23: Episode 23 – A lockdown garden activity for mental health

Spending time in our garden is a great way to relieve anxiety and increase our mental health and wellbeing. In this episode I talk about a great garden activity that is beneficial to you and your garden, and will help you to understand your garden space better, using permaculture principles to better assess your garden’s potential.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


A Lockdown Garden Activity For Mental Health

I’m going to be talking about a garden activity that everybody can do and it’s a great lockdown activity if you’re not allowed to leave the house. It’s also a great mental health activity if you’re struggling with anxiety, or you just need to slow down the pace at which your mind is turning over. It’s based on permaculture principles and it’s about learning from nature. What we’re going to do is basically talk about learning from what’s already happening in the space and putting ourselves in a position to make the best decisions for our garden and perhaps come up with some different ideas of how we might use spaces.

Garden Activities in Lockdown Period

There’s no better way of learning about your space and understanding it than spending time in it. So we’re going to talk about an activity that is very useful for food planning and certainly for me. I find it very useful to actually come up with different ways of using spaces and I quite often settle on some ideas that I otherwise wouldn’t have had.

Noting Down The Essentials

The first thing to do is to get a sheet or two of paper and we’re going to write a list of headings that we’re going to fill out as we spend time in our space. Depending on the size of your garden, I did this in eight different distinct areas. You might have a very small urban garden or you might have lots of different areas with different aspects to them. So you might want to consider doing more than one sheet of research paper to really understand how different parts of your garden are working. So I’m going to run through the headlines and then tell you the sort of things I wrote. I’ve got one of the sheets in front of me that I actually filled out a year-and-a-half ago and it’s quite surprising how much it actually did help change my thinking about the area. So towards the northern boundary of my property, we have a large area that is currently on its way to becoming a food forest. But at the time that I did this activity, it was just a piece of grass or at least one side of it was a piece of grass and the other side of this area was the edge of woodland.

Let’s start with just the location, date and the weather. This is useful because there might be things that are happening that you might expect to see more or less of based on the weather at that particular time. The location for me was picnic area/food forest because that’s where we had our picnic bench and the date that I filled this in was the 23rd of May. The weather was dry and bright with no rain for several days. This is important to note these features because of the fact that I know there was no rain for several days means that when we come to look at what’s happening, we can allow that in our thinking and the temperature was 19 degrees and the overnight low was eight degrees. These are all things I noted. Then I went down to list and wrote that the pH level is 7.5 in that area. pH testers are available online very cost-effectively. The one I’ve got is a reusable one. So I think I paid about 8 pounds for it and I just plug it in the ground and it tells me the pH level and I can reuse that forever and ever.

Absorb Nature

The next thing you do once you set down and you’ve made these notes is absolutely nothing.
You just sit for a good 10 minutes. The reason for this is to allow nature to return whenever you go for a walk in the countryside or walk out into your garden. Quite often a lot of the natural environment quickly changes because there’s a human there and a lot of your small birds and small animals will either freeze or actually disappear. Just sitting still for 10 minutes, you can listen and hear the difference in the birdsong as they return to their normal state, as they become more comfortable with you being there.

Soil Humidity

The next section on my list was soil humidity and humus notes. Humus is the amount of organic matter in your soil and it will largely tell you about how fertile it will be. So whenever you look at a piece of land, if you can tell that it’s not been disturbed for a long time and that’s going to tell you that the soil food web and everything below the ground are likely in a very healthy state because it’s been left to grow and do its thing. But whatever you can tell about your soil is what goes here. So if you happen to know what sort of subsoil you’ve got whether it’s clay or chalk or something different goes in here and this can all help you to make judgments to what type of plants you wish to plant or what type of fertility you have in the area. It’s certainly a good idea to make any notes that you’re already aware of as you go through in all these cases.


The next section was sunlight and what I did is I drew a very rudimentary picture sketch of the area and I labelled where north was. Because a large portion of the area I was looking at was trees, it allowed me to judge where exactly was getting the sun. So I drew a very rudimentary sketch with where the trees were and the pond in the area that I’d partially created and then I just labelled different areas as the full sun to partial shade.

