Sunday, 19 July 2015

How Do You Grow Food?

I got a lovely chatty email from a reader called Chloe the other day, she has recently started growing fruit and veggies and was having problems with some of her plants.  I hope she doesn't mind but I thought the answer I gave her might be useful to someone else who is having a struggle to get started this year.

But what I forgot to put in my reply to her is that this year has been an unusual growing year for lots of gardeners all over the country, she's not alone in struggling with the basics.  I thought what I was learning here in North Wales was what happens every year, but no, I've been talking to fellow veg growers and they are nearly all saying things are behind where they normally are, the rabbits have gone berserk and decimated crops for lots of them, and that this is a pretty unusual year.  Looks like I'll be learning all over again next year then .... something us gardeners do year on year.  So anyway onto the answer I gave Chloe to the question ....

...... ''How Do You Grow Food?"

Wow!!  What a question ....'How do you grow food'?'

It takes some luck and some learning, it takes LOTS of failures and learning from them, it takes perseverance and persistence but most of all it takes the willingness to keep going until eventually after making many, many mistakes things eventually start to go right.  

It took me a while, I started too many years ago to recount, when my boys were little, getting disheartened when everything keeled over and died.  Feeling embarrassed when it felt like everyone knew the latin names for everything they grew and I was the complete novice who barely knew a potato plant from a weed.

I learnt slowly but surely and picked up tips from reading, listening and watching Gardeners World ... which used to be so much better than I feel it is now.  I gave up for many years when my career overtook my gardening time but then like most green fingered folk I returned.  

Even now things go wrong ... frequently, and I do try to blog about it when they do so everyone can see that there are always failures to balance the successes.  This year for instance, the rabbits have eaten ALL my onion tops and half the garlic tops, leaving the onions and garlic to stay small in the soil unable to grow on any more, I've had to pull them up just when they needed only a couple more weeks to put on their good growth that would have seen us with enough to store to see us through the rest of the Summer and well into Winter  :-(

Before they ate the onions and the garlic they ate all but two of the runner beans, the two they didn't get were still under their 'pop bottle cloches' as they were the runts the tinyplants that I thought would come to nothing ... now they are my only beans and I daren't take the bottles off!!  The turnips were gone as soon as they appeared through the soil, they just didn't stand a chance.

So this year is a year of re-learning for me, I mean who would have thought the bloody bunnies would eat onions and garlic and leave the lovely little baby courgettes that are growing everywhere at a pretty alarming rate.  

And that is it with gardening and growing, just when you feel you are getting somewhere and developing confidence everything changes.  The soil, the weather, the pests, the time you can devote to what you have, there is always something different.

To answer your specifics, and it's only an educated guess -

Chilli plant - too much watering or not enough consistency with the watering, they don't like to be too wet or get too dry, did you feed it?  Maybe it needed feeding.  Most plants once they are bearing their fruit need feeding, tomato food is good for virtually everything and is one of the cheapest to buy.

Rosemary plant - they either live and thrive ... or drop down dead, don't blame yourself too much I have had some of each this year.

Peas - copper bands round the pots or beds will keep off slugs and snails, or sharp gravel, or a ring of salt, ring of crushed egg shells, they have tender little tummies that hurt if they cross these.  If all else fails slug pellets, spread thinly around your plants.  I do use these as a last resort and I'm not ashamed to admit it.

I've never grown Tayberries, but it sounds as though your bush needs a prune, then hopefully it will fruit much better next year.  At least it sounds healthy!!

Strawberries - same reply as above for the snails, it is the end of the season so you might not get any more fruit.  Now's the time to watch out for runners and peg them down to give you more plants for next year.  Then you can make the strawberry patch a hostile place for the slugs and snails.

I've struggled with Marigolds EVERY year until this year, and suddenly I've got something right and they are like triffids, I have no reason for this, I have done exactly the same every year!!

Your surviving plants are doing a brilliant job attracting all the beneficial creatures to the garden you have done something wonderful there, well done.  So don't feel unsuccessful, try and feel as though you are on a learning curve and you have almost got a whole season of learning out of the way.

All you have to do now is go to the garden centre, buy the healthiest Pepper plant and the most gorgeous Rosemary plant you can find and enjoy them . Go to Tesco and buy a big box of strawberries and a pack of frozen peas and tell yourself that this time next year these will be your very own.

My advice - never give up.

Oh, and I should have added ... collect gardening books or visit the library, and use Google to check everything you don't know, it's a wonderful way to learn about things.

Do any of you have any tips for budding food growers?

Sue xx


  1. It's definitely a 'win some,lose some 'game'. No growing year is the same. We've learned that there are some things we just cannot grow because of wildlife...corn is always decimated by raccoons,there's nothing we can do to keep them away ,so we just don't bother growing corn. Remember ,however hard you try,you need decent weather for any growing season...and you can't control that.
    Jane x

  2. We've had to give up growing lots of things down at the allotment because of rats, pigeons and ducks. We now use it just for potatoes, onions and fruit bushes because most other things get ravaged by some kind of wildlife or another. We adapted and dug up the front garden to grow everything else, which has been lovely as so many people stop to chat about it as they pass by. As Jane says, the weather is something we can't do anything about and as it is such a huge factor there are bound to be failures. No 2 growing years are ever the same; you just have to keep trying!

  3. It helps to keep a record of what you grew and how it did. And talking to other growers in your area (as you have done) is always a good idea - I think that's where allotmenteers do very well even if as Scarlet says they lose other ways!

  4. We've grown our own every year for 36 years, sometimes something fails, next year it doesn't. There are no hard and fast rules. Protecting against all types of pests will solve a lot of problems. The weather will be different every year and a poly-tunnel and frequent watering are the only way we have found to beat the variations and even then things still fail!
    Re tayberries, they fruit on last years growth, so each year cut out the branches that have fruited and tie in the new canes to a post and wire frame. Cut the ends off the canes at about six or eight feet to stop them getting too lanky. There is a picture on my 8th July blog post. I'll enlarge it so your reader Chloe to see.

  5. Weed feed and water are three main things to do , keeping weeds down means your plants are not competing with greedy weeds and weeds give lots of hiding places for slugs, feed the soil and your plants will thank you, water everything needs water the wind can dry out the soil so always stick your finger in and see if its dry or damp, water in the evening so it dosent evaporate dont wait for the plants to wilt if they do you have put them under stress and are more likely to bolt and go to seed. :-)

  6. Really useful post, thank you, my growing is still very hit and miss but I will keep trying.

  7. This was such a useful post to me as I started my first vegetable patch 2 weeks ago but I had started growing a few of my vegetable plants a few months ago just in case I got the plot I was waiting for. I have just a new blog for just that my veg patch and no longer write my vintage blog. I am reading so much on how to grow and tips to. I will try the egg shell tip that's a great one and will cost nothing except your time. So thank you for sharing your skills today, Dee :-)

  8. I planted green beans, sugar snap peas, silver beet and broccoli ,The sparrows have eaten them down to bare stalks. I'm now on the scrounge for pop bottles to protect them from the birds !

  9. Monty Don's Complete Gardener. My tip to inspire and instruct. It is a beautiful book to read, I read it all in one go when I was given it at Christmas years ago and I still he text it out every gardening season. Words of wisdom to get you started and passion to keep you going when times are tough.


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