Wednesday, 9 April 2014

Small Beginnings

As promised, this post will bring you up to speed on the current state of my garden space. From here on I will post more regularly with updates each step of the way.

The Garden Space

The photo below gives you an indication of the space I have to work with:

The biggest problem here is that I cannot dig up the sorry looking lawn and start planting, as this is a rental property. The only part which I can really use is the patio area, with occasional use of the grassy area.

After numerous experiments to find the best location, I have placed the greenhouse to the right of the lawn. During the first week of  using the greenhouse I lost a few plants due to high winds blowing it over. I secured the lower part of the frame with bricks and have not had this issue since.

Did I mention that my garden is north facing? Luckily the surrounding buildings aren't high, so the area near the dilapidated shed does get a healthy amount of sun coming in form the south.

As you can see, there are already a few things in my garden space. The pots in the second picture to the left are empty, left here by the landlady. I will be making full use of these soon, as it seems I can only really grow things in pots here!


These are the first vegetables that I planted. I thought that a good source of potatoes would be key to any household. I was inspired to grow potatoes after a discussion with my friend in Amsterdam about growing them in bins or buckets. After a good deal of research I bought some cylindrical hessian bags and some seed potatoes. The bags have drainage holes in the bottom, ideal for growing vegetables in and easily moveable around the garden with their handles.

I started with some seed potatoes I had bought from a local store. Using all purpose compost, I filled a bag up by about 15cm , planting three seed potatoes in the soil evenly spaced. I then covered this with about 6cm of soil and watered it. This was in January and I was still expecting some pretty horrific weather. I placed the bag in the bottom of my greenhouse to protect it from unexpected frosts.

As an experiment, I repeated this process a week later with some baby new potatoes that had started to sprout in my kitchen. I also placed these at the bottom of the greenhouse.

After weeks of waiting, tiny little sprouts had popped out of the soil. Success! By this time the weather had improved somewhat, so I placed the bags near the shed, as you can see in the top photo. I now have six bags of potatoes growing, each started a week or so after the last. Different potatoes have been used in a few bags to see what works best, and to see if it is worth me buying seed potatoes in the future or just use ones that have started to sprout in my kitchen.
As the plants grow about 15cm above the soil, I top up the soil level by another 8cm or so. The bag with the largest plant in it is nearly full of soil now. According to research I have done, it is wise to only top the soil up to around 5cm below the top of the bag, to allow rainfall to be collected. After returning from a week in Prague, I was surprised to see just how much these potatoes had grown. I must have used a whole bag of compost just to top up the soil level!

I am using tomato feed once a week for the potatoes.


I am treating my chilli and bell / romano pepper varieties in almost the same way, except that I will eventually need a far bigger pot for the larger pepper varieties.

I started these plants off from seed in a propagator on the kitchen windowsill. The propagator that I use has a number of modules, each with six spaces. I placed a seed in each of these spaces on top of all purpose compost then covered lightly with soil, gently firmed down and watered. The chilli seeds were taken from supermarket bough chillies that I enjoy, while the other peppers were a mix of seeds from packets and from supermarket bought peppers. In all honesty, apart from the chilli peppers, I can't remember what I planted where and what eventually germinated. In fact I think I labelled them all as romano peppers. Time will tell!

Once they were large enough to handle, perhaps when two paid of leaves had appeared, I transplanted the chilli pepper seedlings into 10cm pots and the others into 15cm pots. From research it seems that I should only repot into a slightly larger pot when I see roots growing out of the bottom of its current home, to encourage the plant to fruit and not focus too much on growing. These plants currently reside in the greenhouse.


I bought some strawberry seeds of which I cannot remember the variety. I think they were similar to alpine strawberries. These were started of in the propagator on my kitchen windowsill and transplanted to pots a few days ago.

More interestingly, someone I know brought in a cutting of a strawberry plant from his garden. Without too much care I placed it it a pot and covered most of it with all puropse compost. It is now doing incredibly well. In the above photo this is the larger plant at the back.


I planted one seed in each small decomposable pot, plating four in total. They are ready for repotting as soon as I get a moment, as roots are now poking through the bottom of the pots. The courgettes are at the back of this photo.


I started a variety of herbs in my kitchen windowsill propagator, except for the basil which grew in the same pots you see them in but under a lid.

Some of the coriander on the right has become too leggy. I have had to support it so that it doesn't fall over. My worry is that it will turn to seed to quickly now. After I repotted the seedlings for all these herbs I then moved the new pots to the greenhouse, simply to save space in the kitchen. We had a nice spell of warm weather in the south of England, so I assume that the added warmth of the greenhouse didn't do the coriander any favours this early on.

