Thursday, 6 October 2011

Vegetable gardening by twilight

Orkney grown veggies.......
We've started our autumn series of evening classes again which keeps us out of mischief during the darker nights, we're running out of daylight, so we'll be gardening by twilight into the dark. I've just enrolled in a locally run polytunnel course with an excellent chap who's very clever and experienced at all that kind of stuff, to see if I can make sure I use my own new polytunnel well. The excitement is that the *cover is ordered* and my soon to be secret squall-free recycled polytunnel garden will allow me some wind free gardening. I can't wait, hoping that evening class will be underway in mid-November and I'm sure I'll learn loads. I've begun to compile my dream list, what do they call that football thing? Fantasy football - where you dream up a perfect team, well at the moment I've got a 'fantasy garden' list being drawn up. The main criteria for plants that will go in the polytunnel is 'edible, practical, pretty' in that kinda order and probably anything purple, I do like purple. Before I get to sit back and imbide the knowledge of that brilliant chap though, I've to deliver a peedie class of my own this year..............
Where previously I've had my 'evening  veggie garden class' L plates firmly on for the past two years, guru chap at my side,  methophorically holding my hand, this year they've let me lose on my own. *Large gulp*. 12 classes to teach, *larger gulp*. Deep breath, hold on to a comfort blanket (or my comfort *proper gardening* jumper in my case) and off we set on our adventure after all I've a tiny part of the garden I love with me and I'm truly lucky as I've studied in twice (RBGE). If like me you love plants its a definite place to study - I did two courses there, a really good plantsmanship one and then went back for more with this one.....I'm a girl for a challenge and they really were!

I really do love my plants and if they are edible all the better in my mind. There will be places near to yourself where you can always learn more about things and local knowledge will always be amazingly helpful, bit like the polytunnel course I'm hoping to go on soon. However, I do miss being there surrounded by the plants in the 'Botanics' but my green 'school' jumper, a its a bit like a trusty superhero garden cape, easy to hold onto and hide behind when necessary, or so I tell myself. My jumper won't let me down, it hasnt' done so far.And if it all went horribly wrong, I can hide my head in it. Been there, done that! I've no idea what I'll do if it wears out, can't think about that, I won't be able to get another one, eek. Better look after it eh?
Thus far everything must be working to a semblence of a plan, as eveyone's come back for more, we've been doing it for 3 weeks now, so I'm hoping we'll get along famously. I do like to be prepared and but I find prepartion is difficult, I know it might be evolving, looked in many books, modified alot of the normal advice, we've written new material for it which I find really hard, to get it right, but sleeves up and we'll get there.

To be honest its very scary as I've only just got my L plates off, I dodder along with my training wheels firmly attached though, so don't worry for me. But with the help of a basket full of tricks, hard drive with teaching material freshly stored (crop rotation and soil/fertilisers tonight), bags of newly perlongued, um I mean sourced organic material (manure, compost, leaves and seaweed, try getting those in heels on the way to the class by the way!) and a tray of freshly baked chocolate brownies, to um, improve the learning experience, (come on its an evening of soils (types, textures, improvements, pH etc), hardly the most exciting topic in the unvierse, brownies are required!) and we've all survived!
The thing about vegetable gardening is, *shh don't tell anyone* its really quite fun, addictive and often alot easier than folk think. And, it saves so much money, I'd read recently that every £1 you put into your garden you can save £9 on grocery bill how exciting and brilliant!  Theres a number of great projects in scotland doing just that, have a look at this one Linlithgrow, one of my dear friends works there, helping folk to grow their own groceries, utterly fab. Actually I think we should tell everyone, growing plants to eat is easy and saves you money. Follow a few very simple rules, bung in a few seeds,  in the right place and at the right time, nudge them along now and again and thats it really. And, of course no one knows their own garden like the owner, so really its quite simple you're just introducing them to growing a few new plants and helping them settle in a bit and get them to establish a nice dialogue.  Everyone can grow even one pot of  food, its just a question of how to do it to suit your plate/budget/garden/climate.

Crop rotation on a plate, well three plates really. Trying to illustrate the point, neeps are interlopers being grown in either roots section or with the other brassicas (depending on which book you read). I don't advocate growing tinned veg (cough), but an improvised tin of beans represented 'legumes' in this little display as our home grown peas/beans are all done now.

