The Awesome Richard Chivers – Get ready to Sharpen your spades

Welcome to Sharpen Your Spades.

It’s strange to think but until 2007 I had no interest allotment gardening. I had no interest in gardening at all.

Today, I can’t imagine not having an allotment and not feeling as passionate about it as I do.

My grandfather was a market gardener, and even in retirement he turned all of their garden over to rows of vegetables. Despite spending every other Sunday at their home, playing next to the beds of vegetables with my brother and cousins and eating a home cooked Sunday lunch that boasted all the veg from the garden, it didn’t rub off on me. Not then.

Growing my own started with a packet of tomato seeds, a pot and a tiny back yard and emerged from my passion to cook. As I cooked more, I learned a key lesson – It’s not the complexity of a recipe that makes for an excellent dish but the ingredients that are used to make it.

One year, I decided to grow my own. In early spring I sowed a few tomato seeds and with little knowledge or experience I waited to see what would happen. What followed became an obsession.

In 2007, Carol Klein presented a 6 part series on the BBC – Grow your own veg. The series arrived at the right time. My passion to grow my own had developed further and when this programme all about growing your own vegetables arrived on the TV, I was hooked.

I placed my name on the local allotment list and bought the book accompanying the series.

I’ve had an allotment, in various guises, for nine years but for many reasons it never lasted. In April 2015 I took on my current plot and I’ve never felt so settled.

combined-guest

Like most families, we have busy working lives and it’s easy to understand that the thought of taking on an allotment can be daunting. However, I genuinely believe it’s possible to manage the daily life and keep up with an allotment garden too.

I started sharpenyourspades.com around the same time as I began work on the allotment. It originated as a way to document my progress and clarify my thoughts on growing my own.

It’s come a long way since then – as well as an allotment diary, I write articles on all matters of allotment gardening and growing your own. I’ve become as passionate about the blog as I am about the allotment.

Writing is a key part of my learning. I’m not a horticulturist and have no formal training. I’m just passionate about growing my own fruit and veg. I hope in some way it means I’m able to provide a different perspective on allotment gardening.

I use organic principles. It has it’s frustrations but it’s also fun experimenting. It’s satisfying to get results without resorting to chemical management and control of the food we eat.

My six-year-old daughter, Ava, spends a lot of time with me on the allotment. She loves it. It’s wonderful seeing her excited about the crops we grow together. I want her to have a relationship with food, understand where it comes from and be thrilled eating it. I hope I can inspire others to join us in the great adventure of allotment gardening.

Guest Author: Richard Chivers is an allotment blogger and “grow your own” enthusiast. He manages sharpenyourspades.com , where he writes about all manner of allotment gardening topics, as well as providing updates on his own family allotment, which he works on with his young daughter. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

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Why so square…

Why So square..


Square foot method

Square foot gardening. The art of growing a large amount of crops in a small space. This is one of my favourite ways to grow. Originally created by Mel Bartholomew, Square foot gardening is a method that allocates a set number of plants per square foot in a grid arrangement.

 

The idea is simple. To grow as much as you can in a small area. Benefits also include leaving little space for weeds to grow, which is always a benefit.

 

I must admit when I first discovered this method, I was a bit sceptical. The idea of growing a large amount of veg in a small area raised various questions for me. “How is this possible?”, “What if they done get enough nutrients?”

To understand how this can be implemented we first need to look at the reasons behind this. Mel came up with the idea in the 1970’s as a solution to creating a productive and easy to manage solution to growing. Tired of the traditional growing methods, the square foot method was a direct counter to highlight the inefficiencies.

This method quickly gained popularity as the ‘new’ and ‘upcoming’ way to grow and is still widely used today.

Spacing.

There are a few rules to follow, certain crops have a limited amount that can be planted in a group. Depending on what you want to plant, there can be as many as 16 plants in one square foot. That may seem a lot but rest assured it works.

There are various websites with chart layout, pre-plans etc but one of the most useful I have found is Gardeners  They have a fantastic selection of pre-planned gardens, all of which are perfectly labelled and well thought out.

I would definitely recommend checking it out.

So what are the benefits?

One of the main benefits here is reduced use of water due to plants being in one concentrated area. Water saving can be taken to the next level by using drip irrigation if required.