Wind Exposure

The next heading title was wind exposure and for this particular area, my notes were fairly exposed to the northeast. So wind exposure can make a difference for lots of reasons, especially if you’re going to be growing annual plants or things that might need to be supported. Whenever you’re planning long-term planting, it’s really important to consider how the wind and sun work because they’ll be certain areas that lend themselves to different plants. Some plants may need support by way of the trellis. If you’re going to implement things like this and that’s going to have an impact on what areas subsequently gets shaded. So it’s certainly worth looking at the wind exposure and the sun area together in my opinion.

Existing Plants

The next heading on my list was existing plants. This should be whatever’s in the area regardless of whether it’s stuff you’ve planted yourself, whether it’s stuff you’ve inherited or weeds. Whatever it is, put all the existing plants down there and this whole system what we’re doing is based on permaculture principles. So what we’re going to do is work in harmony with what’s already happening in the space. That doesn’t mean that we have to have our entire garden running rampant with weeds, but knowing what grows where and what is growing well already will help us to make the sort of changes that require a lot less effort to install but also maintain. Under this heading for this particular area in my garden, I had a large selection of native trees, comfrey around the ponds, various introduced edibles and that was introduced by myself and red clover, buttercups, couch grass etc. The area that I had was largely inherited and I had begun the process of creating a food forest in some of it. The best time to do this is before you start planting an area and I may have changed the exact location of where I planted a lot of my long-term planting in this area had I done this activity first.

Encouraging Systems

The next heading in my list is systems to encourage. So I looked around and saw in front of me and to the north a fence that separated our property from our neighbours. I put here edible climbers to the north fence because that was an obvious area that got lots of suns and that it would be really easy to introduce more edible climbers because we already had some blackberries growing there. It was a great place where we could look at something that was already working as a system and encourage that and add to it by introducing more edible climbers of different varieties.

Something else that was a system working and wanted to encourage was self mulching and leaf litter. This is how the wooded area was working and how it works in every woodland is that the leaves fall and act as a mulch to suppress some of the weeds. That’s why when you walk in a woodland quite often, there’s not much growing beneath a lot of the trees. So I wanted to use that system to self mulch around the base of the fruit trees that I was planting. Another system that I could encourage was due to the nature of the pond that was in the process of
being built. There were duck pest control and manure. Ducks are fantastic for eating your slugs and things like that.

My vegetable garden is just around the corner from this area. So if I were to free-range Indian runner ducks, they could act as pest control for my vegetable garden and some of the area in general. The final thing. I put here was aquaculture, the idea of having the pond system as a way of growing food. So those are the systems that I want to encourage from what I could see on this day. You might have different things growing in your area. You might have a chicken coop in your area. You might have all sorts of things that I didn’t have in this particular area, but there are all sorts of opportunities here for things that you can encourage and we’re trying to look at what’s already working and thinking what can we do rather than cutting and chopping things out or in.

Discouraging Systems

The next thing on my list was systems to discourage. I had a predator and pest Ingress to the property at the northeast boundaries, wasted water overflow from the pond and squirrels stripping nuts from trees. We also could see animal runs so I could see where foxes, badgers were getting in through our fences. We also have lots of rabbits that come in and I don’t necessarily want to stop the rabbits coming in but I do want to stop them from eating certain plants. This area of our property is at the highest point, not on a hill, but it does have a very slight run from the northeast corner to the southwest and this where I had my ponds and wasted water overflow. What I meant by that is water was overflowing from my pond and I thought if I could divert that water towards my vegetable bed, that would be a far better use of it. Because if that water is going to be quite high in nutrients eventually because I’m going to have fish and ducks living in the pond. So I wanted those nutrients to make their way somewhere useful not somewhere I didn’t need them.


The next thing on my list is wildlife. If I was to do this again, I’d put this one higher up because it could influence some things that I’ve already spoken about. But here I wrote squirrels, evidence of rabbit, dear seen in the neighbouring pasture. buzzards, magpies, crows, dragonflies, and miscellaneous water creatures in the pond. This includes things that I saw while I was sat there so this will vary dramatically from area to area in your garden. We don’t see any of these mammals near the house when we get very close to our house. We don’t see any of them because we have a dog running free most of the time outside. It is worth taking the time to allow nature to return to this area and seeing what you see while you’re there.


