Beginning any hobby or project is often the hardest part. Full of good intentions, we crumble when faced with the magnitude of completing the task, be it DIY or learning a language.
Growing food is no different. This is demonstrated by the amount of books and websites dedicated to helping you germinate a seed and it can quickly become overwhelming. Needlessly, you will be pleased to hear. Getting started growing food is easy, cheap and good fun.
At events around the county I am often told by people that they would love to start growing food but don’t have the time, or the space, or the knowledge. My answer is keep it simple, and I have 10 key points to help you keep it that way.
Consider how much time you have — do you work full time? Do you have other activities that use your time? Also, consider how much space you have. Any size of space you have can be grown on, be it a windowsill, a flat roof, a balcony or your third of an acre. The trick here is to consider both time and space together, and keep them balanced.
Don’t read too much…
There are so many gardening books that if I was to suggest books to help you, it would get too confusing. The thing about gardening books is that they only truly make sense after you’ve been gardening a few years, and by then, you don’t really need a book, except for specialist topics. Gardening is an art honed by doing and seeing what does or doesn’t work.
…Just a little
I warned of the volumes of gardening books and it would be rash to say that you don’t have to read anything, unless you know a Lincolnshire Master Gardener! Start with the seed packet, it often tells you all you need to know – when to sow, when to pick and how much space they need. Have a read on the internet about time and space saving methods such as square foot gardening, the ‘no-dig’ and organic approaches.
Know your soil
If you are growing in containers or raised beds, use a mix of quality top soil and compost (about 60/40). If you are lucky enough to have land to dig, then there are simple home tests that you can do to find out what type of soil you have. A Lincolnshire Master Gardener will be happy to advise you how to test the type and acidity of your soil. Sandy soil is great for growing root vegetables like carrots, but terrible at maintaining nutrients so needs feeding. Clay soil is great for brassicas, but difficult for root crops.
Know your space
As well as knowing what sort of soil you are growing in, it helps to know where the sun is at certain parts of the day. It’s safe to say the more sun the better, but certain crops, particularly leaf crops (salad, lettuce) can grow in partially shaded spots quite happily. South facing is the ideal.
It sounds obvious, but grow what you eat; it is surprising how many people grow things they don’t even like. Maximise your space efficiency by growing more of what you eat as well as what is expensive to buy. I have containers full of salad leaves, which can cost a fair bit once they’ve been washed in chlorine and wrapped in a plastic bag.
Reach for the sky
If your growing “floor space” isn’t enough for you, then look up! Vertical growing is becoming more and more popular in flats and back yards. Planting tomatoes and strawberries in hanging baskets on the wall can free up vital lawn space. Potatoes are just as happy growing out of compost bags as they are taking up (a lot!) of space in the soil. The only limit is your imagination and DIY skills. I have seen inventive uses of spare guttering, pallets and wellington boots in peoples back yards.
Bees have been in the news a lot recently and for good reason, we need them to grow our food! Grow beneficial plants for wildlife such as borage and comfrey, but also any flowers. If possible, surrender part of your garden to nettles and weeds, giving a safe haven for beneficial insects like ladybirds, and nasty things such as slugs somewhere else to go and eat.
Grow your own soil
Start composting, before you even begin gardening! Good compost is expensive, and you are more than capable of making perfectly good organic and peat-free compost in your own back garden. The better your soil, the better your food will grow and taste. The more you compost, the less waste goes to the tip. Everyone’s a winner!
Get free advice
Sign up for 12 months free support and advice through Lincolnshire Master Gardeners. Someone who is able to show you how to do something, who knows the areas soil and climate is better equipped than any book to help guide you through your first growing year, making you more likely to succeed in growing more in your second year! Contact [email protected].
Grow food already?
Further volunteers are needed around the county for this successful Garden Organic programme, including for the first time, Lincoln. Helping individuals, families, schools and community groups, Master Gardeners advise and support people learning to grow their own food.
An induction weekend is taking place on June 1 and 2. Garden Organic are looking for more volunteers from across Lincolnshire. Contact Rick for more information at [email protected] or on 07584 474774.