I’d never been interested in growing my own food until we moved to the countryside. Our garden in the city was a bleak place, dominated by weeds, concrete and a large patch of grass that somehow always remained yellow, despite the persistent rain. Following our move to the countryside, I found myself with bountiful outdoor space, albeit a tricky area to work with. Our back garden is steep and terraced, the front more suited to mountain goats than sunbathers, and a concreted area at the side of the house was at odds with the encroaching forest next door. It was my partner who first suggested we take advantage of the strange layout to grow fruit, vegetables and herbs – but I quickly found myself sucked in.
We worked on the garden before the interior of the house, leaving the electricians and builders to do their work while we knelt on the cold, hard ground, weeding without any knowledge of what was actually a weed and what could potentially flower come spring. All of our free time, we spent in the garden, digging up soil for vegetable patches and planning what we would grow. I dread to think how much money we’ve spent in the local garden centre over the past few months, but I will definitely get it back, both in produce and in satisfaction.
I have no prior knowledge of growing fruit and veg, and didn’t actually do that much reading up on the subject before we started planting. We learnt everything as we went along and are very much still learning. Our haphazard methods seem to be working though, as our harvest so far has been bountiful. I’ve been making salads with the various lettuces, digging up potatoes to boil, gathering berries from bushes and watching our peas and beans grow countless pods each day. Our cabbage is so big that we’re considering entering it in a competition and our apple tree is already bowing over from the weight of the small fruit crowding on its branches.
Everything seems to taste better than vegetables from the shops. Earthier, fresher and full of flavour. The potatoes, in particular, have a completely different flavour when they’re fresh out of the dirt. Not to mention the satisfaction of looking down at your plate and knowing that you’ve grown something yourself, from scratch. I’m enjoying my meals so much more when I pick the ingredients from my own garden; discovering new flavours and experimenting with different recipes.
Yes, there have been experiments that haven’t quite worked. We’ve been unsuccessful so far with rhubarb, pumpkins and courgettes (although we’re still trying). We let our first kale and spinach plants go to seed and they now resemble flowers more than edible vegetables. Our camomile leans sadly to one side, although the flowers still bloom. There’s a lot of trial and error; especially when you don’t really know what you’re doing.
That’s all part of the enjoyment, however. I think it’s really important to continue to learn as an adult, and growing our own fruit and veg is definitely a learning curve. There’s pleasure in learning a new skill, especially one that delivers edible results!
Thinking of growing your own fruit & vegetables? Here are a few simple tips
- Plan ahead. We didn’t really do this, and that is the reason to blame for most of our failures. Research into the best times of year to plant what you wish to grow, what type of soil that plant needs and when you should harvest.
- Start small. We started with one small vegetable patch at the very top of our garden, planting potatoes, onions and cabbage. When these started to flourish, we moved on but not until we felt confident that we could handle more.
- Don’t forget to water. Especially in the middle of such a hot, dry summer, the most important thing to remember is to give your plants a drink at least once a day. We tend to water using our hosepipe either first thing in the morning or in the evening, to avoid scorching the leaves in harsh sunlight.
- Don’t be disheartened. If something doesn’t work, figure out why and try again. We’ve been told that our abysmal attempt at rhubarb is actually normal and that the plant takes a few years to establish itself. Don’t give up!
Emma Lavelle is a freelance writer, keen photographer and slow-living enthusiast with an endless wanderlust. Based in the north of England, Emma writes about slow travel, a relaxed pace of life and timeless style.