Sunday, 16 January 2011

Starting a new garden, slowly

By Aurora @ Island Dreaming

I have started a few gardens in my time. My first was a borage patch in a plastic pot on my windowsill. Then I started a chili pepper garden in our old studio flat. When we finally upgraded to a house with a patio, I expanded to a few tomato plants, some salad leaves, herbs and a potato plant. As you can tell, I am quite the expert gardener. Quite.

Delusions of green-fingered prowess aside, I am all too aware that I am a novice. I have managed to keep plants alive and I have even harvested a few edible morsels from my modest container gardens over the years. But container gardening a small space has frustrations of its own, the supreme one being that the scope for experimentation and skill development is quite low. Having now acquired a 75m square allotment plot, I am well aware that I will have to cast aside my vision of having an intensively productive, beautiful and ecological plot within the space of a year.

One golden rule I have come across time and time again in permaculture books is 'to observe' - which sounds quite dull when you are shut up inside, longing for a time when you can take action. Now much of what we had planned for the plot has actually been abandoned as we spend time on it. We have a blank canvas in effect; but our plot has limitations, dictated by the soil and climate and by the rules of our tenancy agreement. Instead of our planned quick fixes, a longer term approach to planning our plot is now taking shape.

In recent weeks, with food price inflation and threatened fuel blockades on the horizon, the desire to produce calories as efficiently and cheaply as possible has subsumed other considerations. After quiet reflection, I realise that a small plot is not going to be much defence against these issues; and a plot born of a love of organic tasty ingredients rather than a fear of hunger has once again begun to take shape.

As well as being organic and productive, we would like to experiment with lower-yield but unusual varieties. We would like the plot to be an educational space for our son where he can explore greenery and creepy crawlies and learn to garden. We would like to be as self sufficient in water, compost, nutrients and plants as possible. A sociable space with room for a few fold up chairs and a picnic rug would also be welcome at the end of a hard day.  All of this needs far more forethought than knocking together a few raised beds and planting high yield crops with abandon.

It it also means that we can relax a little. There is no rush and there is no need to get everything right the first time (although not breaking the spade in the first week would have made for a more productive start). We can experiment and make mistakes and when we have observed how the sun moves across the sky and the wildlife and the elements ruin our best efforts over the next year, we will be in a position to make some more permanent decisions.


David said...

All goals are accomplished one step at a time. Spring brings on an exuberant burst of energy in my gardening plan but as the year wears on into summer it's a little more difficult to keep on track when the distractions of summer hit. I have learned it's better to have not quite enough garden than way too much. Baby steps for me are the way to end up with marvelous accomplishments.

Have a great time in your garden expansions.

LindaG said...

I do not have a green thumb, but I am looking forward to making the effort when we finally can.

Sadge said...

I've always thought of my garden and landscaping as the world's slowest art form. And while it's nice to get things "right" the first time, it's also nice that dirt and plants are extremely malleable, and usually rather forgiving. The urge to live is strong in everything.

Heather's Blog-o-rama said...

Oh, this is a great article. I'm living in an apartment right I'm thinking maybe in spring I'd like to try growing something. Your experiences with gardening made me laugh and encouraged me at the same time :) :) All things are possible :) Love and hugs from Oregon, Heathe r:)

Aurora said...

David - I do worry about taking on too much, this year I probably will do just that! I am glad that we have a plot 1/3 of the size of a 'full' allotment. I cannot imagine trying to work a larger space at the moment.

LindaG - start in any small way you can and persevere. I failed quite a few times to grow herbs from seeds on a window until I finally cracked it.

Sadge - It is certainly an art form; and a science. And I hope that you are right and that my plants are forgiving! I think the weed root that defeated our spade is testament to the urge to survive.

Heather - give me a few weeks to work on my delusions and I will probably be describing myself as a master farmer :) . I hope that you do grow something.

Sandy said...

"a plot born of a love of organic tasty ingredients rather than a fear of hunger has once again begun to take shape."

Anything we do out of fear tends to end badly. Things we do out of love, even if it's just a love of tasty ingredients, always end better.

Paula said...

A couple of suggestions: plant early varieties of things, so you have time to succession plant different things for different seasons, and do a few plants that yield a lot of fruits over an extended season, like a tomato, a zucchini, an eggplant, and the like. In a very small space you could grow the tomate at the back of the bed, with the summer squash spilling over the front, an eggplant to the side, and a trellis of cucumber or beans behind the eggplant. I have learned the hard way not to bother with celeriac- it's a lovely veg, but it takes too long and too much room for only one meal- it's just not worth the space.

Aurora said...

Sandy - never was a truer word said.

Paula - The tomatoes and peppers will be started before the end of the month too; as will my planting calendar which I still haven't drawn up. I love celeriac, but our local greengrocer has ones bigger than a foot(soccer :) )ball, so they are probably are not worth the effort!

Kristina Strain said...

I agree with David, having almost enough space is better than having way too much! Happy garden dreaming.

<a href=">Get your garden started the right way!</a>

Andy Mooers said...

Growing more than you can eat but to sell, share, feed others with food you know grew from the seed, seedling is a good thing. I grew up on a Maine potato farm and year after year, some good, some hard but you survive. A break even year in farming is a good thing.