Growing food is more than just saving money, eating healthier or learning a new skill, it goes deeper. Sowing a seed, watching it burst through its shell, push its way through the compost, grow leaves, a stem, then flower and seed – you’re not only watching the cycle of life, but watching life that you’ve taken part in creating.
”I used to visit and revisit it a dozen times a day, and stand in deep contemplation over my vegetable progeny with a love that nobody could share or conceive of who had never taken part in the process of creation. It was one of the most bewitching sights in the world to observe a hill of beans thrusting aside the soil, or a rose of early peas just peeping forth sufficiently to trace a line of delicate green.” ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne
However (there’s always one of those isn’t there), growing your own vegetables doesn’t come without its challenges. It can at times be time-consuming, physically difficult, disappointing and frustrating. But please don’t let that put you off – if we didn’t experience a bit of pain we wouldn’t appreciate the many pleasures! So what can you do to minimise the effort so that you too can enjoy this beguiling pastime that many of us are so passionate about?
1. Don’t take on too much.
Really, this is THE NUMBER ONE RULE. If I’ve learnt anything at all it’s how stressful a large vegetable plot can be if you’re short of time. Due to Mr Gs work commitments I’ve pretty much had to tend to the garden entirely on my own this year. Looking after ten vegetable beds, three fruit beds and a polytunnel is no joke if you’re working and/or raising a family, and then you have to harvest, wash, prepare and cook or freeze all the produce! So start small and see how you get on.
2. Install raised beds.
This is slightly contentious as it’s not the cheapest way of starting out and why bother if you have good soil, but…. raised beds are low maintenance and much easier to manage. No grassy weeds finding their way into your beds.
3. Install high raised beds
If you suffer with any sort of mobility problems – back, shoulders, knees – consider installing or building waist-high raised beds. I’ve just harvested a bed of (forgotten) potatoes and even with the help from smallies picking the spuds out of the soil, my back is screaming at me, so much so I’m seriously contemplating not planting them next year. High raised beds are a pleasure to work at – you wouldn’t even know you’ve been gardening!
4. Choose ‘easy’ vegetables
Onions, garlic or shallots, peas or beans, Swiss chard, kale, courgettes, herbs and strawberries are great for starters. Once you’ve got the hang of those, experiment with different varieties.
Buy a couple of really good gardening books that will help answer questions or identify pests and diseases as soon as you spy them. Here’s some of my favourites.
6. Tidy Up
When you’ve harvested your veg, clear away and compost any debris and either plant a green manure or cover with organic matter and some cardboard or weed membrane. This will feed the soil and prevent weeds, saving you time and effort in the springtime. If you haven’t already done so, read Charles Dowding‘s book on No Dig gardening, this is a method I’m working towards achieving in my own patch.
7. Learn about your subject
Take a gardening course (we tailor ours to suit) join a gardening club or a community garden! There’s nothing like hands on practical advice, seed swapping or even a bit of help, camaraderie and laughter to make the disappointment of a failed crop disappear.
8. Grow flowers too
Flowers are not only beneficial in vegetables gardens in that they encourage pollinating insects, they’re pretty to look at too. On a dull, dreary day when you know you have to do some work in your vegetable garden whether you feel like it or not, it might just be the sight and smell of the flowers that draw you in there (works for me).
Have you any tips that make life easier in your veg garden? I’d love to hear them so that I can pass them on.
P.S. Have just thought of a very important No. 9 that I’m currently faced with and hope it helps you if you’re in a similar position… if you do feel a tad overwhelmed by the amount of work you need to do to get your garden back into shape, don’t look at it as a whole, but aim to tackle small areas at a time. You’ll have it straight in no time – it’s often the thinking about the doing that is worse than the actual doing! Best of luck