Self-Sufficient Gardening: Growing Fruit and Vegetables
Before you start . . .
The prospect of fresh, inexpensive fruit and vegetables from your own garden is obviously inviting. But is it realistic? The following comments are for all gardeners who would welcome a little reassurance before taking the plunge.
Is it worth it?
Lower housekeeping bills and a satisfying sense of achievement are assured if you grow part of your family’s food. In addition, freshly picked vegetables and fruits have more flavour and a better texture than those sold in shops, and they are richer in vitamin C.
Even the smallest garden — with a vegetable plot of, say, 100-150 sq. ft — will provide salads and tomatoes for a family of four during many months of the year. With perhaps double this space, beans, onions, one or more kinds of fruit, and other money-saving crops can be added to the list.
To prove the point about money-saving, estimate your present weekly outlay on salads, vegetables and fruit — including tinned and frozen produce, and such items as pie fillings and vegetable soups. Even halving the sum should make a big difference to the family budget, and you can expect to do better than that if you have, say, 70-100 sq. yds for growing crops.
Remember that surplus produce — such as a glut of beans or apples — can be stored, or else processed in numerous ways.
You may even decide to venture further towards self-sufficiency by keeping poultry or bees.
Is it difficult?
No special skill or aptitude is needed if you follow the instructions in this website. It is essential, though, to have a reasonably well-drained plot that is open to the sun for a good part of the day. Clay soil need not be a hindrance. With the right treatment it will often grow the finest crops of all.
But do not expect to get worthwhile results from poor, ‘hungry’ soil. Be generous with manure, compost and fertilisers — not forgetting lime, when necessary — and you will be surprised at your garden’s bounty.
If you have tried before, and failed . . . unless waterlogging or excessive shade was the cause, you probably made one of the following mistakes, all of them fairly common with beginners: Failure to apply sufficient manure and fertilisers.
Sowing at the wrong times.
Growing crops too close together.
Failing to thin-out seedlings.
It could be worth trying again, this time following the instructions in the website.
When to begin
Autumn and winter are ideal times to make a start, because you will have time to dig and manure the plot, and to plant fruit trees and bushes, before spring sowings are due and the annual cycle of growth begins.
If you start in spring or summer, avoid trying to do everything at once. It is better to dig and manure a small area thoroughly, and sow a limited range of crops for the first season, rather than rush to get everything in on ill-prepared ground and run the risk of a disappointing harvest.
If space is a problem
A surprising amount can be grown even on a sunny patio. However, if lack of space is a major drawback it is worth applying to your local council for an allotment.
The snag is that you may get no further than being put on a waiting list, because councils throughout the country are already trying to find plots for about 100,000 applicants.
However, the situation is much easier in some areas than in others, so it is well worth inquiring.
To give applicants a slightly better chance, some councils are splitting the traditional 300 sq. yd (250 sq. m) allotment into two or more plots.
As an alternative to renting an allotment, consider taking over a garden belonging to an elderly or disabled neighbour. They would probably be delighted to see the plot cultivated, especially if given a share of the produce that you eventually harvest.
Kitchen Garden Guide
All about soil care and cultivation methods
Anybody can have green-fingers; it is simply a matter of following straightforward instructions and applying common sense.
After all, it is in the natural order of things for seeds to germinate and for seedlings to develop into healthy, full-grown plants. All they need are the right conditions . . . This section of the website will help you to provide those conditions.
If there seems a lot to learn, take heart. There is certainly no need to read and remember every page before making a start in the garden. For instance, it may be a year or two before there are fruit trees to prune or until you get the urge to buy a greenhouse for growing tender or out-of-season crops.
In the meantime, the main priority is to decide where to grow your fruit and vegetable crops, and then to set about improving and digging the soil ahead of the first sowings and plantings. The rest can follow as the need arises.
Technical terms are avoided as far as possible, but the glossary will help to resolve any doubts or queries that do occur.