It all starts with seeds. Sometimes tiny, sometimes large. Put them in some fresh earth. Water them, keep them warm, then watch the magic happen.
Sounds lovely and romantic, doesn’t it? And to me it is. But it is also really, really hard work.
It starts gently in January when you pick your seeds, planting certain varieties in February or March. By April it’s time to start prepping the greenhouse, but it’s not until May that the real work begins. All of a sudden the frost is gone and it’s time to get planting. NOW!
From that moment until late October it is an all-out slog. Digging, planting, weeding, watering, spraying blackfly, picking off caterpillars, undoing the damage done by moles and cows and other critters.
One by one, your crops become ready to harvest. Some are slow, providing a steady crop. Others are full on and need daily intervention so they don’t run amuck. Leave your courgette (zucchini) plants unattended for two or three days and you will have some goliaths waiting for you when you return!
Is it all worth it? Absolutely. My aim last year was go grow enough vegetables to feed us for an entire year. And that’s exactly what I did. Because we don’t have underground storage I deliberately left out vegetables that I can buy very cheaply from neighbours or at the market, like potatoes and cabbage. My onion crop got decimated by an early morning cow, so we also had to buy onions. I’ve never had much success with garlic and I don’t think ginger would grow here. I had dried lots of wild mushrooms, but sometimes a fresh mushroom is nice. I also like fresh tomatoes, so we bought small amounts of these. And we ran out of pickles. Other than potatoes, cabbage, onions, mushrooms, tomatoes, cucumber pickles, garlic & ginger we have not bought vegetables since the beginning of last summer.
What did I grow last year?
I had a bumper crop of both carrots and beets, which I tried storing in barrels of sand to protect them from the elements. This did not work once the temperatures got really cold (like -15 C / 5 F) – most of them turned to mush. Thankfully I had frozen a few and these were enough to get by – we didn’t need to supplement these two vegetables.
What I did have enough of were:
- Green beans
- Courgette (zucchini)
- Sweet peppers
- Florence fennel
- Lettuce & salad greens
I also had a large amount of chillies still frozen from the previous year.
Some of these were used while they were available only (such as the salad greens), but most produced enough to store, either by drying (onions & wild mushrooms), preserving (jam, jellies, tomato sauce, vinegar and wine) or freezing (the bulk of the vegetables listed above).
We are still eating our own vegetables every day, and I anticipate that we will have enough to see us through until the new season begins.
What will I grow this year?
In a nutshell, much of the same. I will grow less of some (like carrots, fennel and green beans) and more of others (like tomatoes and pumpkin). My aim is to grow vegetables that are easy and compact to store.
So far I have planted my sweet peppers, chillies and tomatoes. I bought heirloom tomato varieties that I am very excited about. One is called “Lithuanian” and the other is “Hungarian Heart”. I hope they will be successful both in terms of crop and the ability to save seed for future years. Both germinated very well and the seedlings are all healthy. A have a few indoor chilli plants that got a little tried looking over the winter months, but I am happy to see that they are now starting to regenerate.
They’re not for eating (obviously!) but I also planted six acorns last autumn. All germinated and have grown into strong seedlings. I look forward to watching them slowly growing into huge oak trees over many, many years.
My arms are tired just thinking about all the work that’s ahead of me, but if I’m honest I can’t wait. Sunshine, fresh air, birds chirping, veg growing – I love it all!
(For more posts in my “Growing Vegetables” series please see here.)