The next category we’re talking about is some of the bigger infrastructure things and its resources. By resources, this can mean anything man-made or natural. So here I’ve got some ponds, compost loo because we had a compost loo that I built in the woods and woodland partial fencing shade and ducks. So these are all resources in the area that I can use that we should try not to waste.

We’re going to run through them one by one again. Well, a lot of this area was the sun so that’s not a resource that I want to waste. Anything that’s in full sun. I want to be used to photosynthesize, to produce plants, to produce food to feed the soil. The next one was the ponds. You can use them to grow food by way of plants or fish and you can use them to house ducks. You can also use them to produce fertilizer, which is several of the things. I’m doing a great use of a pond. If you don’t really have a use in mind, just grow duckweed as feed for ducks and geese. The next resource was a compost loo. The reason this is Is a great resource because it produces fertilizer, but also it means that it’s an easier to use area. We can spend more time in the area without having to go away back to the house. Woodland is a great resource for coppicing for timber but also for harbouring nature partial fencing. So again, we’ve got some fencing ready in place to act as support for climbers. We’ve also got shade so I spent quite a lot of time researching things that would grow in the shade around my woodland as part of my food forest.

Problems Encountered

The next thing was the problems. I only had two here: pests and soil drainage. We’re on clay so when it rained for prolonged periods, it would get very wet in some areas. I found out that in that area with it being the highest point on our property doesn’t have an issue with drainage. So the only thing I had to think about was pests and we’ve dealt with that largely by building tree guards and many tree farms around most of our planting.

SWOT Analysis

The next thing is a list of four things: strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This was basically condensing those thoughts into ultimately opportunities things that we could go forwards with. Under strengths, I put peace. It was a very peaceful place very quiet fertility.
The soil hadn’t been touched and it was a very fertile area and nice sun and shade mix. For weaknesses, I put pests and predators and then we get to opportunities and threats. So for opportunities, we could create strong gilts. There was lots of space that we could create nice strong plant gilts around individual trees in the food forest and other opportunities are edible pond permaculture. So the two biggest things I wanted to go forward with was developing the pond area and developing the food forest. Under threats. I’ve put waterlogging and fox/badger damage. Both of them were mitigated for us. It just didn’t waterlog. We’ve been able to put barriers in place to stop the fox and the badger getting to the plants and in our garden where we don’t want them.

Desirable Goals

The last heading was just desirable goals and here is just a list of things that I wanted to achieve. In this example, I’d written continued introduction of edible plants, create a safe duck habitat, create edible pond permaculture, planting of Edibles between ponds, a water pump and solar power pump. Introducing irrigation wasn’t a problem because the area drains okay and finally protecting some crops from wildlife. So I’ve achieved that goal. We’ve created a safe duck habitat. However, the pond development is still on my to-do list, but we haven’t been able to move forward with it very much because I’ve just got sidetracked with other things like the planting of edibles between the ponds and the water pump. Then finally protect some crops from wildlife and I’ve been able to do that. It really did make a difference and made it so much easier for me to think clearly about this space.

Final Thoughts

One of the biggest benefits of doing something like this is it’s going to reduce the chances that you end up doing something and then wish you’d done something different. So it is something that’s really practical and I strongly recommend you do it. Even if you’re only doing it for the practical benefits, peaceful mental health activity is just a side benefit for me. But I hope you found that interesting and I hope that you go ahead and you do at least one of these in your garden. So if you are thinking of doing what I’m just going to run through the headings once more just as bullet points. When I say resources, these can be anything from water access so water butt would certainly be a resource as would standing water pipe. Resources can really be anything. It could be closed access to the tool shed. So don’t undersell your space when you’re going through this list and I look forward to hearing how you got on with it. I hope that you’ll enjoy doing the process.

