There’s something wonderfully beautiful about being able to grow your own food, from seed to plate. Perhaps it’s that independence from society and the consumerist mechanisms employed by so many of our shops and farms, or perhaps it’s because it takes us back to our roots, back to being a part of all the processes that keep us alive and well, back to looking after ourselves in the most basic and obvious way. Whatever the reason, learning how to be self-sustainable, not just for environment but for myself too, gives me something more than just the food on my plate. It’s a sense of self, a sense of somehow doing things right, of being a true part of my own life. Perhaps it’s that pure involvement in not just acquiring and using but loving and growing and learning along the way, in working alongside nature, as part of it.
As part of my sustainability adventure, I’m determined to learn to successfully grow my own vegetables, with a dream that one day I’ll have a big ‘ole garden in which I can grow enough veg to sustain me throughout the whole year, every year.
This year I’ve taken my first steps on that journey, and it’s been… interesting to say the least!
Those of you who’ve followed us for the past few months will have seen my sporadic posts about planting chillies and other things over the summer. Spoiler Alert; I didn’t know what I was doing, or where to start, and I killed a lot of plants… whoops!
There’s a lot of information out there for potential new gardeners, in the form of websites, how-to guides, blogs, radio shows, TV programmes, books, you name it. And it can be a little overwhelming when you’re first starting out. So I opted for the classic ‘learn-as-you-go’ course of action; bought some seeds, some propagators and some compost, and starting trying to grow.
As with so many trial-and-error endeavours there were a lot of failures over the spring and summer, but there were also some successes; like growing my own beetroot which I honey roasted and made into the most amazing beetroot and lentil pie! I’ve also feasted on my own homegrown courgettes, spinach and lettuce, as well as discovering how crazy squash plants are, and accidentally taking a load of baby caterpillars to work in my lunch…
I’ve learnt so much, and with leeks, broccoli, chard, squash, peppers and chillies currently happily growing away I’m feeling pretty positive about transitioning my garden into the winter months. So last weekend I sat down and had a good look at what vegetables are good to grow over the winter, and then I got out into the garden and had a play.
My veg patch was a total mess by the end of the summer. I’d been super busy with work throughout July and then away on holiday for almost the whole of August. By the time I had some time to put into the garden again the squash plants and the weeds had both run rampant, and Lacey had harvested and removed all her plants as she’s moving out at the end of September. That left some unhappy looking dirt, a few straggly plants, a lot of weeds, and a rather sorry looking overgrown patch.
To make it manageable again I spent Saturday clearing the remnants of Lacey’s plants, and weeding… there was a lot of weeding to be done, especially around my bell peppers (which are now looking much happier and have flowered!). Then once the weeds were out I dug up and turned over the soil to spread the nutrients about, improve drainage, and mix in some fresh compost. As we’re organic gardening I didn’t add any chemicals, just a bit of compost to help replace any nutrients that the previous plants would have used up. I then left the plot overnight.
Sunday morning I got to do the fun bits! One of the last things I decided to grow back in July was some chard, which, along with some broccoli, has been happily growing away in the greenhouse since. But because of the amount of chillies I’ve accidentally grown (that’s another story!), I’ve been running out of space in the greenhouse. So seeing as we’re only in the very beginning of autumn and the weather’s still really mild I dug a couple of small trenches in my newly turned and composted veg patch, and planted out my chard in the hope it’ll grown nice and big over the next month and I can harvest it at the end of September. I also planted out the broccoli, which because it’s already grown to a reasonable size should continue growing throughout autumn and hopefully do well going into the winter months.
Now this is where it gets interesting because I’ve started a bit of an experiment. I read a lot of blogs/articles about what things are good to plant this time of year, and spoke to a few people I know, and there was some conflicting information about spinach, parsnips, onions and beetroot, so I’ve decided to do my own tests. In the veg patch I’ve sowed some spinach and some beetroot seeds. Now, according to a lot of the information I read Perpetual Spinach should grow from seed quite happily and quickly through the autumn, but the seeds I have aren’t for Perpetual spinach and it says on the packet they should have been sowed in August so we’ll see. The beetroot is an interesting one, because it wasn’t included on any of the lists I’ve read online, and so I haven’t included it in my list below either, but it was recommended to me by a friend who’s pretty into her gardening and reckons it should still grow from seed into the autumn. I’ve also sowed some onions and parsnips into pots which I’ve put in propagators in the greenhouse. Both of these were listed in most of the articles that I’ve read, but as plants that should have been sown in July/August ready for planting out as we move into autumn. As it’s still warm out and set to stay that way for a while, and I’ve got them in propagators in the greenhouse, I’m hoping they’ll grow nicely and I’ll be able to plant them out in a relatively short space of time so they can grow throughout what looks to be a mild autumn, perhaps for a harvest as we move into winter proper. See that, totally using the seasons to my advantage there! Who knows, it could work, it could be a waste of time, we’ll see. With any luck I’ll have some exciting new veg growing that I can harvest just in time for winter!
Once everything was potted and planted and sowed I gave it all, including my squash, leeks, sprouts, aubergines and bell peppers which had been planted out earlier in the summer, a healthy splash of water with just a little vegetable nutrient feed added that we had left over from the summer. The feed is a Wilco’s one, and simply a mix of a few nutrients that are generally good for vegetables in order to give them a bit of a boost, and nothing artificial.
We’ve been composting now for a few months and I’m looking forward to using my own homemade compost around the plants I grow next year!
I’ll keep you updated on what grows, and what doesn’t, but in the meantime, here’s a list I made while doing my research the other day of vegetables that are good to go during the autumn and winter.
- Peas and pea shoots – can be sown directly into the ground during August and the beginning of September
- Garlic – can be sown outside in cloves up until the beginning of September
- Onions, spring onions, and shallots – can be planted out during August and September
- Winter Lettuce, Lamb’s lettuce and other winter varieties – will grow all through the winter if properly maintained
- Spinach – the perpetual variety can be sown outside up until October
- Spring cabbage – is hardy enough to grow outside through the winter for harvesting in spring
- Pak Choi – sow outside towards the end of summer for an autumn harvest
- Radishes – should continue to grow over the winter months
- Broccoli and sprouts – can both be planted out in the autumn months and will continue to grow outside through autumn and into winter for a winter harvest
- Cauliflower – should ideally have been planted out in summer for an autumn harvest
- Kale – can be planted out in autumn
- Turnips and Parsnips – these hardy little plants should continue to grow happily well into the winter months, ready for a winter harvest
If you’re growing this winter, for the first time, or the fiftieth time, leave a comment and let me know what you’re planting and how it’s going!
“I like gardening – it is a place where I can find myself when I need to lose myself.”– Alice Sebold
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