This piece has been written by Xanthe Gladstone, as a chef and food sustainability advocate she knows a thing or two about getting the most from your garden. leading on from our previous gardening posts about our little garden, who better to start off our series of guest journal posts than someone who is passionate about great food and getting the most from your garden. Xanthe is the Director of Food and Food Sustainability for The Good Life Experience, Glen Dye Cabins & Cottages, Hawarden Estate Farm Shop, and The Glynne Arms.
Getting through winter and preparing for summer in your garden
I think that most gardeners will agree with me in saying that summer is the best season. Summer is the time that you get too reap the benefits of having a vegetable garden the most. Not only do you get to eat the delicious food that you’ve produced, but you also get to spend hours on hours and the long evenings outside in the sunshine (or sometimes rain). I have been producing my own vegetables for the last three years and the excitement of eating food that I’ve grown still hasn’t worn off at all.
There is a catch though.
In order to experience summer in a vegetable garden, there is a lot you have to do in the interim. Perhaps the hardest part is getting through the winter months. My main growing season is summer and so it’s all about getting myself best prepared for the time for the rest of the year. The main piece of advice I have for those starting a vegetable garden is to be organised and be kind to your future self. Sometimes, especially in winter, jobs can feel mundane and it’s hard to motivate yourself to get outside but it’s always worth it. Tell me you don’t feel satisfied at the end of the day when you come back inside for a warm cup of tea! Right now is the most important time for being really prepared for the more busy months to come so I'm going to give you a few tips on how to do so.
When you are planting your seeds, make sure you label them with the vegetable, variety, and what date you planted them on as you go. This sounds like a very simple thing but I assure you I have forgotten to do this far too many times and ended up with unidentifiable varieties. It’s also really useful to see the variety because some will work better in your climate than others and you can make notes for next year. On this, I would also either make a note on your phone or use a notebook about the dates you planted which seeds and what the weather was like, and anything else that might be relevant. Keeping notes at all stages of growing is a hugely useful tool for years to come.
Keep your seeds really organised. If you can, keep your seeds organised by which month you plant them in. This will be really useful to get your head around how much you have to plant at which point, and also will hugely benefit you next year.
Get some mulch onto your vegetable beds. Mulch comes in the form of compost, and usually includes animal manure of some sort. I make my own mulch using vegetable waste, chicken and donkey poop, and rotten leaves. It needs about a year to rot down so if you don’t have any, buy compost from your local garden centre. I spread mulch across all of my soil at the end of winter and then again just before I am planting into the ground. This not only helps build nutrition in the soil but it also helps to suppress weed growth.
Make a planting map. This can be quite a fun process and it’s really important to do before it is actually time to plant, otherwise you will end up just putting vegetables anywhere and it’s important to rotate your crops year on year to avoid pests and diseases, and also make sure everything has enough space to grow. I get my colouring pencils out and properly draw where everything is going to go. At this point you can also do a bit of research into how much space the vegetables that you have planted need between them and draw that onto your map too.
The last bit of advice I will give is to try not to go too crazy with planting. It’s really easy to plant way too many seeds at the beginning of the season when you can’t really envision these seeds turning into actual plants, but try your hardest to remember that a lot of them do turn into full plants that need a lot of space. I have made this mistake many times and ended up with way too many plants! If you do have this issue you could give some away to friends and neighbours, which is always a welcome solution to this problem.
Enjoy it! I absolutely love gardening and it has brought me so much joy in the last few years. I am by no means an expert and I’m still learning so much as I go but the best way to start learning is to get your hands into the soil and just learn as you go.