
Wildlife watch – wasps
Yes, they do become rather rowdy at this time of year as, desperate for survival, they are attracted to the smell of food (especially anything sweet) in the garden or in your home. I know it’s annoying, but I cut them some serious slack as they do have an incredibly beneficial role to play otherwise. It is not perhaps commonly known, but wasps are beneficial pollinators and they are also useful predators that help in the battle with aphids and caterpillars earlier in the year.
With the extra protection against the
elements provided by a polytunnel, you are able to extend the growing season that much further which, in a good year, can mean harvests of cucumbers and tomatoes up till November even.
A polytunnel also provides greater room for experimentation and creativity in your efforts. For example, last year I planted carrot seeds in late August which, with the mild autumn, meant I had a bountiful supply of delicious baby carrots well into the new year. You can also overwinter much more than you could do otherwise. Pick and come again summer salads will last that bit longer and parsley can stand firm all winter long.
Now is a good time to think about sowing oriental veg and salads designed for winter pickings. Mizuna and Mibuna are two of the easiest and will grow quickly given half the chance. I rather like Mouli radish as well – a giant white tuber known as Daikon in Japan.
An old market gardeners’ trick is to bury a few cherry tomatoes into the ground at the end of the season so they can germinate when they are ready the following spring. You’ll need to thin out and move the resulting seedlings but it’s a great, effortless way to add to your produce for next year.