January – Planning for Spring

It’s a new year with new growing opportunities. Seed catalogues are arriving thick and fast through my door and January evenings are spent making shopping/wish lists.

I need to remember this myself, but it is easy to get carried away and overenthusiastic when flicking through the catalogues. I always end up with far more than I need and have time to grow. If you are new to growing, start small and build up your confidence by harvesting a successful crop. Growing your own food is good fun and easy but it is a learning process and each growing season is different. I always learning something new each year and I’m constantly adapting my growing methods.

I’m very methodical and calculated when choosing fruit or vegetables to grow, probably because of the extra time and effort I put into nurturing the plants, but I seem to be more adventurous and take risks with flowers. I think I’m too easily swayed by the showy blooms of the images and convince myself my garden has a space for all the new plants I plan to sow! I’m re-landscaping my garden this year as I’ve just finished an extension so it’s the perfect opportunity for a redesign, but this will be a lengthy project as and when money and time allows. Therefore, I’m going to concentrate on learning more about growing cut flowers. I love to have fresh flowers in the house and would like to grow a small selection that spans across a long growing season. My next month’s blog will focus on the flowers I choose to grow and getting the most from them.

Before buying anything new it is also worth taking time to reflect on what worked well last year, but more importantly what didn’t work well, particularly in the vegetable patch, so you can avoid wasting time and effort on that crop again. For example, I grew chickpeas for the first time last year and although a good draught resistant plant, which is becoming more important in my decision making nowadays, the yield was so low (not even enough to make a pot of hummus!) that it didn’t warrant the growing space I had given it.

When choosing what to grow, I suggest starting with what you like to eat. For me the whole point of growing your own is getting to reap the rewards with a far more superior taste of anything bought at a supermarket, it also means you can grow varieties which aren’t available to buy commercially.

Consider the space you have. There are many plants produced specifically for small spaces, and containers. Look for dwarf plants which take up less space or trailing varieties for hanging baskets. For beginners I would recommend beets, radishes, carrots, lettuces, garlic, onions and herbs which can produce enough to make a worthwhile harvest in just a few square feet.

When your seed packets do arrive, don’t make the mistake of being too eager and sowing too soon in cold soil. This will do more damage than sowing a little late. April is generally a safe bet.

Seeds can lose viability quickly, so to maintain dormancy keep seeds in a cool, dark location with low humidity, I use my fridge, but a garage is a good option. If they aren’t in their original seed packet, always have them labelled and stored in a small paper envelope or bag which is breathable. My seed packets are organised by sowing month and kept in a larger plastic containers with silica gel sachets so moisture doesn’t build up.

If you are looking for a seed company to buy from, I can highly recommend The Real Seed Company. It is run by a couple of gardeners who grow and eat the vegetables whose seed they sell, all heritage, non-hybrid varieties and they are the only seed company that encourages their customers to save their own seed, with instructions on the packet. www.realseeds.co.uk

If you plan on growing potatoes this year, a great place to buy your seed potatoes is at the Hampshire Potato Day held at Testbourne Community Centre on the 25th/26th January. Check out the website for more information www.potatoday.uk