Saturday, 19 April 2014

Growing towards Self Sufficiency in the Veg and Fruit garden

Several folk out there in blogland are interested in growing their own fruit and vegetables, which is something we've been doing on a gradually larger scale since 1979.

Several years ago we held a training day here on this subject for the Suffolk Smallholders Society and I printed out some handouts with ideas. Luckily I found I still had this on a memory stick, so a bit of copying over, some deleting and up dating and here we have it. You are welcome to copy any of this if you think it would be useful.( Transferring some of it has left strange spaces that are not on my editing page - no idea why)

 Firstly a Few Ideas and Tips based on our experiences

  •   Only grow what you like
  •  Trial and error will show what does well in your garden
  • Start small, with a little of each. (For instance it took 6 house moves and a tractor before we could even think about growing all our main-crop potatoes)
  • Some things are much easier to grow than others are and you might find some veg.  are just not worth the effort. For example carrots are hopeless here, we grow only a few. They are very cheap and good quality when bought so our time and land is best put to other uses. We also sometimes have problems growing some brassicas from seed so regularly buy starter plants by post as well as growing from seed. We no longer grow peas as we would need several beds to grow enough. Frozen peas are often better quality than you can grow yourself. At one time we grew lots of beans for drying but neither of us can tolerate them any more.
  •  Find ways to protect from pests, this will save a lot of frustration! For example rabbit netting, fleece, insect netting. Organic sprays and slug pellets.
  •  Find a good book on vegetable gardening. Borrow lots from the library and see which you think is best for you.
  • Ring and order lots of different seed catalogues. These are usually out in October. The information in them can be very useful
  • We have found that a greenhouse is handy, two ( and now three because we sell so many tomatoes) polytunnels are better than one, self-watering systems are good but not in our hard water area and an electric propagator is really useful. BUT it was 18 years before we had all of these and we were successfully growing lots of vegetable without them.
  •  Growing in beds makes planning and all work easier. We have grown in the traditional way but find beds much better for us.
  •  Most soft fruit crops are easy to grow. If you buy from a reputable company they will send you growing instructions with the plants.

Growing for self-sufficiency means eating with the seasons so in a “perfect year” this would be our vegetable menu. ( In brackets are other things that could be available)

January - Onions and potatoes from store, leeks, parsnips, swedes, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbages from the ground. Broad beans and sweetcorn from the freezer. Winter lettuce from the poly tunnel.

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, celery, kale, turnips, chicory and eating dried beans)

February – As above

March – Onions and potatoes from store, leeks, chard, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and cabbages from the ground plus lettuces from the polytunnel. Broad beans from the freezer.

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, chicory, kale, spinach)

April – Onions and potatoes from store, leeks and the last of the winter greens from the ground plus first of the over wintered cauliflower. The first asparagus. Chard and spinach. Lettuces, beetroot, spring onions and radishes from the polytunnel. Broad beans from the freezer. 

(You could also be harvesting celeriac, chicory,)

May – May is the real hungry gap month so only over wintered cauliflower, the last few leeks, asparagus, chard and spinach from the garden plus potatoes and onions from store, lettuces and radishes and spring onions from the polytunnel.

(You could be harvesting  spring cabbage, chicory.)

June - First half of the month as above. Then towards the end of June all the following start to be ready: - Broad beans, courgettes, cucumbers, carrots, peas and beetroot. The over wintered onions and the first of the early potatoes replace the old stored crops.

(You could also be harvesting chicory, kohlrabi)

July – All vegetables above plus runner beans, tomatoes, sweet peppers.

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, summer cabbage, chicory, kohlrabi, turnips.)

August – As June and July above plus sweetcorn, aubergines, chilli peppers

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, summer cabbage, chicory, kohlrabi)

September – Marrows, tomatoes, calabrese, chard, cucumbers, lettuces, beetroot, carrots, aubergines, peppers, runnerbeans, pumpkins, squash, maincrop potatoes and onions.

(You could also be harvesting globe artichokes, celeriac, celery, chicory, kohlrabi, late peas, turnips)

October – Potatoes and onions from store, last of the runner beans, peppers, lettuce, autumn cauliflower, chard, pumpkins, squash, tomatoes, marrow, carrots, beetroot and pumpkin.

(You could also be harvesting early Brussels sprouts and cabbage, celeriac, celery, chicory, fennel, kohlrabi, turnip)

November  - Potatoes, pumpkins, onions and squash from store, carrots, lettuce, tomatoes, peppers, Brussels sprouts, parsnips, leeks and cabbages.
(You could also be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, swedes, turnips)

December – Potatoes onions and squash from store, cabbages, Brussels sprouts, leeks and parsnips and swedes from the ground. Broad beans and sweetcorn from the feezer. Dried beans from store.
(You could also be harvesting Jerusalem artichokes, kale, kohlrabi, swedes, turnips)

 A Year round fruit supply?

This is more difficult to achieve. Here is our list in a perfect year.

January – Cooking apples from store.( fruit from freezer)

February- as above

March - Rhubarb – forced by covering (  plus any fruit  left in freezer)

April  - as above ( plus any fruit left in freezer)

May  - Rhubarb ( plus any fruit left in freezer)

June – Strawberries, gooseberries and early raspberries

July – Gooseberries, redcurrants, late strawberries and raspberries( sometimes cherries)

August – Blackcurrants, redcurrants, plums, wild blackberries and early apples.(sometimes apricots)

September – Wild blackberries. Autumn raspberries, apples, figs, pears  and late plums

October – Apples and quince

November – Apples from store

December –Apples from store

The variety of fruit available could be  extended  by growing some late or perpetual strawberries or growing early strawberries in the polytunnel.

