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Vegetables

Vegetable Garden

Growing vegetables ~ 8 tips to stop you giving up!

September 8, 2012

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

The Greenside Up GardenReally, 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!

Raised Vegetable Bed

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.

Easy Vegetables to Grow

5. Books

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

green manure rye

Green Manure ~ Rye

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).

Flowers

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 🙂

Green

What does it mean to be organic? (more than you may think…)

February 28, 2012

iofga symbol

I recently asked this question “what does organic mean in terms of food choices?” to a random selection of people at the KLCK bloggers network meeting and bar one, the answers were varied and general but incorrect.

Then I overheard a radio interview where the respondent was telling all the listeners about their “fabulous organic garden” and I knew fully well that it wasn’t organic. Chemical free YES, organic NO.

organic trust symbol

Why should it bother me? Is there a different? Well yes there is a difference and quite a big one. When you’re an organic farmer who’s struggling to sell your produce at a higher cost than non-organic, having likely gone through two full years of vigorous testing to achieve your well deserved certification, getting it wrong must be so frustrating! Organic vegetable gardening and certification involves a combination of many things but many feel worth the time, expense and effort to achieve that status.

At Greenside Up we teach and garden chemically free, we strive to be as organic as we possibly can and follow as many of the principles listed below as possible. However my seeds aren’t all organically sourced, my manure is from a non-organic neighbouring farmer and my hens aren’t feed organic feeds (though they are GM free). It would be incorrect of me to say that I garden ‘organically’ as that would be an injustice to those who actually do.

So what does the term ORGANIC mean?

  • It means avoiding the use of pesticides, herbicides and chemical fertilisers by finding ways of dealing with pesky little bugs without reaching for a spray. It means weed management and not automatically spraying them. It means sourcing organically farmed animal manures and making compost & leaf mould.
  • ladybirdIt protects biodiversity by encouraging and maintaining habitats for plants, wildlife and animals – planting native hedges, wildflower areas and encouraging beneficial animals such as hedgehogs and toads into the garden.
  • It encourages people to shop and buy locally produced food and not automatically driving to the big out-of-town supermarket.
  • It’s all about the soil – maintaining a healthy soil by rotating crops, adding natural fertilisers such as green or farmyard manures and keeping the soil covered when not in use.
  • Encouraging beneficial insects
  • It prohibits the use of genetically modified organisms (eg seeds).
  • It ensures that animals are reared to the highest standards, fed on chemically free grassland and free range.
  • It encourages the preservation of water and ensures that pollutants aren’t released into the waterways.

How do you know if something you buy is certified organic?

In Ireland it will carry one of two symbols as shown above to tell us so, either from IOFGA or from the Organic Trust. Different countries have different certifying bodies such as The Soil Association in the UK and others around the world, all offering advice, support and guidelines to anybody who wants it. If the produce you’re being sold as ‘organic’ doesn’t carry a symbol from a certifiable body, then chances are it’s not organic.

If you care about what you eat but find it expensive difficult to buy organic food, here’s a list of the top 12 fruit and vegetables that were analysed for pesticide residues by the US Department of Agriculture and Food; Drug Administration in 2011. With number the top one holding the greatest concentration…

Apples
Celery
Strawberries
Peaches
Spinach
Nectarines
Grapes
Sweet peppers
Potatoes
Blueberries
Lettuce
Kale

So if you’re not yet growing all your own fruit and veg and can only afford to put one organic item in your shopping basket every week, this may help you to decide which one.

Has that surprised you at all? I was shocked to see that apples were the greatest culprit, especially knowing how many un-sprayed apples drop to the ground and are wasted in gardens across the country every autumn!