The March Transition Tuesday was all about how to start growing your own fruit and veg in a small area and it’s worth summarising the key points here for the benefit of anyone who couldn’t attend but who might have budding aspirations to eat really locally.
In the early days, homes in Letchworth were built with good sized gardens with the intention that they would be used for growing food to feed the family. In many cases this local tradition has been forgotten, but here at TTL, we’d love to revive it. Growing vegetables need not be difficult; start small and build on success. You’d be amazed how much can be produced in just a couple of square metres. Home grown tastes better, is the freshest you can get, can be totally organic and travel food feet rather than miles!
Traditional growing methods might see crops growing in straight rows. We now know that this method is time-consuming, wasteful and often reliant on chemicals. The modern “raised bed” method is felt to be better – not to mention less intimidating for a beginner! The raised bed method was started by the American Mel Bartholomew in the 1980’s. He called it “square foot gardening”, now updated to “square metre gardening”. We could take this method and make it even more Transitional by opting for sustainable, peat-free and recycled materials.
TV gardener Alys Fowler is an advocate of mixed planting. In other words, interspersing your decorative flowers with your food crops. Thes companion plants will attract pollinators and deter pests as well as looking attractive.
If you’d like to grow but you’re wondering how to start we’d recommend making a list of what you’d like to grow. Think about those things you like eating and also think about the foods which are hard to find in the shops and which may be expensive to buy. For example, I’m repeatedly amazed by the price…
of rhubarb in the shops but it’s incredibly easy to grow once it gets going and you can be assured of a good supply for months from just one plant. Likewise, no shop-bough broad bean tastes as good as a home grown one straight from the pod. It’s also a good idea to research how big the plants are and what kind of conditions they thrive in. Safe bets for small spaces include salad crops, onions, chard, beetroot, beans and courgettes.
Next, have a look at your garden and figure out where gets the sun. Somewhere sunny is best for your raised beds, and somewhere not too close to trees or hedges which will consume much of the water or nutrients in the soil. The size of beds doesn’t matter really, but to keep it managable, we’d suggest larger areas are sub-divided so they’re no more than a metre wide.
If you’re digging up lawn to make your raised bed then either remove the turf and turn it upside down or lay weed suppressant membrane. Grass can be pretty determined so you may have to be persistent. A layer of leaf mould or grass clippings can also help in discouraging the grass from returning.
You’ll need timber to build your structure for the bed. You can buy a raised bed kit, or buy reclaimed timber from somewhere like Cambridge Wood Works. Remember to ensure you can access the bed from all four sides. Once in place, fill this with compost. Home made compost is best! But if you don’t have that, you can buy peat-free compost, soil basedcompost and add about 20% vermiculite to assist with drainage. Then divide your bed into nine individual squares. You can mark these out with string, as in the photo above.
Then you’re ready start planting and sowing. Plug plants are a great option for a beginner, and you can buy them in small quantities for a small space. If you’ve decided to sow seeds, there are some golden rules. Small seeds need to be near the surface and larger seeds need to be planted further down. As a rough guide, larger seeds should be planted at a depth twice the size of the seed. Remember to water the soil, and label so you don’t forget what you’ve planted.
Until you’re familiar with what the different seedlings look like and can differentiate them from weeds, it can be a good idea to sow in containers into bought seed compost rather than multi-purpose as it is finer. You can save on bought pots by re-using recycled containers. The plants really won’t mind!
Seeds require warmth, and moisture for germination and then light. If you’ve grown indoors,when the seedlings are big enough, harden them off outside for a few days before planting out, otherwise they won’t be tough enough to survive the shock. Indoor grown plants can be put out during the day and brought back in overnight at first until they become acclimatised. Some plants including beans and tomatoes need sticks for support, so make sure you’re prepared when you plant out.