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Don’t Give Up! A plea to new growers.

There’s a pattern I’ve noticed over the years. People take up growing their own with great enthusiasm but give up in their second season. Now is not the time to give up.

Will we see empty shelves again in our shops?

I know a lot of people took to growing their own at the start of the pandemic. People on furlough and in lockdown took to the garden. Even the weather cooperated. Now they have discovered it’s not quite as easy as they expected. Past experience tells me they’ll give up and the good intentions will vanish under the weeds. The thing is, the hard work has been done now and it does get easier.

Insurance against shortages

Some just take on home growing as a hobby with the benefit of cheap, healthy food. Others for the sheer satisfaction of eating a meal they’ve produced from seed and soil. Many started home growing from a concern about food supplies and security. An insurance policy against things getting tough. Remember the panic buying and empty shelves at the supermarkets?

Now we’ve been lucky. Our supply chains have held up remarkably well to things like panic buying surges and we’ve had very little disruption really. Irritants rather than real supply problems.

Things getting better

As the second wave of the coronavirus abates and the UK vaccination program romps away, you could be forgiven for thinking things are nearly over and soon we’ll be back to normal. Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. I thought myself that this would be over in the UK by the autumn but that was wishful thinking. If every adult has their first jab by August as planned, that leaves second doses to follow which could take us into October. Then a month for immunity to peak and we’re into November.

Food security

Britain is far from self-sufficient in food. We’re a densely populated country with too many people for the available growing land to support. Even in the war with rationing, controlled agricultural production and home growing (Dig for Victory), we had to import food to keep people fed.

A fair amount of our fruit and vegetables come from the EU and they’re a fair way behind us in their vaccination program. It’s possible, perhaps even probable that they will find production disrupted especially of salad crops that are grown under cover. Of course, what the don’t grow they can’t supply, so our provisions get interrupted.

Of course we can get supplies from other countries. I’ve seen labels from Peru, China (on garlic!), Kenya and Morocco on fresh veggies in the supermarkets. The only country in that list in control of the pandemic is, ironically, China. The rest are no better off than the EU.

Am I overly worried?

Maybe I’m unduly concerned, but I’m certain things are not getting back to normal globally this year. That’s assuming no nasty surprises with mutant strains like the Brazilian or South African variants. I don’t think for a moment we’ll be back to rationing or anything like that but, on the other hand, I think some gaps on the shelf and increased prices are inevitable.

So if last year’s growing was a bit much for you, don’t give up! Throttle it back to what you can cope with comfortably.

Posted in Allotment Garden Diary
13 comments on “Don’t Give Up! A plea to new growers.
  1. Joanne says:

    You mention you haven’t started talking to yourself…..yet. I had to laugh I talk to myself all the time. Thank you for your posts I thoroughly enjoy them

  2. Pauline Salisbury says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful insight John. I can echo your words. I’d had a very difficult 2019 (hand injury) with little growing or maintenance being done. 2020 meant getting the ground back to being able to work with. The weeds had started to take over. I had a reasonable crop but it made me realise I really don’t have the strength and lasting power to do a lot of heavy or bending work. This year the four raised beds are becoming three. One will be 2x the height and the other two 3x. I’m expecting the timber to arrive today. I’ve also employed a very useful person to help with heavy work. It’ll be good to have someone to chat to whilst gardening.

    My seeds are coming along nicely. Most are left to germinate in the house but they will move to my propagator in the polytunnel soon. Trying some different tomatoes this year. Had blight for the past four years. I’ve heard tomato halos are the answer for me. Might buy some. Also growing my own nematodes. I’ve tried absolutely everything else with slugs. Could buy them (expensive for the ground I have to cover) but it looks easy to make my own, although a bit messy and smelly. I’m also growing comfrey for fertiliser too. My rhubarb has been moved in the attempt to get it to grow. Really don’t know what I’m doing wrong. I’ve grown it before where I used to live.

    Look forward to popping back here regularly for lots of tips. I need them. 🙂

  3. David Walton says:

    This will be our 3rd year on the plot and we are still batteling to get it into shape. I have scrounged a load of old fence boards and intend to define the plot paths with these , as well as patch up some dilapidated fences. We have got hold of a load of horse muck which we hope will feed the soil,also looking for a supply of lime for a top dressing. The weather has been against us so far this year having been very cold and wet but we aren’t going to give up just yet. Looking forward to the longer daylight and hopefully warmer drier weather at the end of the month. Even if little grows its an escape into the fresh air. Keep up the good work John.

