At this point I still consider myself a relative newbie, having only been at it for three years. But I’m not a total novice any more. And I’ve had two new plots in that time (the first one was horribly shady and slow to warm up in Spring). So, here’s some advice that will be useful for people starting out. In no particular order, my top tips are:
- Don’t underestimate how much time you’ll need to spend working your plot. Especially at the beginning.
- Don’t be afraid to cut corners if you’re short on time. For example, buy plug plants rather than trying to raise all of your produce from seed.
- Cover any ground you clear immediately or the weeds will grow back before you can say horsetail. You can use all sorts of stuff for this: black fabric or woven plastic sheeting, plants (the best option – see the next point), cardboard…
- Use edible plants as ground cover and benefit from the produce as well as the weed suppressing properties. Potatoes, squashes (especially courgettes), salad vegetables and Swiss chard are all excellent options.
- Grow as much as you can as soon as you can – it’ll give you the impetus to carry on.
- Be prepared to feel overwhelmed by all the things that you don’t know.
- Also be prepared to dream about weed roots… oh, wait, maybe that’s just me…
- Ask your neighbours for help and advice.
- Read books and magazines about growing (look out for my book reviews for guidance on the best reads).
- Don’t sweat too much about getting a plan in place in the first year, but do try to keep notes of where you’ve planted stuff so that you can plan in the future.
- Only grow stuff you want to eat. I’ve read this so many times, and ignored it to my cost once or twice, but it really is true. Don’t waste time and effort growing anything unless you’re going to enjoy it.
- Don’t believe it when you read that it’s not worth growing potatoes or onions or other stuff that’s cheap in the shops. If you are growing organic, then you already know why it’s worth growing your own. And if you’re not organic, believe me when I say that a potato an hour out of the ground is a different category of thing to a potato from a supermarket shelf. Even our lovely local organic supermarket fails to deliver on the kind of freshness that you get when you grow your own.
- Go organic – I haven’t done it any other way, so I can’t really comment on relative ease, but growing organic is not the bug-infested nightmare that you might imagine. And it has the benefit of producing beautifully chemical-free food.
- Make your own compost. There are complicated formulas you can follow, but in the end, all organic matter turns into compost, so start your pile in a nice warm spot as soon as possible.
- The Internet is your friend. Use it to find out the stuff that you don’t know, and to look at lovely, inspiring plot photos to get your creative impulses going.
Day 1 on our plot (l) April 2013; a year and a bit on (r) May 2014