But, if its so straightforward, why do I get in such a fankle about it? I'm lucky I learnt on the hoof, with both my Grandfather and Mum, and latterly through training, but every garden/place is different and up here we've a very different climate to deal with. Therefore, when trying to pass that on, I worry so much, I so want to get it right and hit the books hard. But then again, one of the first things to remember is texts and books are grand but really just a guideline. Every garden is different, as is every season. And, in scotland just to make things even more tricky (sorry can't talk for anywhere else), but in our climate, lets face facts when it comes to veggie gardening, or any kind of gardening come to that matter, most of the books lie. Well, they don't tell great big whoppers but, the timings for our climate are just almost always wrong.  If you're just learning and attempting to get out in February to do something we can only manage up in late April up here - then you're on a hiding to nothing. I don't mind that the books don't get it right, its not their fault - but they've been written for such a different climate, ours is so short, and up here it also doesn't get very cold (or hot) and whilst frosts are uncommon, winds are a common enemy of the gardener. I mean, up here its a whole different ball game - growing things like runner beans and tomatoes outside up here is the stuff of legends, we need a lot of shelter for those, alot! I don't blame the books, most of their information is spot on, just not the timings for up here and I just don't want folk to get down heartened if they try things and they don't work.

Growing veggies is relatively easy, it shouldn't be stressful or unsuccessful, not armed with the right knowledge for where you are. One of my biggest bug bears is that people think they can't grow things, when actually they've just been unfortunate or misinformed. We do a bit of theory at this time of year and we'll then get out there next year we'll meet up again for a series of get muddy and mucky classes, perfect. I truely beleive anyone can grow veggies, its just a case of getting the right recipe for it for where you are.

Now are now working with the new 2011 edited material .........

With that in mind, thats why the class was intially developed to give the right information for our climate up here, growing here is different. Therefore to be able to deliver this class, over the past couple years we've tried to modify a bit of the older and the more modern literature, amend the dates given and try to get a realistic idea of what varieties suit our pesky climate, what makes them happy, how we can do that and when to sow them. When I say we, I can claim to modifiying literature, typity typing on the nod of the guru, who lets face it has been gardening up here for more hours than I've put in my whole life. If he says 'we do tend it like this' or 'we don't plant those out until May' or 'in this climate, we grow them closer together' or 'we can't grow that outdoors here'. I scribble and scribble and ask silly questions, alot of silly questions and scribble some more. If anyone knows how it works up here, he's certainly one of the few skilled, experienced and gifted enough to be able to advise. Therefore I've scribbled my heart out and we'll get there, a couple of steps forward, two backwards, in gale force winds but we're getting there. 

Growing our own way...................
I hear there's a new book out soon 'Fruit and Vegetable Gardening in scotland'  by a couple of folk including a chap who wrote the book I've been introduced to lately called:  'Garden Plants for scotland', I'll look forward to having a peek at that new veggie one in 2012. And, perhaps we'll be comparing our own newly written class notes,  he's had a chat with our very own garden guru too, so clearly he'll be well informed on growing way up here in the north.
In between times, I'll be clutching my favourite dark green jumper, crossing my fingers I'm getting it right and scribbling down everything I'm learning as I go. And baking bribes for the class it would seem. Can't be too careful and taking pretty pictures of plants to illustrate the point, who'd have known there were so many types of carrots! Before all of this, I didn't. I'm glad of my RBGE investigative skills (I'll always shamelessly promote the garden I love and am proud to have been a part of, I'll get off my soap box now...), even if it do takes me an age to prepare for everything as I get utterly distracted by all the new plants I'm learning about!
Ps, as I write this, I'm sure I'm hearing hail batter my windows, but I'm in denial tonight, I will not look, I'm hoping its just a very bad gale with heavy, boot wearing rain. What do the books call this time of the year, 'season of mellow fruitfulness', hmm, me thinks the books definitely lie, I think its winter.


  1. No chance of ordering another jumper I am guessing? Even as a previous employee? Oh and I am sure you will be fine!

  2. Peedie can attend the practical classes, so he'll keep me right! I don't think as a rule, you get another jumper......if I get brave I guess I can try order one. But, you never know.......xx

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