3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower

Allotments are daunting projects. You arrive onto a plot that’s usually filled with weeds as tall as your head. Dig a fork into the soil, and it’ll either be compact with couch grass roots or clumpy clay – or you could have beautiful, fluffy soil (grr…).

The best course of action for a really compact plot is to dig out bigger weeds, mulch with cardboard and manure and then wait until the following spring – however, if you’ve walked onto a plot in March, April or May and you want to have a go at some vegetables – here are 3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower.

Now, with very well-established weeds, you’ll need to make sure that your plots are mulched with a mix of either cardboard or newspaper, then layers of leaf mold (rotting leaves), compost or manure. Once the bulk of the plot is covered, you can use parts of the space to grow very early crops.

I should add that the harvests won’t be huge. You may have a few troubles along the way with your soil as it hasn’t had a good year of feeding and nurturing. You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeds every week as they try to come through (do 10 minutes or so – they will eventually lose their energy and die off after a few goes). However, these crops will still be tasty, and you’ll have grown your first allotment crops!

Potatoes

Whenever I’ve tried to tackle a heavy and clumpy plot, my first vegetables that I turn to are plants with strong roots. Potatoes, in particular, are a great starter vegetable – this is because they break up that solid soil as they go, and – if you go for first earlies like Maris Bard or International Kidney – you may even have time to plant a June crop of beans.

How I start my potatoes off is either at home or in the greenhouse. Potato plants grow through the chits, or sprouts (those little bits we find on their surfaces when we come to peel them). Knock off the eyes until you have around five all in the same area, face the spuds with the sprouts directed at the sun and keep them warm and dry.

Once the sprouts are the length of your finger, and the danger of frost has passed – check here for your areayou can plant them outside. Now, as the soil hasn’t been well-fed, either locate comfrey leaves and lay them along the bottom of a trench or pick up vegetable feed from any garden centre or DIY store.

When mulching your plot, make sure that you leave room for a trench a spade’s-width. Plant your spuds into the space 30cm apart and 50cm between rows if first earlies or 38cm apart and 75cm between rows if they are maincrop potatoes like Picasso and King Edward. Fill the trenches with a mix of compost and your dug earth and then water well throughout the season.

You will find that the weeds come through, but – so long as you do 10-15 minutes of uprooting every week, they shouldn’t cause too much bother.

Courgettes

Another vegetable that will work well in a mulched bed. Before you sow your seeds, grab a couple of bags of compost or a heap of manure, several sheets of cardboard and newspaper and any vegetable waste you might have. Dig over your weedy soil lightly and remove the biggest plants and roots.

Soak your sheets of cardboard or newspaper and throw down. Cut or leave a hole about 50cm wide (this will be your spot for your courgette). Now layer up the plot with your composting material and leave the worms and microbes to do their work as your courgettes grow.

Start courgettes off in a warm, well-lit house or greenhouse around mid-April/May. Sow the seeds pointy-end up and cover to the top of your pot with soil. Make sure that the pots are moist.

Once your elephant-sized plants have three or four leaves and the risk of a late frost has pased, it’s time to plant them outside.

Where you marked out your courgette spaces, dig down a spade’s depth. Fill this with vegetable scraps and comfrey leaves before topping up with manure. Now take your courgette plant and an extra plant pot. Lay the courgette over the manure and the pot beside it. Slowly fill in the roots of the courgette with the de-weeded topsoil and an extra layer of compost. Firm down and water thoroughly weekly, using the plant pot to get deeper down to the roots.

Strawberries

Get this – you can grow tasty strawberries pretty well in clay soil. As above, mulch the area you’ve set out for your strawberry plants. Again, insert plant pots next to each plant as these will make sure that water reaches the roots!

Strawberries are easiest to grow when they’re bought either online or from the garden centre. As we want delicious strawberries this year, we’ll go for the garden centre potted plants.

Taking the pots, pop them into a large tub of water and leave them to soak for around 10 minutes. Use this time to dig out the holes you’ve marked up in your beds.

Removing the plants from the pots, place each one over a layer of well-rotted manure and then fill until the roots are buried. Firm down and water well and feed with tomato feed throughout the season.

You can enjoy allotment strawberries in no time!

Taken on a plot this year? What crops have you gone for? If you’ve been growing your own for years, I want to know what edibles you started with. Let me know in the comments below.

Don’t Let the Weeds Bring You Down

Chances are that if you’re reading this you’re either a very neat and tidy grower or you’re a messy one like me. Yes, contrary to the professional (cough, cough) pictures, my allotment is more on the wild side than it is the Gardener’s World side. The site is big; I’ve inherited a whole batch of great plants – yet I’ve also inherited a very well-established hoard of bindweed, which is nigh-impossible to get rid of.

On a typical trip up to the allotment in mid-summer, I can often come away feeling disheartened. Even if I get on with a good bit of de-weeding, the grass stands wild and tall and the pesky weeds dominate the plots once more. In the end, I’ve come to the realisation that I should simply embrace it.

Young Growers – Don’t Give Up Over Weeds

I’m appealing particularly to my generation of young gardeners here, as it’s with first-time gardeners and growers that weeds win.

Across my youthful allotment site, I often compare younger gardener’s plots to older people’s. What I find is that, where there had been good intentions – growing a range of tasty, organic fruit and veg – what instead happens is the manured beds and cleared edges become perfect breeding sites for thick weedy growth.

Many of these people give up their plots after a short while and abandon the idea of growing their own food completely.

As a passionate advocate for growing your own food, and as someone who has his fair share of weedy worries, this makes me very sad. So, I want to tell you something:

Weeds Will Always Grow Because Nature Has More Time on Its Hands

You can’t stop weeds entirely, so move that thought aside. When you see pristine allotment plots, notice the little tuft of grass near the bed’s corner or the creeping vine – no one is perfect and no allotment is either. This doesn’t mean that you can’t do anything to improve conditions, though.

By mulching your growing beds heavily in the late autumn with leaf mold, horse or cow manure and things like newspaper or cardboard, you can kill off a lot of weeds by starving them of light. Then, when the few sprouts begin to surface, book yourself in for a weekly de-weeding session that only needs to last 10 minutes. Do a quick scan of your beds and pull a handful out here and there. By keeping this consistent (use a phone calendar if you need to) you’ll have more time to focus on your veggies.

By raising the soil up, you can also stop the weeds from spreading. The trick is to smother and starve any unwanted plants underneath. Then, once your growing beds are ready you won’t have to worry about weeds. So long as the weeds aren’t growing or creeping over any growing vegetables, just keep them a little managed.

It’s also healthy to let the grass grow. Remember that lots of wildlife relies on tall grass for coverage, pollination and much more. So you only need to give that a cut once it reaches your anywhere before your knee. If the grass is going to seed, it’ll likely spread across your beds. Don’t worry though – as long as you keep up a little bit of weeding each week and learn to embrace the messiness of nature, you’ll do just fine.

Whatever you decide to do – remember this: if the weeds are too high, don’t give up. It’s nature’s job to grow – and you just have to work with that. What’s more important is that you get something out of your garden or allotment. You know, there are even professional gardeners and veg growers out there who use weeds and permaculture to make their crops better.

 

Less Gloom, More Bloom: How Plants Help Anxiety and Depression from Experience

Although I’m often writing excitedly here or over on Instagram and Twitter about what I’ve been up to, things have been difficult lately as I’ve been suffering from an anxiety disorder.

Whilst I spend much of my time worrying, lately my anxiety has dominated my life, consuming me and in the process I’ve had to scale back simple tasks. The day to day had been an uphill struggle up until very recently. But this is no surprise.

Anxiety and depression are on the rise, particularly amongst us Brits. With busy lifestyles, job dissatisfaction, daily troubles and more, it’s easy to see why so many of us suffer.

Yet, if you’re reading this whilst suffering from depression or anxiety right now, let’s do away with the doom and gloom. There is a very powerful secret weapon that I’ve been relying on almost every day to ease my anxiety. It’s an antidote not only to short-term symptoms, but to on-going and more serious forms of depression, too. One of the best ways of improving your mood, increasing your energy and helping yourself to get healthier is by spending time with plants.

Whilst research has shown that even just a wander through a green space and interacting with plants as you go is enough to combat depression, by owning your own plants you’ll notice even more improvements in your energy levels and your mood.

Walk, run, sniff, pick – plants and gardens are the best therapists

Unlike the busy towns and cities, the boxy flats and the claustrophobic streets, by getting an allotment with your friends, turning your rented garden into something more or by simply including some essential plants to your balcony or terrace, you can start feeling happier.

You want to build a space that you can completely immerse yourself in. Anxiety is beaten by breaking your thought spirals. You need colour, scent, flavour and texture to occupy your mind with and plants are just the thing.

Scented plants for calming you down

Rosemary

Just a sniff of this richly-scented herb has not only been proven to help with memory, grab a lung of it and you can help to control your anxiety. Feel the waxy leaves, look over the purple flowers and watch the bees working away to relieve all that stress.

The best part is that rosemary will happily grow in pots and you can hang it up around the house or, more importantly, use it on those roast potatoes. Here’s a great website for picking up your own plants.

Chamomile

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Image via Pixabay

Staying with herbs for a second, chamomile is a fantastic plant for anxiety. You can even take a bag of tea and scatter it over a pot full of soil for some easy seedlings. Just make sure the soil is moist and add a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds. Chamomile not only looks good, it smells beautiful too. By sowing lots of seeds, you can create carpets of flowers that will help you with a good dose of mindfulness.

Roses

These flowers come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. You can find some miniature roses that are perfect for patios and terraces. Alternately, get as many of these bright, bold flowers in as you can in an allotment or garden. By growing roses up archways or training them across fence panels, you can create a truly immersive space that will transport you. So long as you give the plants a good dose of manure when you plant them and keep them trimmed back a little every so often, they should thrive.

Colourful Plants to Boost Your Mood and Keep You Healthy

Depression is mood-altering. So how can we help to bring balance to your lack of energy and lack of inspiration? These projects aren’t big: remember, a pot, a bag of soil and a plant can quite literally transform a space. Even by just spending time caring for one or two of the plants mentioned will help you find a little peace and comfort.

Sunflowers

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There’s a real sense of achievement when you grow one of these. Of course, even if you don’t have the space to grow a goliath plant, you can still get some large-headed, bright flowers filling your space with colour. The best bit, of course, is that you can take the seeds once the heads have wilted. Sunflower seeds have lots of nutrients in them to help combat your depression, and from sowing seeds to harvesting a crop, that sense of achievement will also give you a great buzz.

Tomatoes

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Not only do tomatoes taste fantastic, they’re really good for you too. Lypocene, a nutrient that actually halts the build-up of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression. Grow cherry tomatoes for the richest source of lypocene. Cherry tomatoes are also highly productive in small spaces and, so long as you give them a good water every other day in dry weather and feed once a week, they should give you a glut. Wander past your tomato plants and take in the rich aromas, watch them growing to huge sizes and observe the tomato fruits as they ripen: it really is mesmerising.

Pop along to your local garden centre or any high street DIY store and pick up some late additions now.

Jasmine

The scent of jasmine is enough to reinvigorate your senses. You don’t even need to be close to smell the deep aromas of this plant. Let the jasmine fill your closed space with greenery and aroma and you’ll feel all the better for it.

Small Space Garden Episode 2 | Sowing Tomatoes and Peppers

Last week I created a small bed, this week I’m sowing tomatoes and peppers.

The Small Space Garden series continues. This time, I’m looking at sowing some late tomatoes and peppers ready for containers in the garden.

Tomatoes and peppers are fantastic little plants for limited spaces and you’ll get rewarding crops at the end of it all too. It might be easy picking up that pack of peppers or those vine tomatoes, but you’ll never get the same flavour as you do by growing your own. Follow me and join in on this fun growing adventure.

