One aspect of the growing season I really missed in 2020 was getting together with my friend Paula for one of our mammoth seed-planting sessions. (Social distancing not being an option in a 6ft x 8ft greenhouse).
As well as making it more sociable if you’re the only gardener in the household, joining forces with a friend or neighbour makes practical sense. Many packets of seed contain more seeds than you are likely to need. A packet of tomato seeds with 7 seeds, for example, might not sound a lot – but bear in mind that each of those plants will probably need a pot about the size of a bucket by the time it’s ready to bear fruit. Each pot needs compost and watering. You’ll get more produce from a selection of plants you can care for, than a whole forest you don’t have time for.
At this point I should probably confess I always over plant, am not ruthless enough to dispose of weaker seedlings, and so most years end up with 30 – 40 tomato plants and copious quantities of courgettes and cucumbers. I don’t mind as I have fun raising them and am happy to donate my spares to friends and neighbours. If you end up doing the same I do have a useful tip – make sure you give away your spares at the right time! That’s before they go into their final, largest container (or grow bag). That way when they’re at their biggest and most needy of watering you can focus on the ones you’re going to keep.
The other advantage of sharing is that you can grow more different crops – simply agree in advance what you’ll grow. (It’s like arranging a buffet where people are bringing a dish – you don’t want 15 pasta salads and no dessert…) Check online for local seed swaps too – Transition Horsham holds one each year.
You can collect seeds from kitchen scraps, you’ll find a number of videos on YouTube. Some are more practical than others so if you’re looking to grow food rather than raise a quirky houseplant, pick carefully. You can for example get an avocado stone to germinate by suspending it by toothpicks over a glass of water. But a full grown avocado tree can reach 30 metres high and take years to bear fruit…. The potato that’s sprouting in your veg rack may be less exotic, but is a much safer bet!
Pinterest is a great source of ideas – try ‘grow your own vegetables’ for boards on everything from easy plants to grow, to alternative types of container. Just be careful that planting guides refer to the UK.
For a sustainable garden remember that re-using things that already exist is better than buying new where possible. If you’re planning to grow vegetables start collecting pots – you’ll need several sizes if you’re growing from seed. I have a series of tiny pots I’ve had many years that come out each year for the seeds you sow individually – but you could use the cardboard tubes from loo or kitchen roll, yoghurt pots etc. If you buy larger flowering plants from garden centres always keep the pots, they’ll do nicely as your tomatoes, courgettes etc mature. It’s also worth checking whether family or friends with gardens have any spare containers.
I hope that you do decide to make growing your own part of your new normal. There are so many benefits from fresh air and outdoor activity, to reducing your food miles and reducing food waste. Because trust me – if you’ve put all that TLC into growing fruit or vegetables, you certainly won’t want to waste any of it!
Other useful sources of information: