Grow your own

My food growing adventures started back in 2008 when we got to the top of the very long waiting list for an allotment from our local council.

Davies, Scarlett and I went to the office, signed the paperwork, paid our first years rent (About £50 if I recall correctly) and collected the key to the main gate.

We drove straight to the plots, about two miles from our house and roamed through the mostly beautifully tended and productive plots to find ours which was furthest away from the gate and quite overgrown. Subsequent chatting with neighbouring plot holders meant we learned that we had taken over the previously very loved plot of an elderly gentleman who had fallen into ill health for a while before dying so his plot had been left for a whole season or more without being tended.

I learned so much from that plot and it was absolutely a big inspiration for our year of WWOOFing and subsequent crofting adventures on Rum.

During our WWOOFing travels we stayed with people who were amazing produce growers. Some on massive scales growing to supply others with veg boxes, some fully self sufficient for their communities and families, some still in the early stages of setting up abundant gardens and a whole mix of different challenges in terms of soil quality, accessibility, water, climate and weather conditions, sloping or flat land and orientation of plot creating shade, sun and shelter. I think I learned at least one thing that has stayed with me from every single hosts whether it was tips on sowing distance from Lisa in Wales who used her own hands and feet to measure rather than a tape measure because ‘I’ve always got my hands and feet with me!’, pest prevention from Pete in Somerset who encouraged weeing around his perimeter fence to deter deer, amazing planning and crop rotation from Wilf and Matt in Durham or permaculture plot design and forest gardening from Chris in Devon.

Despite best efforts (and bloody hell there was a whole lot of effort!) although we created a lot of infrastructure for growing on the croft with 20 raised beds in a ‘walled garden’, a massive soft fruit cage, a huge strawberry garden, a herb spiral and a polytunnel my growing on Rum was never a huge success. The start of the season was so late, often with frosts into May, followed swiftly by midges during the time you most needed to be outside tending crops. The soil quality was poor despite best efforts at improvement with livestock aerating and treading in manure, seaweed mulch, comfrey feed, chicken and duck pest control….Really the only crops that I triumphed with were soft fruits like currants, strawberries and raspberries, salad leaves grown in containers and peas. I seem to be good at growing strawberries and peas regardless of where I am. I guess we all have that one crop we fluke. I’ve yet to grow a leek beyond spring onion size though.

Anyway, back to the present day. Where I hope the cumulative knowledge and all those who have taught me, my own experience in the very easy growing and the very challenging growing conditions and proximity to more resources yet a more pressing need to ensure we have at least some fresh produce in the impending food crisis during / post corona virus may aid my green fingers a little.

I picked up a mini greenhouse in the end of season sales last year and stashed it ready for this spring. I had some seeds already and had placed an online order for more just before the lockdown hit so received those in the post pretty much on time for the start of the growing season. I had some compost bought from our chicken feed supplier already and a few seed trays purchased in another end of season sale last year. Instead of stockpiling loo rolls I’ve been saving the empty cardboard tubes for weeks ready to make little seed pots with (the others are very helpful indeed at leaving them in the bathrooms for me…..).

I didn’t have a watering can but I did have a small pin to pierce holes in the lids of various milk cartons means I was able to make a selection of small and large watering cans.

Once we realised our spare bedroom would not in fact be hosting our planned influx of house guests (sob) this spring I set up a whole load more sown seeds all along the large south facing window in an array of makeshift seed trays including plastic tubs and trays, cardboard containers.

And just like despite the drama / crisis / horror story unravelling and evolving before our eyes on the TV, in the papers and on our phone news feeds the sun rises and sets, the moon continues through her phases, the tides roll in and out and the birds have begun to sing, pair up and gather nesting materials so the seedlings have begun to burst through the surface of the soil.

Which of course means that just like any proud witness to new life we have been casting around in the realisation that they will carry on growing and need a bigger home than their tiny loo roll tubes.

We had already agreed with our landlord last year that we could create some vegetable beds so we have built a couple of beds with some scrap wood, swapped some eggs for rotted horse poo with a neighbour, borrowed a spade (because all of our tools are on Rum, where we can’t get them having now missed two planned visits due to lock down) and are going to lift the lawn up. Ideally we would have filled the raised beds with compost – that is not feasible to get hold of in these weird times so we figure growing direct into the ground (we’ll be slicing and rolling the grass to lift it rather than digging) and then filling the beds at some future point is the way to go.

We still have another couple of weeks to be certain of being frost free so in the interim we are encouraging the chickens to feed and scratch around on the beds. We have some netting on order to prevent them doing that once we are ready to plant out.

The strawberries that we bought over from Rum last year have taken well and spread out lots in the first bed we constructed here last summer. I have had them covered with plastic over winter and although there are no flowers yet there are some very healthy looking leafy plants.

It will be really interesting to see how we do in this, our third growing space.

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