Another great benefit is the ability to grow in a very limited space. This is perfect for any back garden or disused area of you allotment, so why not give it a go?


So what’s the plan?

Behind every method lies a tried and tested way of doing it. But being me, I have combined two of the best methods I have used to create my own way of doing things. I use both the NoDig method & Square foot method to give me the best foundations for growing. I also use Interplanting to maximise the potential of each crop. The result, very vibrant plants with reduced pests. Win, Win!

Keep me up to date with all of your progress on @homegrownwxm

Friends are always beneficial

Interplanting, the idea of pairing two items or more together that each help each other. Wouldn’t it be fantastic if they world worked like this.

I’m happy to report that in the vegetable world this is very attainable and if done right can be the most effective pest control. No chemicals or input just pure growing.

So what are the benefits?

A lot really. If you strive for complete organic growing the main objective is to NEVER use any form of fungicide or pesticide. There is ALWAYS an organic alternative. And hey, it can look beautiful too.

Despite vegetables weaknesses and vulnerability to attack from pests, each has their own special scent or ability that can directly help a plant in a different family. Call them superpowers if you will.

So how does this work?

Easy. By planting set vegetables around each other, you are creating a confusion of scent that each predator uses to identify their victim. The result, they cannot find them therefore evading an attack. There are also a huge amount of combinations, which is good news at it means there is always usually a combination that can help you. But as always there are also plants which don’t get along, so there are a few rules to follow.

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Perfect, what do I do?

Below is a general chart of the most common plants, their good neighbours and their neighbours from hell.

As a general rule this will give you the best results, so why not give them a go?

Vegetable Awesome Neighbours Neighbours from hell
Beans Brassicas, Carrot, Cucumber, Peas, Potatoes Alliums (chives, garlic, leeks, onions), Peppers, Tomatoes For Broad Beans: Fennel
Beetroot Brassicas (Broccoli,Sprouts,Ccabbage),   Garlic, Lettuce, Onion Runner Beans
Broccoli Basil, Bush Beans, Chamomile, Cucumber, Dill, Garlic, Lettuce, Marigold, Mint, Onion, Potato, Radish, Rosemary, Sage, Thyme, Tomato Grapes, Mustard, Oregano, Strawberry, Tomato
Brussels Sprouts Potato, Strawberry
Cabbage Beets, Dwarf French Beans, Mint, Onion Climbing Beans
Carrots French Beans, Garlic, Lettuce, Onion, Peas, Rosemary, Tomatoes Parsnip
Cauliflower Beets, Dwarf French Beans, Mint, Onion Strawberries
Corn Beans, Cucumbers, Parsnip, Peas, Potatoes, Pumpkin, Squash, Tomato
Cucumber Beans, Corn, Lettuce, Peas, Radish Potatoes, Strong smelling herbs, Tomatoes
Leeks Carrots, Celery, Lettuce, Onions Beans, Peas
Lettuce Beans, Beets, Carrots, Corn, Marigold, Onions, Peas, Radish, Strawberries Parsley
Onions Beets, Cabbabe, Carrots, Lettuce, Marjoram, Rosemary, Savory, Strawberry, Tomato Beans, Peas
Parsley Asparagus, Beans, Radish, Rosemary, Tomato Lettuce
Peas Beans, Cabbage, Carrots, Celery, Corn, Cucumber, Lettuce, Marjoram, Parsnip, Potato, Sage Alliums (Chives, Garlic, Onion, Shallots)
Potatoes Beans, Cabbage, Corn, Eggplant, Horseradish, Marjoram, Parsnip Celery, Cucumber, Pumpkin, Rosemary, Strawberries, Tomato
Pumpkins Beans, Corn, Radish Potato
Spinach Beans, Lettuce, Peas, Strawberries  
Strawberries Borage, Bush Beans, Caraway Broccoli, Cabbages
Tomatoes Alliums, Asparagus, Basil, Borage, Broccoli, Carrots, Cauliflower, Celery, Marigold, Peppers Brassicas, Beets, Corn, Dill, Fennel, Peas, Potatoes, Rosemary

So I hope this gives you a rough guide to the concept of Interplanting.

Let me know how you get on the comments below or send some inspiration to @homegrownwxm

Steve

 

The Starting Point – Top 10 Beginner Veg

Want to grow you own but don’t know where to start? Or just simply baffled by the varieties out there?

