Hang on a moment, just let me finish getting these seeds in…. there. That’s better – isn’t it great to get a new season under way at last?
I’m Sally Nex and I’m the tutor for Self-Sufficient Veg Gardening here on learningwithexperts.com – it’s good to meet you! Come on into my vegetable garden and take a look around.
Through this blog, over the coming months I’ll share with you my gardening year. Obviously I’m hoping it’ll be an absolute triumph in which every seedling I plant bursts into exuberant life, the sun shines (but not too much) and the rain falls soft and kind (but also not too much, and preferably only at night). Oh, and the local slug population takes a sudden liking for, say, discarded sweet wrappers so they all go somewhere else and leave my garden alone.
Unfortunately 25 years plus of growing my own food has taught me things may not quite turn out like that. Never mind! The challenges are part and parcel of veg growing, so I’ll let you know how I tackle those as well as showing off the bits that go well.
I garden a slightly scruffy strip of windswept hillside in south Somerset, surrounded by fields and hedgerows – it’s the kind of place where you can look up from the weeding to find yourself eyeballing a cow through the hedge. My two collie-cross dogs, Bert and Biggles, are usually somewhere nearby (Biggles is usually holding a stick in his mouth and looking hopeful).
But I have also gardened tiny inner-city handkerchiefs, and suburban lawns, and allotments (my current garden is about the same area as a full-size allotment at 250m2 – roughly the amount of land you’ll need to raise enough veg for a family year-round).
The one thing I’ve learned is that good gardening is the same whatever kind of garden you have. Plants are pretty accommodating things, and as long as you give them what they want they’ll grow, whether they’re in a pot on a patio, a raised bed on an allotment, or serried in rows in an expansive kitchen garden.
I am mostly self-sufficient in fruit, vegetables and herbs (though I bow to my colleague, the wonderful Rachel Petheram, tutor for The Herb Garden, where herbs are concerned). I say ‘mostly’ because even I have a few things I struggle with: I can never grow enough carrots, and I’m currently battling a wireworm epidemic (of which more, no doubt, later) so my potatoes don’t last long into winter, either. And I have one teenage daughter still at home, who seems to be incapable of waiting till June for strawberries, and another away at university who occasionally descends and eats all my stores within a week of walking through the door again.
Things never get boring here: I am always experimenting with new crops, so this year you’ll be finding out more about Babington’s leeks, oca and mashua, as well as heritage varieties of potatoes, peas and tomatoes (for more on heritage veg, try Toby Musgrave’s course). No doubt I’ll find more that piques my interest as the year goes by – that’s the great thing about veg growing, there’s always something new around the corner!
But mostly, I just grow straightforwardly good, honest food to feed myself and my family, and I share the knowledge I’ve gained through hard-won experience on my course.
I’m organic – for me, that’s one of the main reasons for growing your own, so you know your food hasn’t been sprayed with a dozen different chemicals and stored in some refrigerated unit for weeks before you eat it.
I’m also as sustainable as I can be, gardening in peat-free compost and without plastic as much as possible. For me, a gardener should tread lightly on the soil. I’ll be sharing how I do that with you as we go along, as well as letting you know about the different techniques I’m trying out this year.
You’re ahead from the start if you grow organic vegetables: already, you’ve cut out single-use plastic and food miles, and because you’re eating your food as fresh as nature intended there’s no need for artificial preservatives, pesticides, growth inhibitors or anything else that nature wouldn’t have put there herself. Oh, and it tastes so much better it’ll spoil you for shop-bought forever!
I look forward to having you with me through the growing year. Until next time, it’s back into the greenhouse with me. Now, where did I put that pack of tomato seeds?
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