west*wales*news*review

West Wales News Review — analysis with a sustainability slant

Gearing Up for Self-Sufficiency: Learning How Little I Know

I believe in local self-sufficiency, at least far greater levels of self-sufficiency than now, and so this is a mini news report from my West Wales garden. Theory and practice are, unfortunately, poles apart in this promising space.  Previous occupants were noted gardeners, but I am learning by trial and error, mostly error.

Grandad Albert Warinton’s father Thomas was a professional gardener, who rang bells in the parish church alongside fellow gardener William Smithers, the father of grandad Warinton’s wife Lavinia, my grandmother. Albert was a baker and confectioner but cultivated a highly productive garden. His feats included a crop of 86½ pounds of potatoes from one pound of seed.  I remember mostly the vivid colours of the flowers he grew and exhibited: gladioli, dahlias, chrysanthemums, but he grew lots of vegetables too.

86 (and a half) pounds of potatoes from a pound of seed.

Albert died 38 years ago, at the good age of 89, and how I wish I had shown more interest in his gardening skills, which were passed on to my mother but I didn’t ask her advice often enough, either, and now it’s too late. Trying to garden productively, and without synthetic pesticides and fungicides, is somewhat of a challenge.

Caterpillars love the leaves of these Brussels sprouts plants, grown from seed. Brassicas for winter are being planted beyond.

This year the brassicas – a mix of kales, cauliflowers, cabbages, broccoli and Brussels sprouts – have cropped heavily. I have not needed to buy any green vegetables since March, despite depredations of cabbage caterpillars.  Their current hyper-activity is evident in the lace-like leaves of Brussels plants grown from seed.

Plenty of kale in the garden!

Potatoes seem to dislike the soil, and I am lucky to harvest five or six from each seed potato. Carrots failed last year, just a few knarled specimens. This year I planted Early Nantes seed in compost in the greenhouse, and that has worked well, so well that I wish I had sown at monthly intervals instead of waiting 10 weeks to see the results.

Early Nantes carrots grown in compost: better results inside than outside.

While even I usually succeed with salad leaves of diverse types, and do moderately well with tomatoes, the peppers and courgettes have been hard to keep alive. The courgettes have cropped, but are only about three to four inches long. As for the onions, there was huge size variation in the same row, from scarcely any bigger than the original set, to typical ‘supermarket’ size.

Next year’s onions will go where the potatoes were, and vice versa, a slight problem being the large area occupied by brassicas. I don’t know quite where to plant the turnips. Dig up part of the lawn, maybe?

If I were my grandad, or my mother, I could be self-sufficient in fruit and vegetables throughout the year, but currently the self-sufficiency ratio is probably about 50%, much more for herbs (the mint and lemon basil advance like rampaging armies).  So much still to learn!

As for essential, industrious bees, there are fewer this year than last.  One micro-local reason is probably the demise of some lavender plants, due I think to my failure to prune them properly. Gardeners’ World has a helpful list of plants that attract bees, http://www.gardenersworld.com/plants/features/wildlife/plants-for-bees/1107.html, and I will try and grow several of them.

I am very glad that I do not have a new house, built at the compulsory density of at least 12 to the acre, because these houses have tiny gardens which would have challenged even grandad Albert – although I can imagine that he would have devised multi-storey horticulture!

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