21: Episode 21 – No Dig Gardening

Ever wondered if you could grow vegetables without the backbreaking job of turning soil or digging up potatoes? Well you can, and in this episode we discuss how.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


No-Dig Gardening

If you’ve ever grown your own potatoes, chances are you have dug them into the ground
and over time you’ve mounded up over the potatoes with a lot of soil as they grow. Then when they’re ready, you’ve put off the inevitably back-breaking job of digging them up and in doing so you’ve probably stuck a fork through several and wished there was another way. Well, what if I told you there was?

Today we’re going to talk about no-dig gardening. Now, no-dig gardening is a term used frequently to describe a way of growing annual vegetables without digging up your soil. There’s no working of the soil with a fork, or tilling, there’s no digging things up in the manner that you might usually. All of the growing and planting we do is done right in the very top of the soil. So, it’s either literally at soil level or even in compost above what you would normally consider to be the ground that you’re going to grow your vegetables in.

There’s a community online that’s grown up around this and it’s been made famous by, among other people, someone called Charles Dowding who is a leading proponent of his no-dig gardening method and he’s very easy to find online. However, I didn’t actually come across him
or his way of doing things; I sort of stumbled across it on my own through just experimenting with different things. So, I’m going to tell you how I do it and why I do it and how I decided to try different things. If you want to know more, you can find lots of articles online relating to how to use no-dig gardening in different ways and for different crops.

The Benefits of No-Dig Gardening

The first thing I want to do is explain why we no-dig garden, what the benefits are, what the thinking was, and then we’re going to talk a little bit about how those benefits work and how we actually do the process. So, why should you no-dig garden? Well, the obvious starting point is the amount of effort involved. It’s far less back-breaking work. No one that I know actually enjoys tilling soil, especially by hand and everything I do is by hand – we don’t have a tractor or machinery. All the forking that we did to originally establish our beds would all have to be done by hand. Anything I could do to reduce that was certainly a benefit.

The thing that actually pushed me over the edge and made me think, “Right, we have to do this,” was when I was digging up potatoes and I actually started to experience quite a lot of pain in my back, despite the fact that I consider myself to be physically fit. It was such an arduous task; I just thought there has to be a better way. So, I started trying out a few different options and it turns out that I’ve actually had great success, and yields can be increased. All the things that you worried about when you initially think of the idea of a no-dig gardening plot, all those things actually aren’t a problem and some of them turn into benefits. So, things like yields can actually go up. Pest control is actually sometimes simpler or a lot of the time simpler, and there are a lot of diseases that seem to be much less prevalent with a no-dig gardening system. That’s the main reason that I got into it and once you start thinking about it, there’s a lot of side benefits to it as well.

If you are not using the method of loosening up all your soil to allow that growing medium for your plants to grow in, then also you don’t have to worry about soil compaction. You don’t need to worry about keeping off your beds and walking in very strict lines up paths, because compaction isn’t really an issue. You’ll find that most plants that grow are quite happy growing in compacted soil in a no-dig soil. Now, of course, we add lots of organic matter to our soil over time – all gardeners that really are trying to get decent yields and do things the right way will be doing that anyway, so this is going to create that soil environment within which plants are really going to thrive in, without you having to loosen the soil.

There’s no back-breaking work, there’s no need to avoid compaction, and there’s no disturbance of the mycorrhizal fungi and the soil food web beneath the top layer of the soil. For me, that is the most important part.

Permaculture Principles

Along with my thinking of trying to reduce the amount of physical labor involved, I was also doing a lot of work in other areas of the garden with a lot of permaculture principles. Now, if you’re not familiar with permaculture, we’re going to do a much more in-depth article on permaculture in the next coming days, but the basic principle is what you’re trying to do is create systems that look after themselves. You’re always trying to reduce the number of inputs, be that labor, be that things you need to buy in, or things you need to add to a unit of space, be it feed for animals, you’re trying to reduce them while maintaining your outputs and have everything just working together in a symbiotic relationship, so that it just carries on. In a permaculture system, you would create a guild of plants that all work together really well and help each other, and you don’t need to weed and do all those kinds of things.

The Soil Food Web

Through learning about permaculture, I became familiar with the soil food web. Now, the soil food web is everything that’s happening just below the soil and it’s a fascinating subject in and of itself. Just below the top layer of soil, you’ve got fungi, bacteria, protozoa, and nematodes, and all sorts of other organisms that are all working in symbiosis with the plants that you’re growing.

They support the plants, which in turn supports themselves. So, the plants support the soil food web by photosynthesizing and in doing so, some of the sugars that are created through photosynthesis are deposited into the soil. That’s what the mycorrhizal fungi distribute and all the organisms in the soil food web need, and in return they raise things like nitrogen levels and help to feed the plants. Mycorrhizal fungi on their own are a fascinating subject. Some types – there’s lots of different types types of fungi obviously – but some types actually form a symbiotic relationship with plant roots and they literally penetrate the plant roots with their mycorrhizals and they will communicate with the plants in such a way that they can take excess nutrients from different plants and different spaces within the ground and deliver them to the plants that need them.

It really is a fascinating area and every time you till your soil and you turn it up, you disturb that environment. Just by forking over an area of ground that’s not been worked for a long time, you can do so much damage to that ecosystem. That’s why on a lot of monoculture farms the system is completely different, and they need to add fertilizers and commercial products at such a high rate because they are tilling the ground, they are spraying the ground with pesticides and they’re doing everything to basically inhibit this culture below the ground.

By not disturbing this ecosystem and allowing it to do the job it wants to do, which is to support your plants and have your plants support them, it’s already doing so much good and that more than makes up for any good you’re going to do by tilling the ground and disturbing it.

Creating a No-Dig Gardening Bed

Those are the reasons why I started looking at different ways of growing without disturbing the ground and ultimately came to no-dig gardening. I’m going to start talking about how you actually go about no-dig gardening, how you can turn an area of lawn into a vegetable bed without putting a fork in the ground.

To create a no-dig gardening bed, you take any piece of land and usually it would be something that’s got grass on it, but it might be a vegetable plot that you’ve already had. If you have grass or something there that you don’t want, then the first thing to put down is some kind of barrier that’s going to stop that grass growing up through your mulch. What we use is feed sacks; we buy animal feed that comes in paper sacks, but the paper is quite thick, so we cut those in half and lay them out and then we put on top of that some mulch. I have seen online lots and lots of people recommend using cardboard. So, that’s another method you could use and it’s really easy to get hold of cardboard. If you don’t have any lying around, it’s quite easy to find businesses that have lots and lots of boxes that you can take home to make your new bed.

One of the benefits of doing it this way is it’s going to biodegrade and it’s going to keep your weeds down without installing a weed-proof membrane, which doesn’t make any sense for what we’re trying to do. What we want is it to break down over a season or so. The best time to do this would be in the autumn, before you’re planting the following spring, but you can do it anytime. The reason autumn is the best time to do it is because that allows the cardboard to degrade to a point that you can plant above it and your roots are going to have no trouble getting down through it, but it’s had time to inhibit that weed growth. If you do it later, and you can do it today and plant tomorrow, just be aware if you’re planting that you’re going to want to create pockets where your new vegetables can get their roots down through that membrane, whatever it is that you’ve used.
Once you’ve done that, you then put a nice thick layer of mulch on top. When you’re thinking of planting, you’re going to want to be using compost as that mulch. But if you’re doing this in the autumn, or you’re doing it over a large bed and you’re not planting all of it straight away, which is how I tend to work, then we use woodchip, but you can use any mulch, any kind of loose organic matter that is going to break down and feed your soil. If you’ve used woodchip or straw or some kind of mulch that isn’t compost, then you have to effectively think about that as going to be next year’s compost. So, we’re always a year ahead.