If you haven’t seen Episode One, you can watch it here.

Happy planting

Small Space Garden | Episode 1 – Building A Small Raised Bed

I’m 27 and I have a great passion for growing food. For five years I’ve been on a journey to learn about how I can get more colour, flavour and excitement into my meals. From allotments to balconies and windowsills, I’ve grown in a variety of spaces. Now, I want to share what I’ve learnt with you.

In towns and cities, space is becoming increasingly hard to come by. If you’re interested in growing your own food, but you rent a home, you don’t have a garden or you just don’t have the hours to commit, the idea of growing your own food might seem impossible.

I have great news for you though: you only need a windowsill, a balcony or a small raised bed to grow some delicious crops. In my new series, I’m going to show you exactly how you can get the most out of growing your own food in a small space.

In the first episode of the Small Space Garden, I’m building the small raised bed that I’ll be using for the project. All you need is some thick material to keep the bed together, compost, food scraps, woodchip or dead leaves and you can turn your small or paved garden into a fresh food feast.

Check out Episode One, below:

Setting Up A Greenhouse Without the Cost

A few weeks ago I took a risk. Indtead of following sense and investing in an expensive but reliable glass, I decided to buy myself a cheap £30 model from Wilko. Yes, that’s right. Perhaps I have gone mad if I think that I can keep a plastic sheet and frame up against the wind on my exposed allotment site. Yet, £30 is a bargain against the £250+ that I would be expecting to pay for a sturdy greenhouse or polytunnel. Even a self-build polytunnel is a lot of time, energy and money – especially if you want the plastic sheet to keep the space warm.

Even as I pressed the order button, I was doubting my own competence. Surely a cheap plastic greenhouse like the one I’d ordered wouldn’t last more than a day on a windy allotment site?

Well, three weeks on from setting up the greenhouse, I can confidently say that it’s managed to stay up. Of course, it’s still too early in the year to tell whether the model will keep up throughout the rest of the growing season. However, £30 is still a massive saving on the expensive rates needed to buy a new frame, or the time and energy and transport needed to move a “free” model from a Gumtree advertiser’s home.

What kind of magic have I used to keep something so cheap up against the torrents of wind? Read on to find out more:

Dig Your Greenhouse In

Now, by digging in I don’t mean bury it like a plant. What I mean is measure out the space needed to fit in the base and dig down to around a spade’s depth. Once you’ve set up the greenhouse, slot this into the space. The ground on all four sides will both stop the wind from getting under the frame and lifting the greenhouse up. The ground will also be pushing the sides in.

Cover the Base, Push in the Sides

Once you’ve firmly placed the greenhouse inside the space, it’s also a good idea to get some woodchip or gravel and run a layer of it over the top of the base to secure it even further.

In addition to this, you could do what I’ve done and dig two wooden crates or supports into the ground either side of the greenhouse. This will add to the structure of the frame and stop the wind from getting anywhere vulnerable.

Reinforce Those Joins

More often than not, the problem with plastic greenhouses has been the poles coming out of their joins, causing the entire frame to fall in on itself. To stop this, I’ve reinforced all of the greenhouse’s joins with strong camping tape to keep everything in place. Alternatively, you could use any kind of strong tape to keep everything together. This is an important step, because the tape will also ensure that the frame has structure.

Follow all of these steps and you should hopefully have a greenhouse that also stays up. Just to give you an idea of how windy my allotment site is, even the strongest plastic polytunnels can suffer at the hands of the harsh gales. These thrifty ideas will give you that warm and sheltered growing space to start off some healthy vegetables this year at a fraction of the cost, time and energy needed to build a greenhouse or polytunnel.

How to Start a Windowsill Veg Patch

Windowsills can often be awkward spaces in homes. Just what do you do with them? Do you keep them free, or do you pack them with nice-looking ornaments?

How about a pot, some soil and some salad seeds?