I really don't have a clue if and when the herbs need to be repotted again. Time to do more research...

Perhaps I will thin out the parsley soon.

Other plants

In the greenhouse i placed some more propagators as I do not have room in my house at the moment. The one on the top shelf is the one that used to reside my my kitchen windowsill before the herbs took over. The darker orange pots on the top right have mint in them, but they never germinated. I will take them out and start over.

On the middle shelf I have propagators with chinese chives, spring onion, wild rocket, catmint (for the cat) and wild flowers (for potting in the small front garden).

On the bottom of the greenhouse is (from left to right) a cactus, an olive tree and a calamondin (Filipino lime). These were impulse purchases and I am not confident of their success, especially since I can't even grow coriander properly.

In these pots I have sweet peas, nasturtium and small sunflowers. 

So i guess not everything I am growing is for eating, but I wanted to try and make the front garden area a little more colourful at the same time.


I bought a compost bin from the local council a while ago. In fact in was the first thing I bought before I set out on this adventure. 

When we moved into the property, the maintenance man had cleared most of the garden and placed the waste into a large bag. He was supposed to organise having it removed, but instead it stayed out the front of the house for months. By the time I got round to deciding to move it myself, most of the waste had already rotted. Perfect! That went straight into my compost bin.

Any food waste went into the compost bin as well as any other garden waste. I have used compost activator on it a few times to help kick start it, and I keep it moist at all times. Just when you think you are getting somewhere and the waste is breaking down, you keep adding new waste on top and it seems endless! Two weeks ago I made the decision to stop adding to it, and sourced a smaller bin for food waste in the meantime. Hopefully it will decompose into useful material in a few months, ready for mulching and feeding my soil.

I had a few issues with flies and ants recently. This is probably a natural part of the decomposing process, with living organisms helping with the breakdown of matter. But every time i took the lid of to add water or turn the waste, I would be hit with a small swarm of small flies. To help combat this I emptied the unused plant pots from the landlady over the top of the waste, adding a layer of soil to help suppress the flies. Lets hope this works.

Please feel free to comment and add suggestions. This is a new adventure for me and I really am clueless. Sometimes I feel like I have started to many things off and get a little overwhelmed. So advice and tips are always welcome!

Monday, 7 April 2014

From acorns.......

I have always wanted to grow things I can eat. Perhaps that is more of a reflection of my desire to constantly graze rather than eat well. As a child I grew a small apple tree that sadly died before it could bear fruit. In my late 20s I dabbled in growing herbs with little to no success. The romantic ideal of growing fruit and vegetables was somewhat overshadowed by my lack of knowledge and lack severe lack of space.

While visiting a recording studio in Amsterdam to finalise some mixes for a project I am involved in, the studio owner took us to his allotment on the edge of the city. Picking vegetables, eating food cooked from fresh ingredients, drinking copious amounts of whiskey while chatting about self sufficiency and the state of the supermarket culture; something really struck a chord with me. I lapped up all of the information I could get from someone who was actively doing this and returned home a new man. It truly was a life changing experience.

By recommendation of my new friend in Amsterdam, I bought The New Complete Book of Self Sufficiency by John Seymour. I had a wealth of information at my fingertips, but I really didn't know where to start. From what I could see, I had two major obstacles in my way: it was January (I assume nothing grows in January) and I live in a rental property where I can't dig up the lawn. Where and how was I going to grow anything of significance in my small garden space? And what would I need to buy in order to achieve my goals? Wait.... what are my goals?!

Lets start with what I like to eat:

- potato
- onion
- tomato (the wife hates these)
- carrot
- pepper
- courgette
- mushroom (the wife also hates these)
- all sorts of herbs
- strawberry
- spinach
- cabbage (the wife isn't too keen on these either)

Ok that's a start. At least I know what I would like to grow.

Skip forward a few weeks and I have bought various sizes of plant pots, propagators (not electric), a small polythene greenhouse, lots of all purpose compost and lots of seeds. I also bought a large plastic compost bin from the local council. I figured that instead of the council taking away my food waste, I would be better combining it with any garden waste I have and help feed the crops with homemade compost. We keep food waste to an absolute minimum as it is, but now I really feel that nothing is ever truly wasted.

Right now I have numerous herbs and vegetables in pots all over the place. I started this blog about six weeks after I started plating seeds, so there will be a gap in these early posts. Next I will post photos of where I am currently at in my attempt to become more self sufficient.