When you’re ready to plant, you just pull aside a row wherever you’re ready to plant and you put your compost in that row. Effectively, what you’ll have is your soil and then you’ll have your cardboard or paper which has degraded, and then above that you’ll have four or five inches of mulch, and if that mulch is not compost you will have just pulled aside some of that and you’ll have filled that hole with compost. So, effectively what you’re planting into is four or five inches of compost and this is all above your actual ground level. Whatever you’re planting, you plant into there and it will quite happily get its roots down into the soil which hasn’t been disturbed, so it already has all the benefits of having the food web working for it, ready to go, just waiting for your plant to deliver its end of the bargain. You’re going to find that you get at least as good yields as you do in any uncompacted, loosened soil without hardly any of the work.

<2>Harvesting Time

Once you’ve done that, when it comes to harvesting it gets even better, because most of your root vegetables are going to be in that nice loose top layer. You’re not going to have to dig down through to get hold of them, even for things like potatoes. We mound up our potatoes using just mulch. Again, it can be anything, because the part of the plant that is seeking the nutrients in the soil is either going to be in that small layer of compost or down below in the original soil. That’s where it’s drawing all of its nutrients, but the bit that it’s delivering to you is going to be in that easy to get hold of section in the loose upper layer of compost or mulch. So, when it comes to harvesting your potatoes, nine times out of ten you can literally just pull the plant out and most of the potato will just come up with it without any effort whatsoever, and certainly without any digging.

This works for all plants, but the reason I keep referring to potatoes is because potatoes are where you feel that benefit the most, I think, insofar as harvesting. I got so put off harvesting potatoes when I experienced the back pain that I spoke about in the start of the article, that it made me consider not planting them again if I couldn’t come up with a different way.

Once you have an understanding of the soil food web and how it works, to me, it just doesn’t make sense to garden any other way. We only use no-dig gardening now for all of our vegetables and it’s not a case of it’s a garden hack and it can save you time by cutting these corners – it’s quite the opposite. It’s just the best way of doing it for your plants. So, the corners that it cuts are just a side effect of, I believe, giving your plants an even better growing environment.

Increased Yields and Decreased Crop Rotation

Now, there’s lots of evidence online that suggests that your yields will actually increase. Now personally, we don’t have the data and evidence to tell you that ourselves. Yields can go up and down over years and we don’t control that; we don’t have an area that we no-dig and an area that we dig so that we compare the difference. But online, there are lots of people who have done that and they will tell you that their no-dig gardening yields actually increase year on year against standard methods.

Also, there is less requirement for crop rotation and pest control measures and things like that. I believe on Charles Dowding’s site, he controls for no-dig versus dig gardening over five or six seasons. It’ll show you that his potato yields have gone up, but also that he’s not rotating his crop for several years and not having issues with blight and things like that, which you would normally associate with growing potatoes in the same place over two or more seasons.

There’s lots and lots of ancillary advantages beyond the actual main advantage of growing your crops in a fashion that’s a lot less work and does the right thing by them. It encourages your soil health and encourages your vegetable health, without you having to do nearly as much work as doing it the other way. Hopefully that’s all food for thought and you find that interesting and if you’re not already doing it, then I hope you think about doing it in the future. I’m certainly a massive proponent of it.

20: Episode 20 – sourcing seeds

Where to source seeds? There are more options than you might think.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Sourcing Seeds

Today we’re going to talk about seeds and where you should be looking to source your seeds for your vegetable garden. There’s lots of options available to you and some of them are obvious and some of them perhaps not so much. We’re going to run through them in order of what people are probably already doing.

The Six Best Ways to Source Seeds


We’re going to start with online. I imagine that’s where a lot of people buy their seeds and there’s pros and cons of ordering your seeds online. The first thing is that you’re ordering from a global community, so it’s very easy to buy any variety you wish. That has ups and downs, because it’s not necessarily the case that the seeds are going to be suited to your climate and it’s also far easier to buy seeds from somewhere that perhaps doesn’t have the highest standards. I’ve found that when you buy seeds online, you have a slightly lower germination rate and things like that. So, that’s something that’s worth bearing in mind.

Garden Centers

The next option down the list, insofar as how readily people tend to do it, would be garden centers and shops that sell seeds. Garden centers are great because they also have quite a wide availability. The only downside at the moment with garden centers is, depending on where you live, you may not actually have access to them with the current pandemic. I know that where we are, you’re literally not allowed to open up if you’re a garden center. You might be able to do online purchases from local garden centers where you can go and collect them, but it’s certainly a restriction at the moment.