It might not be the prettiest sight you’ve ever seen on your windowsill, but a container full of crunchy salad leaves or delicious herbs is a fantastic investment. How many of us have gone to the supermarket to pick up a £1 bag of “fresh” herbs and found ourselves only using half of the bag, whilst the other turns into disgusting slush?

By growing your own tasty basil, you can have a constant supply of leaves to add to money-saving recipes and to add an extra bit of flavour to meals. In addition to this, if you keep your supply of salad leaves or herbs going, you can also start saving money. I’ve been running a little experiment on my own windowsill to see just how successful windowsill salads could be. You can see my first blog post about the project here.

And, after a couple of months, this is what my mini veg patch looks like now:

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What a fantastic little production line this salad pot is. Whether you’re keen to bring fresh leaves to your work sandwiches or herbs to your pasta pots, a windowsill salad patch is definitely worth a go!

How to Grow Chillies Without a Lot of Space

Whenever I get into a conversation about growing food with one of my friends the most common reason for them not attempting to have a go is because of a lack of space. Now, as many of you are aware, my mission in life is to prove to everyone, no matter what you do or how much time you can spare, that growing your own food is actually very achievable.

So I started the Grow Your Own Food Challenge. The aim of the challenge is to show you all from seed through to meal that, garden, balcony or windowsill, there are still plenty of options available to you.

I’ll be posting videos and hashtagging #seedsaturday and #seedsunday every time I sow a new plants or share an update on the plants I’ll be growing this year.

Last weekend, I started my first batch of chilli seedlings. You can see the video below. Remember, if you’re new to this or you know someone who wants to grow their own food, make sure you follow my Facebook page for more information.

4 Benefits of Growing Your Own Edible Plants

As most of you already know, I’m on a mission. It’s quite a small mission; to get all of you growing your own. This isn’t a blog about how to get the biggest pumpkin or how to neaten your flower beds. No. This blog is about growing nice and easy food, cooking that food into delicious recipes and then making you realise that by doing so, you’re suddenly part of your own revolution.

This year, I’m running a Grow Your Own Food Challenge for all of you to get involved in.  All you need is one happy plant and you can benefit in so many fantastic ways.

See my blog on getting started in the Grow Your Own Food Challenge, here.

In anticipation for the new growing season and my challenge, here are 4 Benefits of Growing Your Own Edible Plant.

1 – The Environment

You don’t really think about it when you go into your local supermarket, but because pretty much all of our food is imported from Europe and further away it’s all making an impact on global warming. Whilst we all love a banana, by growing a chilli plant, tomato plant or a fruit tree – you’ll be cutting that mileage and lowering your carbon footprint in the process. By growing your own, you’ll also be helping these guys out, too:

2 – Health

If you grow your own you’ll be living a healthier lifestyle. From experience, fruits and vegetables are better picked fresh and not sold to you after several days of travel. As well as tasting richer, home-grown tomatoes and other vegetables are jam-packed with more nutrients. In addition to this, by introducing fresh tomatoes, peppers and salads into your diet you will find that you’re shopping less (meaning less temptation to buy sweets and other naughty things) and you’re cooking your own delicious meals more often too.

3 – Variety

Variety is a huge benefit to growing your own. Why should we let supermarkets dictate what we can and can’t have on our plates? From black tomatoes to knobbly pumpkins – there are a huge range of exciting, quirky and flavour-bursting vegetables out there. There’s nothing better than the smug feeling you get when you cook and create with vegetables unknown to most people.

4 – Money

Of course, by growing chillies, tomatoes or peppers you can save money too. One tomato plant could give you £5 back, and you may find even more savings by growing your own chillies and garlic through the year. The savings do vary; yet, with rising food prices, doing the growing yourself makes so much sense.

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The Grow Your Own Food Challenge starts in February, so stay tuned. What are you looking forward to growing this year? Is this your first go? I’d love to hear from you – why not connect with me on Facebook or Twitter

How to Grow Salads Without a Lot of Space

Want to grow your own food but you haven’t got a garden? You don’t need one.

Behold the windowsill garden plan:

Continue reading How to Grow Salads Without a Lot of Space