Then stress not.

Below you will find my top 10 things for any new comer to try.

I have grown and still grow these. Every year they consistently give me a superb yield whilst also being quite forgiving. They are also perfect for beginners as they practically look after themselves only needing a little input.

This is just a rough guide based on my experiences and methods vary from person to person. There is no rule. If you find a way that suites you go with it. The only elements that stay the same is watering, protection & enjoying the experience.

French Beans (Ferrari)

Skill: Easy

One of the best varieties I use and perfect for small spaces. Can even be grown in pots. Produce perfect string-less beans which can be eaten raw.

Method: Sow in Modules indoors around end of March. Plant outdoors when first set of true leaves are visible. Average time sow to pant out is 4 weeks. Soil should stay intact when lifting plant out of module and roots visible.

Top Tip: When plants start to flower at around 8 weeks after sowing, give plants a comfrey liquid feed at a ratio of 1 parts comfrey to 9 parts water.

 

Calabrese F1 (Brocolli)

Skill: Easy

The most reliable variety I have grown and one of the easiest. Calabrese is often mistaken for broccoli, yes it is the same as the supermarket style but I couldn’t be more different. The difference is not the taste but the appearance. Traditional broccoli grows in spears. This grows a large head which is easier harvested and quick to grow.

Method: Sow in Modules indoors around end of March. Plant outdoors when first set of true leaves are visible. Average time sow to pant out is 4 weeks. Soil should stay intact when lifting plant out of module and roots visible. Ensure you firm them in when planting as they like a good footing.

Top Tip: When plants start to produce the main head at around 10 weeks after sowing, give plants a comfrey liquid feed at a ratio of 1 parts comfrey to 9 parts water.

 

Sprouts (Crispus)

Skill: Easy

Another reliable variety. Sprouts are very easy to grow if you follow a few steps. Pigeons love them along with slugs so giving them the right protection is key. Ensure they are netted up at all times to ensure the best harvest. Spouts traditionally stay in the ground for a long period of time and usually up to 6 months. They are at their sweetest after a frost.

Method: Sow in Modules indoors around end of April. Plant outdoors when first set of true leaves are visible. Average time sow to pant out is 4 weeks. Soil should stay intact when lifting plant out of module and roots visible. Ensure you firm them in when planting as they like a good footing.

Top Tip: If you find you get a crop around autumn before frost, simply harvest and freeze for 48 hours before use. This will sweeten them up ensuring you can have a harvest at any point of the year! Sprouts are not just for Christmas 😉

 

Peas (Kelvedon Wonder)

Skill: Easy

Peas are very easy to grow. They can vary in size from only 2ft right up to over 7ft depending on variety. There are two types of seed. Autumn and Spring planted. You can usually tell by the pea seeds. If they are wrinkly then they are spring, Smooth is for autumn. The only pointer here is support. Bamboo canes are perfect. If you can afford it chicken wire.

Method: Sow direct outdoors around end of March for spring and October for overwintering varieties or autumn. Cover with chicken wire to protect from mice & birds until shoots are around 3 inches.

Top Tip: Pick the pods as you go. The more you pick the more it will produce.

 

Carrots (Nantes)

Skill: Easy

Scatter and leave! Done. Honestly that’s it although small; they take a while to germinate but eventually they grow. They germinate best when soil temps stay around 20c. The main problem is crusting. This is when the soil forms a hard layer on the surface of the soil. The easiest way to deal with this is applying a small layer of compost over the seeds and keep damp.

Method: Sow direct outdoors between March and July. Sow every few weeks to have a good supply.

Top Tip: Mix a small amount with sand so they get sown at a more even rate. Benefit is you also get to see where you planted them!

 

Onions (Red Barron)

Skill: Easy

I always use onion sets. These can be picked up very cheap and resemble a small bulb. Just ensure that the bulbs are firm. If you can squash them, chuck them.

Method: Grow in modules. Simply push fat end down half way into the soil and water. Keep warm and in a week you will start to see them growing. Plant out when the roots are well formed. The soil should lift out in full when you inspect them.

Top Tip: Keep the soil weeded and evenly watered. A good starting point is to give a generous amount once per week. This will allow the roots to go deeper ensuring they are more resilient to drought.