One huge advantage though of garden centers, when they are open, is that they’re far more likely to be selling the sort of seeds that are produced in such a way that they’re going to be suitable for your environment, for your climate. Another advantage is that, generally speaking, there will be a member of staff there that you can speak to and get a little bit of advice from.

Seed Banks

The third way of procuring seeds, and this is one that perhaps more people are unaware of, are seed banks. There’s lots and lots of different types of seed bank setups and different areas will have different availability, but it’s certainly worth doing a search and finding what seed banks are available in your local area. Seed banks are a great place to communicate with other people who are doing something similar to you and to get advice on what type of seeds to get, but the reason I love seed banks is the ethos of community and they can quite frequently actually be a way of getting free seeds.

Generally speaking, how a seed bank works, or at least the seed banks I’m familiar with, is there’s a communal pool of seeds and you go along and you take whatever seeds you want. They’re also referred to a seed libraries in some cases and I’ll explain why here, because effectively what you do is you borrow some seeds, so you withdraw a packet of seeds from the seed library and then at the end of the season you return the seeds in the form of seeds that you’ve saved from your plants.

This is a fantastic, sustainable way of growing, because it perpetuates the seed varieties – there’s no actual outlay; the only outlay is in your time. It also encourages community and it encourages you to perhaps go slightly outside your comfort zone with saving the seeds, and it helps you to learn some more skills. And of course everybody that’s going there is in the same boat. They may be slightly further up the stream than you insofar as experience, but they all are doing the same as you are. So, not only is it a great way to initially get your first lot of vegetables growing at no cost, but it’s also a great way of upskilling, because everybody there is going to have the knowledge and be more than willing to help you learn how to do your seed saving.

Saving Your Own

So, my fourth way of procuring seeds is saving your own. Now, the whole ethos of self-sufficiency is one around perpetual systems that keep themselves going and don’t require inputs, and there’s nothing more perpetual than the system of growing your own plants, saving your own seeds and then growing your own plants the following year from the seeds you’ve already saved. It’s the best way of keeping your own seeds. Not only does it guarantee that you’re going to have varieties you’re familiar with that grow in your area, but it’s also going to allow you to select the best plants for the saving of those seeds.

Something to be aware of when you’re saving seeds is how different plants germinate. Different plants will germinate in different ways that can hybridize across species. One of the things to be aware of, for example with tomato plants, if you’re growing four or five different types of tomato plants in the same space, then the seeds you’re saving from those tomatoes are very likely going to be a genetic mix of those plants, and this can happen across species and different plants are differently susceptible to this. Some plants are very rigid and will only pollinate amongst themselves, others will cross pollinate. It is something that you should do your own research in into the different varieties you want to grow, but it shouldn’t put you off the idea of saving seeds

Things like beans and peas are the easiest seeds to save because they literally do all the work for you. All you need to do is leave a few of the beans or pea pods on the plant, let them dry just as mother nature intended, and then harvest them later than you’re harvesting the ones you’re going to eat, and they’re ready to be sown the following year. Keep them nice and dry, and in a cool place out of light and they’ll just sit there quite happily ready to go the following year.

Local Gardening Community

The next place to source seeds, and this is another favorite, is to ask your local gardening community, that can be your neighbors, it could be your family members. But anyone who’s growing their own plants and has done so for some time is probably saving at least some of their seeds, and in most cases they would be delighted to share some with someone else.
So, it’s a great way again of connecting that community and getting hold of free seeds.

I certainly recommend you start reaching out and trying to start those connections if you haven’t already, because especially now there’s so many people out there that are keen gardeners and they are struggling for these connections because everything’s changed. No one is operating in the way that we did six months ago. So, it’s a great time to try and forge these new connections, even though it might be difficult to do it with social distancing rules and what have you. Just pick up the phone, or speak over the garden fence.

