Just keep calm and grow it yourself...

KATE RYAN spoke to three inspiring vegetable farmers who share their advice on how to go about growing your own successfully. It all starts with just a small seed...
Just keep calm and grow it yourself...
Joyce Russell in the garden.

IF the lockdown is showing us anything, it’s that we are rediscovering our own resourcefulness.

The businesses we relied upon in those pre Covid-19 halcyon days are either not deemed essential and too far from our home, scaled down or shut up shop.

Left with a little more time on our hands, hobbies have become acts of self-empowerment; rediscovering how creative we can be when we are not bogged down with overfull diaries and an endless list of To Do’s.

Some hobbies hold more power than others, and one of those is gardening — specifically, growing your own food. Since Covid-19, interest in it has increased hugely: a mix of seasoned gardeners who grow every year, those coming back to it after a hiatus, and others who are having a go for the first time.

As a lockdown activity, it’s one of the best,providing a physical and mental workout, with time to just focus on the task in front of you, (weeding is probably the best form of mindfulness), it’s good for the soul and a great activity for getting the kids involved too.

On a serious note, growing your own food increases our personal food security. In Ireland, only 1% of land is used for vegetable production, a statistic that illustrates just how much of our fruit and vegetables is imported.

The many ways in which shopping has made the task efficient and convenient at the same time has greatly increased our disconnection to how our food is produced. Growing some of our own food helps to reconnect with this process.

I spoke to three inspiring vegetable farmers, who gave their advice on how to go about growing your own successfully. It all starts with a seed.

Madeleine McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds.
Madeleine McKeever of Brown Envelope Seeds.

SAVE YOUR SEEDS

Madeline McKeever is a plant scientist, farmer and organic certified seed saver. Her company, Brown Envelope Seeds in West Cork, is one of only two seed producers in Ireland. Since the pandemic, she has seen an increase in the amount of seed being purchased. This should be great news for her, but as Madeline explains: a surge in seed buying isn’t always the good news story it sounds like it should be.

Brown Envelope Seeds.
Brown Envelope Seeds.

“Demand for seed online is through the roof for a number of reasons: Garden centres are closed and that is where most people usually buy their seed, people are at home and have more time to grow some food, and others foresee food shortages because of the possibility of disruption of international food chains.

“The Irish government have closed all allotment sites. Preventing people from growing their own food and closing Farmers’ Markets compromises our food sovereignty. Our seed sovereignty is also threatened by a lack of local seed production. We need a network of seed savers across the country so that suitable varieties are grown, and seed is accessible on a community level.

“Irish seed and Irish grown vegetables could become scarce, so I completely understand why people are tempted to stockpile seeds. For inexperienced gardeners, I would suggest saving seeds from peas, beans and tomatoes — you can’t really go wrong! There are tons of YouTube videos on seed saving too.”

Michael Kelly founder of GIY and star of RTE's, Grow, Cook, Eat.
Michael Kelly founder of GIY and star of RTE's, Grow, Cook, Eat.

JUST START

Michael Kelly, founder of GIY Ireland and co-host of RTÉ’s Grow Cook Eat, gave me these top tips for getting started.

“Sowing a seed is an act of profound optimism and your attitude should be no different. The first and best piece of advice is this: just start. Don’t wait until next month or next year, you don’t need green fingers, (they are a myth), or a degree in Latin! Don’t be afraid — get some seeds and put them in some soil.

“The good news is that all seeds want to grow, and they already know how to do it and what they want to become. So more than likely, with just sunlight and water, they will grow.

“GIY began with the mission to encourage and support people to grow their own food. We’re still doing this more than a decade on and have never been more motivated than we are now during this crisis.

“We have seen a huge surge in people interested in growing their own food in recent days and we are standing by to support. Chat with us on our social media channels or visit GIY.ie for videos and advice on growing any vegetable, plus our collection of GROWBox starter packs available for home delivery. Don’t let anything get in your way!”

Joyce Russell in the garden.
Joyce Russell in the garden.

OVERCOMING THE CHALLENGES

Once you’ve started, there will be some challenges along the way. For the inexperienced grower, this can be the point where doubt creeps in and the interest wanes. But experienced gardener and author of New Vegetable Garden Techniques, Joyce Russell, gave me this sound advice to stay calm and keep growing.

“Start small and add beds as you learn what you can manage. A small, well-tended bed can grow more food than a large neglected plot. Keep on top of weeding, watering and harvesting if you want to get the best from your vegetable garden.

“Look at plants every day and tackle small problems before they become big ones. If plants are eaten by slugs and snails, then look under pots or go out after dark with a torch to hunt out and remove the culprits. These pests can eat through rows of emerging seedlings — use organic approved pellets to deter them.

“Grow tall and climbing plants if gardening space is limited. Climbing beans, peas and tomatoes all grow well in grow-bags against a sunny wall.

“Stack two bags on top of one another and put slits between the two so roots can find their way downwards. Keep the compost damp and use sticks, canes or strings to support tall stems.”

Stick to the advice of our three experts, and you’ll be dining on home-grown vegetables all year long!

Resources:

www.brownenvelopeseeds.com

www.irishseedsavers.ie

www.giy.ie – for GROWBox, videos and the GIY Know-It-Allmanac book for kids.

www.growcookeat.ie

www.easons.ie for books by Joyce Russell

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