 

Parsnip (Goliath)

Skill: Easy

Exactly the same process as carrots. Scatter and leave! Done. Honestly that’s it although small; they take a while to germinate but eventually they grow. They germinate best when soil temps stay around 20c. The main problem is crusting. This is when the soil forms a hard layer on the surface of the soil. The easiest way to deal with this is applying a small layer of compost over the seeds and keep damp.

Method: Sow direct outdoors between March and July. Sow every few weeks to have a good supply.

Top Tip: Mix a small amount with sand so they get sown at a more even rate. Benefit is you also get to see where you planted them!

 

Beetroot (Boltardy)

Skill: Easy

Beetroot is one of the best root vegetables you can have. There is nothing more satisfying than seeing beetroot grow. Always reliable, perfect for the beginner.

Method: Sow direct outdoors between March and July. Sow every few weeks to have a good supply.

Top Tip: Keep the soil weeded and evenly watered. A good starting point is to give a generous amount once per week. This will allow the roots to go deeper ensuring they are more resilient to drought.

 

Climbing French Beans (Cobra)

Skill: Easy

French beans are very easy to grow. They can easily grow to over 7ft. Supports are essential here. Bamboo canes are perfect. Just ensure you give them enough space as they like to tangle up and jump canes!

Method: Sow in Modules indoors around end of April. Plant outdoors when first set of true leaves are visible. Average time sow to pant out is 4 weeks. Soil should stay intact when lifting plant out of module and roots visible.

Top Tip: Pick the pods as you go. The more you pick the more it will produce.

 

Sweetcorn (Minipop)

Skill: Easy

Part of the grass family; Sweetcorn is very reliable. Their biggest enemy is slugs. They easily grow to 7ft and produce various cobs. There are two varieties, open pollinated and self-fertile. For beginners I say to use self-fertile as you get the growing experience with the increased chance of a crop. ‘Minibel’ will produce mini corn that can be used for stir fry and salads.

Method: Sow in Modules indoors around end of April. Plant outdoors when around 6-8 inches high and all risk of frost has passed. Average time sow to pant out is 4 weeks. Soil should stay intact when lifting plant out of module and roots visible.

Top Tip: Pick when tufts (Stringy part) are brown to black in colour. Enjoy.

 

So there you have it.

 

Of course there are thousands of varieties each of which you may find better for you. But that’s the point.

 

One thing I encourage is experimenting.

 

You have the power to choose what you want to eat and get the satisfaction of watching it grow and mature.

 

The saying really is true. If you grow your own food, it tastes different. It tastes better and this is a guarantee.

 

Just remember you cannot fail.

 

Steve

 

 

 

 

 

 

Preperation is key 

Being a No-Dig gardener, Soil preparation for me is a very simple task. Every year the same look of disbelief and confusion appears on people’s faces when asked about my growing methods.
Long gone are the days of relentlessly digging away to create a nice tilth only to find a few months later you’re back to square one. Many people walk around with a spade ready to go. Me, I walk around with a rake.

Although confusing to many people, the idea of No-Dig gardening can be traced back to ancient times. The process involves a layering or ‘lasagne’ effect rather than the traditional digging. There are a few reasons behind this.

Organic matter left on the surface is a natural process that you will see throughout the world. Just go down to your local forest and see the way trees dispose of their leaves which compost in place. You will also see that there is a LOT of microbial activity going on.

No-Dig is a way of preserving this structure and using it to our advantage. Despite various myths about the soil needing ‘aeration’, gardening this way allows the soil to develop into a perfect state.

Brimming with beneficial bacteria, your crops will be in a better position to utilise the vitamins and minerals available which will lead to a better quality crop.

So you’re probably thinking, “That’s good and all but what about weeds?”.. Well good news on that front too. Various weeds can be a real pain and not all can be eradicated, but for the vast majority this method actually does a good job of controlling them.

Ever noticed that after you have dug an area over weeds magically turn up? Annoying isn’t it. This is due to the disturbance of those pesky weed seeds that stay lingering ready to pounce.

By using this method you are effectively putting a blanket over the soil which also keeps the annoying weed seeds at bay and stops them surfacing. Result? Less chance for them to attack.

Admittedly nothing is 100% effective, however why not give it a go and see if you gain any benefit from it? And your tools will thank you for it.

