better late than never

I’m not very good am I? Despite lots of things going on that I could blog about, somehow it just doesn’t happen: maybe because there’s so much going on, there isn’t time to write it all up, or maybe I’m just looking for excuses.

Anyway, about a year ago I was just about to go to Tanzania to help at a children’s home, before coming home to start my local food challenge. A year on I can truthfully say it has changed my eating and shopping habits, and just as importantly, my gardening habits.

After a month of eating and drinking only local produce, I wrote a fairly full ‘lessons learned’, where I mentioned that I would change what I grew in the garden… but I didn’t say what I meant by that, in fact I’m not even sure I knew at the time, other than what I had in the garden wasn’t satisfactory.

A year on, with a fair bit of reflection, I can now say what I’m doing differently. The most exciting change is having a greenhouse, which has meant not only can I grow a wider range of crops (tomatoes, peppers, aubergines and chillies) but the plants are healthier and cropping earlier – and hopefully later as well – than plants growing outside. Not having spices was a real problem when trying to flavour food, so this year I’m exploring chillies in a big way…

Outside in the veg patch  I knew that I had to grow more of the basic crops – potatoes, onions, beans for example – as well as a wider variety. The combination of those two ideas (more quantity and more variety)  has meant a major rethink. I have extended the patch a little, and will do so again this winter, but I’ve also has to be more creative where I’ve grown veg, eg in containers (potatoes and peas) and in the flower beds (leeks and more herbs).

I’ve also learnt from some of the disasters of last year and invested in some enviromesh which so far is doing a great job against caterpillars. Having failed in all my attempts to grow veg for the winter last year as everything was eaten, I only made a half-hearted attempt this year, but the mesh has proved its worth and next year I’ll be braver still. And for those people cursing leek moth, I can vouch for cutting the whole plant back to the ground as it will grow back, but as leek moth are at their peak in May and again in September, you’ll need to cover them before the moths come back.

I’ve also tried growing different things – garlic, borlotti beans, butternut squash, tree onions, chard, daikon etc – to give more variety and interest to a purely local diet. Voracious slugs, snails and chickens have proved that all these additions are indeed very tasty, but overall the increase in types of produce is very welcome. In fact, for the last 3-4 weeks I’ve been self-sufficient  for all my veg.

Oh – and I’ve also planted a mini fruit garden with cordon apples, pears, plus the tiniest fig tree I’ve ever seen, rhubarb, gooseberries,  + red/black and white currants. Not a lot to show for this year, but in a few years, things should improve. Which all makes me worry a little: all the mistakes we make learning how to garden successfully, all the setbacks with weather, wildlife etc, plus the years it takes for trees etc to establish, it’s all time, which is OK if people gradually come on board and change their lifestyles while there is still time, but for most people the sudden realisation of peak oil and climate change may come too late to be able to adjust. Also, I’m acutely aware that I’m eating everything I produce, so precious little is being preserved for the winter, so next year I’ll have to grow even more…

Most importantly, I think I should re-read my lessons learned, as no doubt I’ve forgotten most of what I wrote, and could do better again …

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