Apples are the most easily stored fruit. Choose ripe fruit with no damage, wrap each individually in newspaper and layer into a large cardboard box that has been lined bottom and sides with hessian sacks. Cover with another sack and then something that will stop the mice climbing in.

Store in a dry but airy shed.

I make several apple pies to freeze and also freeze bags of gooseberries, raspberries and any other spare fruit.

Many of the seed companies have fruit trees etc. Also there are specialist fruit nurseries

Including Ken Muir 01255 830181  


 Growing your own herbs

Pots of fresh herbs are now available in supermarkets but it is so easy and much cheaper and definitely more satisfying to grow your own.
Basil and parsley are grown fresh each year from seed. Most others can be grown from seed but if you only need 1 plant it is probably better to buy a plant of each of those that you want to start with. There are several specialist herb growers including  Jekka’s Herb Farm 01454 418878. If you want something much cheaper then go to a car boot sale or a farmers market.

My first four suggestions are Basil and Parsley, Mint and a Bay Tree, none of which are grown in the herb garden.

Basil.  Grown for its wonderful flavour, to dry to use in meat sauces and fresh in pesto sauces and in salads, quiches etc. A tender annual, the seeds need heat to germinate, so sow in seed compost in a propagator in mid March. Prick out in clumps into pots and keep frost-free. They can then be potted on into larger pots and kept on the kitchen, conservatory or porch windowsills. They can be susceptible to green fly when kept indoors so I prefer to plant out into the polytunnel beds in-between the tomato plants. There are many varieties and colours to try but I have found the ordinary green Sweet Basil (Genovese) to be most useful although Purple Ruffles is very decorative.

Parsley. Mainly grown to use in potato salads, omelettes, and quiches. Sow anytime during the spring, in compost that has been warmed by hot water. Keep in a very warm place in a plastic bag until the seeds germinate. Prick out in clumps into pots. I always then transplant parsley into several different places around the garden, into pots by the back door, and into the polytunnel border. In this way I have some to use right through until the next years young crop is ready. Parsley is very hardy and will even stand a covering of snow.

Spearmint or garden mint. For home-made mint sauce, which is much nicer than shop bought. Mint is very well known for spreading everywhere out of control and books often suggest it is planted into a buried bucket to confine the roots. (Which in my opinion either kills it or it escapes anyway). I prefer to plant it somewhere where it can spread without being a nuisance,

Bay.  Essential for flavouring meat dishes and bread sauce also for bringing into the house at Christmas to scent the rooms. A Bay tree can grow to 26 feet tall and 12 feet across so either keep it trimmed in a pot or plant somewhere out of the way. The leaves are very easy to dry.

My other choices are all grown in a special herb garden area.

Chives A mild perennial member of the onion family. It is very hardy and easy to propagate. Just dig up and replant in groups of 6 – 10 bulbs. Only the green tops are used and they can be snipped into soft cheese or omelettes and salads. Although the flowers are decorative, they are best removed to stop the green stalks going tough. There are also garlic chives which have flat leaves compared to normal chives whose leaves are hollow tubes.

Rosemary. Essential with lamb, just push sprigs into the skin when roasting.  Rosemary tea is also good as an antiseptic mouthwash and gargle (don’t use when pregnant). Rosemary is an evergreen perennial with a height and spread of 3 feet. It is best replaced after 5 or 6 years as the plants can get very straggly. If cutting back, do so only after all frosts have past. Rosemary is hardy if grown in a sheltered spot but can be damaged by prolonged spells of very wet and freezing weather.

Thyme There are many species coming from various parts of the world. Common Thyme and Lemon Thyme are my favourites. Thyme is a low growing evergreen hardy perennial. Propagate by layering. It prefers a warm dry situation in poor, well-drained soil. Cut back after flowering to prevent it getting woody and straggling. Pick fresh all year round or dry it and take the tiny leaves off the stalks to use in stuffing for chicken or tomatoes.

Fennel A hardy perennial growing up to 7 feet tall. It dies back into the ground in winter and although hardy it needs replacing after three or four years. The feathery leaves are good snipped into salads or used with fish. The seeds are also useful for medicinal purposes and 1 teaspoonful can be used to make a tea to aid digestion or used to soak a pad as a compress on the eyelid for sore eyes. It usually germinates well from seed and often seeds itself over a large area.

Sage Again there are many species, with different colours and scents. Common sage is a hardy evergreen perennial growing to 2 feet tall with green leaves and purple sage is similar but with purple leaves. Very useful used in stuffing. It can be dried but soon loses its flavour and turns musty. Sage is easy to grow from softwood cuttings taken in the spring. It should be trimmed back after flowering in the summer, but don’t cut back in the autumn as this could kill it. Sage tea made from the leaves is good for sore throats but must not be used for more than one or two days.

Oregano.This is sometimes also known as wild marjoram. I also like the golden leafed variety. All these are low growing hardy perennials with purple flowers. Propagate by cuttings, as it is difficult from seed. They need a sunny site in well-drained soil. Pick to use fresh in salads and meat dishes. Also very useful dried.


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