We’re starting to see a stretch in the evenings. The days are getting longer and when the sun lands on you and you turn your face towards it, even with all of the layers of clothes on, it is easy to imagine that you can sense real heat coming from it. For me, this is when I start to get excited about the prospect of getting back out into the garden and growing: flowers, herbs, fruit or vegetables, I really don’t care…I just want to get outdoors into the fresh air.
Of course, it is much too early to start to put baby plants out - some days it’s still blatantly wintery out there– but there is a definite feeling of the garden waking up. Budding leaves on the trees, hedgerows about to burst forth and bulbs pushing their way up through the soil. The season of growth has begun.
Last year, we added lots of new areas to our garden: a poly tunnel, new beds, fruit bushes and a new compost heap. The liberty of lockdown meant that we had
extra time at home to get things under control early on in the season. Because our garden is quite large, usually I struggle to get all the beds under control in the spring. I become completely overwhelmed trying to catch up and by the time the peak of summer has arrived, the garden is awash with weeds and doing its own thing. At that point I feel like I am fighting a losing battle.
If you haven’t already started out as a grower, you are not alone. There is a revolution of new gardeners out there just like you. Right now is a great time to start thinking about your plans for the growing season ahead. Are you going to try to grow some of your own food? Perhaps you have a small space and want to look at how to maximise your output from it. Do you have a busy schedule? How much time do you want to invest into it? Do you want to start out safe or are you going to enthusiastically jump in with both feet? Or maybe this your first time to actually consider getting out into the garden and trying to grow something… anything?!
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Whether you have a sprawling acreage or just a few metres, whether a novice or an expert, one thing is for sure: if you are going to put plants into your space, you need to source them. However, it is worth mentioning that certain plants are more suited to smaller or larger spaces. If you are growing on a balcony for example, something like a pumpkin will want to take up all your space for very little yield! In that instance, think growing ‘up’, using tiered planters and other clever solutions to make the most of your space.
Think Ahead to Harvest Time
Right now my focus is on planning for a bounty at harvest time. 2020 was a bit of an experiment, and I feel like I’m really going into this spring better armed and with a better idea of what I want to achieve this growing season. After all, this time twelve months ago, we were only hearing tales of the arrival of C-19 in Italy…. It had yet to affect us here in Ireland! We fell into the gardening and purchased what was available to buy from the local stores that were allowed to stay open.
So, that said, what do you want to be harvesting later on in the year? What is it that will bring you joy? Plucking the fruits from heavy laden stems or pulling vegetables from the ground… your kitchen countertops will be piled high with produce… but what will be in those piles is up to you!
Grow What You Eat
Following on from the last point, try to be practical in your choices of variety. One of the first years we ventured out into the garden to ‘Grow Our Own’, we sowed drills of radishes. If I remember correctly, we even grew different varieties.
We marvelled as they germinated, thinned them out, watched them grow. They did well. Then they went to seed and I really don’t remember what happened next. I do know that we didn’t eat them because it turned out neither of us really had a taste for radishes!
Think about what you are likely to use and what you like to eat – these are the things that you want to grow. If you don’t like radishes, don’t bother planting them: you are wasting space and are unlikely to suddenly develop a passion for them. Conserve your space for the stuff you are actually going to use.
Start by Looking at What You Already Have
I’ve been poring over my stash of seeds since the New Year: I don’t know where they come from… perhaps they get together and procreate and that’s how I always seem to have enough to start a community garden! At the moment, I have so many already that I really didn’t need to buy more. I keep finding them: little bundles of seed packets, bound together with rubber bands, tucked away: between magazines, in notebooks, in tins. As I flick through them, there is no doubt in my mind that I have enough, and yet, I know in my heart that I still will order more.
Timing is Everything
If you haven’t already ordered your seeds, there is no time like the present. In fact, many suppliers are experiencing unprecedented demand and are running out of stock of many items.
You will also need to think in terms of how long it takes from germination of the seed to harvest time. If seeds are planted too late, they will not have a long enough period to properly fruit and ripen, which will render your efforts wasted.
Getting Started with Plants for the Garden
First of all, you do not need to start all your own seeds. It is entirely possible to buy ‘starts’ or ‘seedlings’ closer to the time that you’ll want to be planting. I often see them at garden centres and maybe even supermarkets.
If you are new to the whole process and lacking in confidence, it can be a great way to get started because they are already quite hardy and ready to simply be planted out. Another advantage of these are that they are usually made available to consumers at the correct time of the year i.e. not too early, and not too late.
However, on the opposite side of the coin, you will not have the same variety when you go to buy commercial starts and they can are relatively expensive. Choose whichever option works best for you and don’t overthink it. The important thing is to get going!
Where to Get Those Seeds From
There are lots of companies that supply seeds, onion sets (baby onions that are planted and grow up to be delicious, big, adult onions) and seed potatoes (individual potatoes which are planted and will grow lots more potatoes). For best results, use fresh seed as you will have a better germination rate. Also, this is a great time to shop local, because locally varieties are going to be suitable to our climate and will grow best.
Think Carefully about Quantity
I’m sure you’ve heard folks refer to having a ‘glut’ of a certain thing. This happens when lots of a certain vegetable ripens at the same time and you have to ‘do’ something with it (to use it up before it starts to rot). Different plants will produce different quantities so it is worth considering this.
An example of this: a cabbage plant will produce one head of cabbage – usually by the time these are ripening it is cooler outdoors and they can be stored. They do not need to be used immediately. If, on the other hand, you have six courgette (zucchini) plants, you are likely to be getting multiple fruits from each of them every couple of days while they are fruiting: one minute you are dreaming of all the ways you will prepare the courgettes as they slowly start to ripen, and then suddenly, you have twenty of them and you cannot think of anything to do with them except to give them away!
Unusual and Ornamental Varieties
There are always a few of these that pop up at this time of year. Though they are undoubtedly beautiful, remember that they also need to productive, especially if you are tight on space and time.
How Many Varieties?
If you have managed to get your hands on any seed catalogues, you will no doubt have noticed that the amount of varieties of each type of vegetable is truly eye boggling. Colours, shapes, sizes: so many choices, but which to choose?
You will find that some varieties will be easier to grow, they may be resistant to pests and diseases that will want to strike them down. Some will be classed as ‘easy to grow’. My best advice would be not to get too bogged down with planting multiple different types of the same thing.
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So now, I have set myself up with a table in our living area, I have my compost and lots of pots ready. I am ready to take on the task of turning dried up little husks of seeds into lush productive, if small, plants. I have lots of packets of seeds ready to go and I have made my labels ready too.
Time to get a move on.