  4. Caroline Duchet says:

    Pauline, I would suggest that you try PrimaBella tomatoes. I grew over 40 varieties of tomato on my allotment last year and PrimaBella was the only one still standing after the horrendous amount of rain we had in South Wales last August.
    Unfortunately, Real Seeds are out of stock of this variety and Victoriana Nursery sell 5 seeds for £2.50.
    But they are worth trying and since they are not hybrids you can save your own seed.

  5. Michael Carolan says:

    Hi, looking forward to sowing out early lettuce, haven’t quite started to talk to myself yet!!

  6. Barry says:

    I think growing your own is well worth the effort Virtually the whole of my back garden is given over to veg growing. (Three plots, each about eight feet x 20 feet). Half of one plot for fruit and the rest for veg. I guess I am fortunate in that I am retired and can spend whatevr time I need too in the garden. Having said that the first year, when it was all grass took a lot of time to get it to a veg plot. But now it does not take all that much time. An hour a week, at the most, hoeing means I ‘never’ have weeds – well never a serious crop of them.
    I do start a lot of seeds (peas/beans/lettuce) in the greenhouse and then transplant which increases the workload so if you haven’t the time avoid this. It only gains a week or so most years. But I don’t think you can beat home grown for taste and freashness.

  7. Les says:

    Thanks for all your tips and insight John,after having an allotment for many years I still find I can always learn something new and listen to recommendations. After finally having had enough of feeding the local pidgeon population I’ve treated myself to a fruit cage for this year and plan to fill it with brassicas, watch this space !

  8. Rob says:

    I had my first allotment 35 years ago with my dad,who unfortunately is no longer with us,his mother taught him about gardening,well it was the real dig for victory then,he taught me and we grew many crops over the years,now after moving house I now have a full plot in a different area,overgrown as usual,my wife and I have now had this plot for 14 ish years,we have half for fruit the other for veg,2 sheds, 2 greenhouses + 1at home,3 freezers ,you need them,although fresh is better,jam,chutney and pickles galore,hens at home,now it starts to get busy seeds to plant and the weather to keep an eye on,it is a struggle with a full time job to keep the plot tidy but we will never give up as long as we are healthy,September I hope to retire so it will be a bit easier,we are very lucky to have an allotment on a nice site,there are waiting lists on many.good luck and happy gardening for the coming season.

  9. David White says:

    I echo your sentiments John, thank goodness for the allotment during this pandemic. However,I think too much emphasis is put on mental health to-day. We all feel low at times, but is this damaging our mental health? People mock the old British ‘stiff upper lip’. But it did help people get through bad situations. We are continually told the pandemic is damaging our mental health, so people begin to believe this. Human beings are extremely resilient both mentally and physically, and I include children in this. The tendancy to-day, is we all feel sorry for ourselves.

    • John Harrison says:

      David, you raise an interesting point. I do think we shouldn’t underestimate the negative impact of social isolation coupled with a barrage of negative news, but there are coping strategies like getting out into garden.

  10. Ellen says:

    If I could offer two tips to new gardeners to help them keep growing: the first would be pace yourself so you don’t bite off more than you can handle. Maybe three veg beds is too much, well turn one into a fruit patch and grow low maintenance but high reward crops like raspberries or red currents. Second, go ‘no dig’. Other than a first go over on a plot, double digging has no benefit to soil structure and slices up your garden ‘helpers’ the earth worms. The result of following this advice has allowed me to continue working 45+ hr weeks while still happily growing, relaxing and enjoying 2 standard allotments, a modest front garden and back garden. Extra tip: mulch. You can change it up. Course bark much is cheap and lasts several years; Strulch is good to protect high value crops like cut flowers and wheat straw is easy to spread and the earth worms love to break it down to improve the soil. Good luck and keep growing!

  11. Nick Ford says:

    Just into our second year with the allotment, and the lessons learned in the first year have, if anything, boosted our confidence a rookie growers – and have met some lovely people as allotment neighbours into the bargain, who actually provide us with the nearest thing to a social life we can currently get, if you don’t count internet video chats. Another thing: our surplus produce that we couldn’t freeze or pickle lat year, has been gratefully received by a local volunteer group that prepares fresh and frozen meals for the less fortunate in the community. This ethos of mutual aid is another lesson we can take from the war.

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