3 Lessons from the Ballyer Backyard: March to July 2017

I’ve learned so much in a short time working in this garden. Mostly what not to do.

Here are some things I need to do right next time, and one thing I think I’m doing pretty well now…

1. Space properly

In my greed to maximise output from my pots and one raised bed I’ve had some over planting and overcrowding issues, which has inevitably led to a lot of waste (most of my lettuce ended up in the compost bin), and unnecessary competition between plants.

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Plants jostling for space in my raised bed earlier this summer

I can’t help thinking my garlic would have been a bit more substantial in size, had a given them more room to breath, and there’s a pot of beetroot that I reckon will ultimately yield only mini size veg.

My broccoli, while now growing tall, could do with more space, and the kale is crowded together. Though I did pull a few plants to make more space.

There are other benefits to giving veg a bit more space – in particular it might make it a little more challenging for caterpillars and other pests to scuttle from plant to plant.

In future I need to plan a lot better in terms of quantities of plants to develop and plant out. And to be a lot more brutal with thinning out seedlings. I feel guilty depriving some seedlings with their chance to grow. I need to toughen up!

2. Only grow what you’ll actually eat

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Lettuce growing huge in the raised bed, to the detriment of other plants (see the wee beetroot struggling under it on the right)
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Most of the lettuce ended up in the compost bin

Prior to having my own garden, I spent a year-plus involved in a community garden (which I hope to write a blog or two about in future).

My gardening skills and knowledge, were non existent prior to wandering in the gate of the community garden in the Spring of 2015.

By the time I moved out of the area and away from the garden, I was still a weeder and waterer at best, albeit a better one than I had been a year or so before.

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Sign for Summer Row Garden in Summerhill in Spring 2016

So, when I was buying seed and planning my own garden, I gravitated toward what I knew from the community garden, going for reliable plants like kale, chard and spinach – though I’m not all that keen on eating them.

Between those and the inordinate amount of lettuce – I’d say about half of what I’ve grow so far this year (including some current plants) are of little culinary interest to me.

Next growing season, I hope to be braver with my choices.

3. Good soil nutrition is key

This is an obvious one, but potentially overlooked. At my community garden I picked up some good tips on composting, though I didn’t pay much attention to the wormery there – apart from picking up that worm compost was very rich and ideal for dressing the top of beds, preferably around stems of plants.

When I got my own garden I was particularly conscious that I’d be relying a lot of pots to produce food – making extra soil nutrition vital. So, I bought a prefabricated wormery.

As well as generating nutrient-rich compost, the wormery is designed to  catch the liquid worm ‘castings’ in the bottom, with a tap for siphoning it off.

Feeding time

Now in full production, I’m getting a small soft drink bottle’s worth every week from the wormery as its workers break down the vegetable waste of our household of two. Diluted one part worm castings to ten parts water,  this is ideal plant food.

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The wormery delivers compost a lot faster than a bin/heap too. Albeit, in smaller amounts.

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Prior to the wormery coming up with the goods, I brewed nettle tea for feeding the plants.

A comfrey plant in the garden is also a great source of nutrition, making a fertilising tea from its leaves.

But to me, there’s something particularly endearing about the cycle of the wormery. I do hope its inhabitants feel the same way.

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When planting pots with carrots a couple of weeks ago, I decided to try the tip I’d come across about putting an unbroken raw egg in the pot for an extra nutrition boost. Not sure how I’ll tell if it added anything though.

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