Earlier this year, I decided to have a go at growing my own fruit and vegetables. It’s something I’d thought about trying for a while after seeing some of my more green fingered friends’ successes with giant courgettes and juicy strawberries. Spurred on by a bargain buy mini poly-house in my local supermarket, I set about purchasing an assortment of seeds, planters and compost before busying myself and the kids with the serious business of growing stuff.
At the end of the summer we had the sum total of some herbs, a bunch of salad, a few beetroot, a couple of handfuls of tomatoes, three courgettes and one strawberry to show for our efforts. Given the hours of planting, watering, feeding and general care that had gone into this little project, even with my limited maths skills I can see that our effort to output ratio was pretty abysmal. Nevertheless, I’m glad we did it – there’s something quite special about eating food you’ve grown yourself – and we’ll definitely try it again next year. There are a few learning points I’d like to remind myself of when Spring 2017 comes around, though, which might also come in handy for any other wannabe growers out there:
- Don’t overestimate how much you can manage
When I started my growing project back in late Spring, I had visions of lazy afternoons spent in my little poly house, pottering around, drinking cups of tea and reading magazines (it turns out this is why a lot of people love their greenhouses). I’d forgotten I was a busy mum who’d have little time to hang around in it, and after filling it with the promise of tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, peas and beetroot I found that I had little space to either. Where once I could fit a deckchair I could now barely squeeze in a foot, and any dreams of an outdoor haven in my garden quickly evaporated. Eventually, the regular routines of watering and feeding also became a little onerous and something that started out as a fun hobby turned into a rushed addition to my to do list. If I was doing it all again, I would be less ambitious in the early stages and focus on just a few bits to start off with – windowsill herbs, salad and beetroot are all pretty easy to manage and yet still give you the satisfaction of watching something grow.
- Find ways to make things easier
We spent a lot of time planting seeds for our little project, but a bit later in the season things like tomato and courgette plants can be easily picked up in local supermarkets and garden centres. This saves a lot of time and means you can pop plants straight into the readymade grow bags you can buy in many shops over the summer. This would have saved us a lot of effort in planting things and then transplanting them into bigger and bigger containers. At the same time, the kids enjoyed messing about with seeds (time spent together is never wasted!), and we can always say *proudly* that yes, we grew those 3 courgettes ourselves from scratch (even that slightly dodgy looking one).
- Beware of opportunistic garden robbers
As much as I love the pretty birds who visit my garden, I was somewhat unaware of their exploits when it comes to stealing berries, and before I got round to putting a net over them, the strawberry plants I had placed out on my patio were feasted upon regularly by my little feathered companions. Post net-fixing, we were left with the total of 1 strawberry as our 2016 harvest. Hoping for better luck (and a little less naivety) in 2017.
- Take the chance to get fussy eaters to try things
My seven year old is a very fussy eater, and will regularly turn his nose up at things that are ‘home made’, meaning I often have to make home cooked dinners look as similar as possible to ready meals. But it turns out that even a fussy eater can be tempted by herbs – and not just the green bits found in a ready made chicken kiev either. Mashing up some grated cheddar, a handful of chives, some mayonnaise and a dash of English mustard makes for a tasty sandwich filler that even my little one approved of. Getting him to taste the things he’d seen us growing was also a positive step forward – he knew there was nothing suspicious about these vegetables, and on the odd occasion he found he actually liked them!
Finally, it goes without saying that fruit and veg need a lot of regular attention in the form of watering and feeding, and unfortunately during the course of my little experiment I ended up ill in bed with pneumonia for the best part of three weeks. Although GB gave the contents of my poly house the odd cursory water during this period, my absence did kind of mark the death knell for my growing project. Overall some things we grew were successful and others were a disaster (I still have no idea how anyone manages to grow peas and the question of too much/too little watering remains in general unanswered). Nonetheless I’m pretty proud that we managed to grow anything at all, and it’s true that the things you grow yourself taste much better than anything you can buy in a supermarket or find in the freezer. So despite a few setbacks we’ll be trying again in 2017.
And who knows – one day I might even get to those lazy afternoons of pottering, drinking tea and reading magazines while I watch my garden grow.