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Starting Gardening for Plant Killers

I’m not a gardener, although I am working on it. My gardening skills ranged from growing weeds to killing plants in various ways. Over the last few years I have picked up a few things and have improved the life expectancy of my plants.

In saying that I am not a vegetable person. I prefer fruit and thus my garden contains raspberries, strawberries, blueberries, cranberries, apples, plums, pears, peach, cherries, tayberries, redcurrants, white currants, blackcurrants, a red grape and my best plant. A wild bramble. Oh. Did I mention raspberries? I have several varieties.

The raspberries, apple, pear, peach, plum and bramble are in the ground, the grape is in the ground in the greenhouse with the remainder being in pots. All seem to be doing fine and give me plenty of fruit when they crop. I’m fine for about five months of the year. Which is actually the problem I have with growing your own. You water, maintain and feed your plants all the way through the year. If they live (and that is by no means certain) then you get the plants output for maybe a month, tops, if you can beat all the little animals and bugs to the fruit. The rest of the time you have to get it from somewhere else. Usually, the local supermarket. Feast and famine.

I’m improving my technique. My plants are surviving better because I’m in a routine about ensuring they are watered and the ridges on the pots keep the slugs away. I have several rainwater barrels set up to collect the rainwater which I use on the plants. I also prune them as required as I have a checklist for each month with what needs to happen that month and I follow it religiously.

So, the plants are doing better and actually living and as I keep a watch on them I gather the fruit before the bugs. The cherries are more difficult and need to be covered by a net to protect them. I remember one day looking out and seeing the cherries ready to pick. I thought I would pick them when I returned that afternoon and when I got back they were all gone. Every single cherry had been consumed by birds. Every single one. You need to protect your produce by some means. I now build a cage around them using bamboo poles and nets and I also made a couple of movable cages made up of bamboo poles held together by cable ties and covered by a small net. All are readily available. You make a square with four bamboo poles of the size you want. Use cable ties at each crossover point. Then put a net over the frame and cable tie the net to the frame ensuring there are no holes and loose net overlaps all the sides. The net must be bigger all around than the frame. You then build them around the fruits that are starting to ripen to keep the birds away. Simply lean them together ensuring no gaps and fix them together, either with cable ties or simple garden twine. Make sure the cage covers from the ground up and over the plant with no holes at the joints.

I’ve now started looking at vegetables for this year because I want to cut down on my vegetable costs. The vegetables I like are potatoes, broccoli, tomatoes, peppers, onions and mushrooms. Occasionally swede, carrots and garden peas.

I’ve read a few articles at other sites about container gardening and I’ve even bought a couple of books. I decided that I could create a space for everything and give each one a go. I decided that I’m going to try the Square Foot Gardening technique. I have the old version of the book. Basically, you split your plot into several 4 foot squares, approx a metre, bounded by wooden edges and a foot or so apart to allow you to walk on and tend to the actually production area. These 4×4 production areas are then subdivided into one foot square areas with string. The seeds are then planted into these areas as per the instructions on the seeds. There are several similar techniques.

The first problem I hit was I wanted to get heirloom seeds and not the hybrid variety. I found that the labelling in the UK is pretty vague. Most are not labelled one way or the other. I also couldn’t find a supplier of heirloom seeds in the UK. I wanted to buy a heirloom set like they sell in the US but couldn’t find anything and I would have problems with the US ones due to import/export issues. So, after trawling through packets of seed at various stores I have found some seeds that are heirloom and I’m ready to start sowing, just waiting until the time is right. Luckily, even seeds come with instructions so I can plan ahead and add them to my checklist.

Over the last few years I have been composting my garden waste. Basically, just throwing anything organic into one of two bins I have in my garden. They are cheap, discounted by the council as part of the great recycling drive and they are both full with some nice compost ready and waiting at the bottom to put in the beds mixed with ordinary soil.

So the plan is that when the ground is a bit easier to dig, I will dig the ground and mix my compost in. I’ll buy some more if required and then when the time is right I’ll plant my seeds. I’m sowing all the items I eat plus I’m trying rocket and spinach as well.

The tomatoes and peppers I’ll be putting in my greenhouse with my grape. I’ve already got the trays and I’ll just need to buy new grow bags. I’ve looked at some mushroom kits but not decided on them yet. I’m going to check out options over the next week or so and I’m trying some herbs in a separate potting system.

When they are finished I’m going to try and collect the seed from the plant to use the next year. That should be interesting. This is one of the differences between hybrid and heirloom. Hybrid seed, if you can get any, tends to have poor viability and I understand that at most 20% is viable. Heirloom on the other hand grows true, time after time. On the other hand hybrid seeds can resist some diseases better, grow faster, with greater vigour or produce more output. Most times all of them. Although because I want to control my own food supply, thank you, and not need new seeds every year. I’ll stick with heirloom. You never know, one year you may not get your hands on any seeds. Although, I’ll probably mix and match, keep seeds from hybrids and suppliment with hybrids as well. Then if the hybrids are unavailable I’ll have stored seeds to fall back on.

I’ll let you now how I get on with this as we progress through the year. I full expect my vegetable to still need supplementing from the supermarket but still a nice little project for me and plenty to learn.

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