Grow Your Own Advice for beginners  

One cannot but be aware that there is a strong movement towards "Growing ones own" The advantages of working the land are many; some of which are  satisfaction and better health, both physical and spiritual; engaging with the soil.  A connection with our long departed ancestors, perhaps.  But we are not writing an essay on metaphysics, but trying to come up with a few practical steps you may care to take if you wish to join the movement. Now is as good a time to start as any, with the winter coming on and plants dying back all around.

  • Don't be too ambitious to start with. Select a site with an open position- maximum light is best for all vegetables and fruit. Definitely avoid shade as far as possible.  Your soil may well be full of the elements plants require, if it has been "resting" for some time.
  • Mark out the patch; it does not have to be rectangular, but if you have plenty room it is best to lay it out from the start so the cultivated areas are about 6 foot wide. This enables you to work mostly from outside the dug area, which avoids compacting the soil and is, in any case, much nicer visually. (Some people build raised beds).
  • There are various views about digging, but in the first instance almost certainly it is necessary in order to open up the soil and distribute the organic materials within it. It also improves the drainage. Once dug, frosts are helpful. I recommend a ladies size spade, stainless steel. Some people however, prefer forks.
  • At the same time do start composting all the organic matter you can. Waste food is OK but bury it under cut grass. This should keep rats and squirrels away. (More detailed advice about composting can be found in article following)  Though composting is slower in winter, if you start now, you will have compost ready by the spring. You will need space for two compos heaps. Stop adding to the first one in December and leave it to rot; then start on the second one).
  • Now as to what to grow and when. It is absolutely true that one must be patient in gardening. One can do little to "hurry up" nature. Some items such as asparagus and rhubarb take some time (2-3 years) to get established but there is the pleasure of seeing them develop. The same applies to most fruit trees, but when they do start yielding it is very rewarding. But while most items must wait for the spring to be planted, you can start now if the weather remains mild, with at least two things which you will soon see coming through. Onions and broad beans. You can buy onion sets (small onions) in bags of 50- of various sorts, including shallots. Plant them out by the end of November and you will see the green shoots coming up very soon (2-3 weeks if the weather is favourable). Keep them watered if the weather is dry- also put some netting or wire cover over them if you can to prevent birds and animals digging them up. Place them no more than 5"apart. Water the ground first if it is dry to make it a bit sticky and push them in just below the surface.

Broad beans usually grow very easily. They should be in a grid like an army platoon, about 12" apart in all directions.  Some varieties grow to 5' or more and need canes for support against winter winds.  Other varieties, like The Sutton are shorter and do not need support. You can either put in the beans themselves (all the same rules apply as with the onions), or buy as young plants. As with all seeds, the instructions are on the packet (and will probably contradict everything I have said). However, to make doubly sure, plant some in little pots in the kitchen to replace any failures (plant them in a compost mix, and keep them moist) and hopefully avoid frustration- sometimes  seeds planted in the ground don't come up and one never knows why.

By the way, as this information might not get to you before the frosts set in, you can plant both the onions and beans in March at the start of the year, as an alternative.

That is more than enough to be getting on with until next time. You could put in young brassica plants (cabbage family) now to overwinter.  Most good things wait to be planted in the spring, Something exciting to look forward to, when Adrian will be giving you very good advice. Good growing.

Ring me for advice or visit my vegetable and fruit garden- possibly to see how not to do it! Also to clear up anything I have not made clear - I know how irritating that is.

David Smart, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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