I set the vegetable growers diary up, originally for my own benefit. I wanted an easy way of showing what I had sown, what methods I used, and how to judge if something had been successful, or a complete failure. I tried everything from note pads, to hand written diaries, to setting up electronic calendars. But I realised I needed something more organic, where I could just look at a month, see what I did year on year, what was successful, what wasn’t and how I processed the food that I had grown. This is the perfect solution. If others get pleasure or good advice out of it, all the better. Of course, it is growing into something even more, with recipes I use on a regular basis, variety reviews, where I make a note of the important varieties year on year and how successful they have been, and even the recipes I use for the occasional experiment.
I got into vegetable growing in 2012, when we moved into our lovely home in mid Carmarthenshire. Strangely, I had grown nothing until then and had little knowledge of what vegetables grew when. The house had 2 and a half acres of land, with a lovely Victorian glass house. As soon as we moved in, I made the decision to try and grow vegetables. I had a gentle year of growing, but soon became hooked on the delights of producing my own food. One of the first successful products we made was a raspberry jam, the thrill of seeing people enjoying the product pushed me on to grow yet more. When we finished restoring the bucolic house, we adopted a 3 and half year old, and gardening took a break while we all settled in to our new family.
We moved house, because we don’t like to keep our lives simple. The new house has a regular sized greenhouse, and a decent sized paddock, that I soon converted in to a veg patch, and started (slowly) getting back into growing vegetables. So here we are today. I have learned a great deal on growing vegetables. Each year I become more brave, and each year I seem to be producing more and more. The most important lesson I have learned is to just do it. Don’t worry about failure, or doing it properly. If it works for you, then it works well.
Most of my experience has been based on an incredible course at the National Botanic Gardens of Wales, which used to be just 15 minutes down the road from me. It has been an incredible source of information, and of course, great fun. They taught me month on month what to grow, and how to deal with problems. However, to be successful at something doesn’t necessarily take going on a course. My first year was really successful, and really enjoyable. The National Botanic Gardens encouraged me to think for myself, not pushing any one idea. This is what I came up with for the best way – for me – to garden.
A strict no dig policy,
Imagine the effort and time it takes to double dig your veg patch every year. Some gardeners swear by this, stating that it loosens the soil, and improves the health by mixing in loamy material and good compost. The theory of no dig is that you can still achieve these results, and better, by simply laying your good compost and loamy material on the top of your bed. It gets worked in over time (and not very much time in my experience) by the worms, insects, microbes and the weather. It increases the health of the soil by allowing its structure to stay in tact. In fact it really has shown that just over the past 2 years, my soils health has improved a huge amount. Weeds are easy to pull out, plants grow to be healthy and large, and there are thousands of worms, wherever you plant. You can get a clearer idea of how no dig works by looking at this web site of Charles Dowdlings.
I practice organically, meaning I only buy organic products for treating pests and diseases, and making my own compost, and where I need to buy in compost, making sure it is organic and peat free – no mean feat, I can tell you. There are very few peat free composts out there. Organic doesn’t mean low yields. I have found that this year the slugs have been kept back by using an organic slug killer, the gooseberry saw fly have been eradicated by visually inspecting the plant on a regular basis, and crushing any grubs under thumb, the tomatoes are looking great through an organic tomato feed and damage to vegetables has been kept low through vigilant inspection of leaves.
Heading for self-sufficiency
OK, OK, I am no-where near this yet, but this is the ultimate goal. Providing me and my family with enough food throughout the year to feed ourselves from the garden when we want. So far, gluts of food in June and July have proved incredibly successful, and the preserves are a great way of saving that food for the winter. But winter greens and cauliflowers, brussels sprouts and the rest take future planning. I do now plan ahead, and often have winter greens and christmas potatoes ready for harvesting over the winter period.
Turning self-sufficient takes time and commitment. If I truly want to be self sufficient, I stopped buying F1 hybrid varieties, and have started harvesting and storing the seeds of all the vegetables that I produce from reliable sources (mostly from the real seed company. This, in its self, takes up much more space, as a crop will invariably need to stay in the ground until the following year before it flowers and produces good seeds. In the mean time that ground would normally have been producing fruit or vegetables. In other words, being self sufficient can cost in the short-term, but it should benefit in the future. As well as the greenhouse we envisage getting a poly tunnel. This would extend the growing seasons, and in some cases encourage veg to send up seeds before they normally would. It would mean serious growing, and I sincerely hope it doesn’t take the fun out of it.