Saturday, 8 November 2008

Developing a Growing System that works for you

How often do you hear people say they haven't got time to grow their own fruit and vegetables?

For the past two and half years (since we took on our then derelict allotment) - I've been on a very fast learning curve. Experimented quite a bit. Made some expensive mistakes. Read quite a few books. Talked to lots of people.

Some of the information I came across was brilliant. I wish I'd found it before - it might have saved me time and money.

Much of the stuff I had to wade through though was confusing and not very practical. Some of it was misleading - and some of the views held by a few people I talked to were too dogmatic and it put me off.

What I'd like to do here is share what I've learned and hopefully make things easier.

I feel November is a great time to start. Not necessarily getting out there in the wind and rain, but with the dark days we have the perfect chance to think, plan and gather information. When January comes, Spring is not far away - I'd like to 'hold your hand' (or at least your gardening glove then) with your planning and action and take you through the whole of the fruit and vegetable year, organically. I hope you enjoy it.

Developing a Growing (and Propagation) System that works for you

I've now developed a system of raising seeds(propagation), hardening them off and planting them out successfully which doesn't take me a lot of time, and which suits our lifestyle right now.

Your situation will be different from mine, of course, you'll have a different work pattern, different flat, tent, house, the budget available will vary. Your challenges will be different.

Here are some of the hurdles we were facing(two and half years ago):

1. No sunny, wide windowsills to raise seeds on
2. Not much experience of growing vegetables or fruit
3. A derelict allotment, twenty minutes away. Problems with germinating seeds there due to mice, pigeons, a fox, slugs. Occasional vandalism. Not being able to get there more than twice or three times a week to start with.
4. No garden at home - plenty of slugs in the yard - no car - two cats.
5. A limited budget
6. Disabilities in the family.

And the advantages:
1. Our courtyard is small, but it is frost and wind free and the greenhouse doesn't blow away.
2. Long distance support from Garden Organic's membership helpline, and a weekend training course (see useful links and future posts). Membership at that time was around £28 a year and well worth it considering everything I've learned from them. But there is a lot of free information on the website to start with. Plenty to be going on with, in fact, if you're just starting up.
3. Green Gym experience with the British Trust for Conservation Volunteers - so I was fairly confident about using basic tools.
4. No television. (be honest - how many hours are taken up watching nonsense?)
5. The plot was overgrown, but we had the gift of two beautiful apple trees from a previous tenant.

So here's the bare bones of my growing system as it stands. This is my work routine for raising almost everything:

1. I raise seeds in square plug planters at home in a small plastic greenhouse (see the picture in the next post)...
Since they are just outside my back door, it isn't much work to keep an eye on them. The plug planters are quite expensive, (about £20 each) and the greenhouses sell for about £30. I feel both of these items save time and produce strong plants if you use them carefully.

But you could just start out with one or try other containers/pots that you have. As I said, this is my refined work routine to date. I like the plug planters and they work for me, given our circumstances. If I find something else works better, I'll use that instead. The planters come in three nifty parts they hold water and drain very well, so that means you don't need to worry so much about them drying out.
2. I harden the seedlings off on little shelves in the yard.
3. When the seedlings are big enough, I fix the planter tops on with sellotape, so the seedlings don't get damaged, load them into my tricycle and plant out on the allotment in a prepared (and usually raised bed) more detail about all that in later posts.
4. I bring the empty trays back, put them in my small dishwasher to clean them, and start again with the next batch.
So take heart! If you don't have some of the challenges I had, if you do have sunny windowsills, or a garden for example and no mice which eat the seeds you've planted you can set up a seed bed, plant directly and don't have the transport issues.
It will be even easier for you..