This year, I started a new plot at home. The area I chose for this was the unused, often neglected corner of a garden which is in full sunlight from dusk until dawn. It was over-run with Dock leaves, Couch grass, annual weeds and ground elder. Sounds fantastic doesn’t it!


Contrary to this I wasn’t fazed. I lay down a layer of cardboard, grass clippings (around 2 inches), leaves (around 2 inches) and well-rotted horse manure (around 6 inches) in autumn. That’s right no digging of the weeds beforehand, just straight on top. The results? Well, the pictures speak for themselves.

You can follow my journey on Facebook plot44organics or Twitter @homegrownwxm.

The foundations of life 

Life is built using a structure and careful balance or organics. This is also true in soil. Soil is the largest living thing on earth with a teaspoon containing billions of thriving bacteria which we all depend on for life. The building blocks

That’s why I wholeheartedly believe that growing organic and working with these organics is the only way we should be doing things.

We live in an age where the only choice for people’s food is to look good and be the correct size & shape. Food grown to this standard are at the sacrifice of good quality vitamins & minerals as consumers are driven by looks. This to me is very worrying.

Food should be about two things; nutrition and taste.

This is the sole reason that I chose to take the organic route & growing myself.

I started my journey 5 years ago when I had my first daughter. Buying vegetables with not much taste & the fact that many people today don’t know where there food comes from made me very aware that I needed to do something.

It all started as a hobby growing veg, but it has now turned into a raging passion.

Doing this has allowed me to see that there once was a time when all veg was grown using traditional methods & I personally feel we need to go back there to help in our families future.

So why Organic? 

Simple. For me being organic is about working alongside nature and using this to benefit me. Healthy plants = healthy food

How do I be Organic? 

Being organic is the easiest choice of all. It can be as simple as committing to not use any artificial fertilisers or pesticides.

After all there are many more natural feeds/ sprays we can make to get better and lasting results.

The main difference between to the two is this. Artificial or synthetic fertilisers will give you a bigger and better yielding crop the first few years where organics give you a better and more consistent yield over time.

Take building a house as an example. If you build the foundations as cheap and as fast as you can and place a house on it you will have a home.

However as time goes on you will find that due to the frail foundations eventually the house will crumble. This is the perfect example of these fertilisers.

What you are doing when using these is getting a fantastic yield which looks good pretty much immediately but slowly depleting the soil of all fertility as you are not replacing anything.

Organic gardening also makes the same foundations but invests better quality materials and more time. Agreed it takes longer but once it’s out of the ground it flies up.

It’s all about the foundation.

Steve

About me

My mission is simple.

100% Organic Growing. No fancy growing methods, no gimmicks just straight honest reviews and advice.

What You can expect:

Honest Reviews – For every review I do, you only get one thing which I think is the most important. Honesty.

I will NEVER try to sell or advise you against any product I wouldn’t use myself. All reviews here are requested by various companies who approach me to test them out. Unless stated I do not make any money from doing this, I do however get a lot of pleasure knowing that I will come across a hidden gem and are able to let you guys know🙂

My blog is always changing so please bear with me or feel free to pay any comments/ suggestions on the comment section below or tweet me on @plot44organics

Finally and more importantly you will see 100% me. My methods are different to any other person and that’s what makes us all unique. My outlook on growing is you have to find your own way of doing things as no two things are the same.

My Growing Style:

After running an allotment for 2 years I have now moved to growing at home in a 11.8m2 raised bed. My goal is to learn the art of seed saving and successional growing to allow me to grow all year around on my doorstep. For me getting children involved is key to future success so I always get my daughter  involved. She just loves growing sweet corn!  And if I encourage a few of you along the way im a happy man.

The environment impact to me is very important. I DON’T use/ endorse or recommend any form of fertilisers/ products that cannot prove to be 100% organic or biodegradable. If nature don’t like then neither do I.  I believe working with nature is a better solution.

For growing I use a combination of No Dig method & square foot gardening. This is exactly what it sounds like & is an ancient method that encourages & protects the soil eco-system and structure. For more information on this method see http://www.charlesdowding.co.uk/  where you can find a wealth of knowledge and helpful guides.

As I final note I would say the best thing to what I do is enjoyment. Gardening can be a real challenge but also a very rewarding past time. Some times it’s a serious business but trust me, if you learn to enjoy all the challenges the reward will be priceless.