Perennial Plants

The final option for where to source seeds is that you don’t have to source seeds for your perennial plants. If you introduce more and more perennial plants, then that’s less and less seeds that you will need to introduce every year. So, when I’m talking about perennial plants,
I’m thinking of things like asparagus, artichokes, all these things that can deliver fresh veg
for you every year, but you don’t need to actually be sourcing those seeds every year. Those are great things to have in your garden. Now, that doesn’t mean that you can’t save seeds from these plants to propagate more, of course you can, but it means that you’re not necessarily needing to sow those seeds every year.

Choosing What Seeds To Grow

Those are my quick thoughts running down where to source seeds. In the next section, I’m going to talk about the things that you need to be thinking about when you are actually choosing the seeds that you’re collecting.

So, once you know where you’re getting your seeds and you’re going to start choosing which seeds you’re going to purchase, the sort of things you need to think about are different varieties within species. You might want to think about early and late varieties so that you can extend your season. So, you can get some early varieties of something in the early end of the season, and then have a second crop of late varieties coming along after them.

The second thing is locality. Now, local is always better. It’s definitely something that’s worth looking at. A variety that is proven to grow well in your area is definitely worth far more of your attention than an unknown variety from somewhere else in the world that you’ve no idea how it’s going to actually adapt to your climate.

The next thing you might want to consider are seeds of plants that have been specifically bred for resistances to certain diseases or things that they might be susceptible to. There are lots of plants out there that are resistant to bolting and if you’re someone that thinks, “Well, when it comes to harvesting I might not have as much time as I would like to go and harvest as readily as might be perfect,” then you might want to go for an anti-bolting variety, so they’re going to stay harvestable for longer.

And the final thing I wanted to say is, and I’ve already touched on this several times about locality, it really is worth speaking to people who are having good success growing things in your area.

So, that wraps it up for this article. Hopefully you found something in there that’s thought-provoking, makes you think slightly differently, or you might have learned something new.

16: Episode 16 – Plant watering tips

It’s important to understand how to give our plants the best chance for survival. Understanding how the way we water effects them can be really important.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Plant Watering Tips

We’re going to be talking about some plant watering tips. Plant watering is something that sounds simple and ultimately it is once you understand what’s going on. Many people make very simple mistakes that are so easy to cure and it’s just a lack of understanding of what’s happening that leads to those mistakes. So we’re going to go through a few tips today.

How To Water Your Plants The Right Way

Seed Germination

The first thing I want to say about plant watering is you need to understand what’s going on with your actual plants and the stage your plants are at. When a plant is just a seed, it’s nothing but a load of stored information. It’s the genetic code of that plant waiting for the right environment. The right environment is usually moisture. As soon as you place that seed in your compost and introduce some water to it, it starts growing. At this point, it is literally just a package of information. It doesn’t have all the root system, stems, and all the ways of storing energy and water that it will have as a mature plant. As it grows bigger, it requires a different type of care. So as a plant grows, it’s going to send out some tiny little roots and a couple of little leaves. It’s pretty obvious what these things do. The roots are to take in the water and nutrients that it needs and the leaves are to photosynthesize.

Keep The Soil Moist

Once you’ve got your plant germinated, it’s really important not to let it dry out. It’s a tiny little thing and it doesn’t have much water in it. Those little leaves have got hardly any water in and the second that you ask the plant to look after itself with regards to fluids, it’s going to fail. So you need to keep that soil moist. Once it dries out, that is when your plant starts to germinate.

The first tip is to keep the soil moist, not wet, when your seed is just starting out. You don’t want to rot your seed. By keeping the soil wet as opposed to moist, what can happen is that your seed can actually start getting mouldy and rotting. So if you look at the soil, pick it up and squeeze it, could you imagine ringing it out? If you can, then it’s probably too wet. But if you touch it with your finger and it feels a little dry like dust, then it’s definitely too dry. So it’s a bit of a balancing act when you first start it out and you might want to water your plants a little bit less and more often particularly if you’re keeping them in a greenhouse or somewhere like that.

How Plants Get Nutrients

The next thing to think about is that plants don’t eat the nutrients in the soil. They drink it. They can only access the nutrients in the soil if there is some moisture. This is more critical with your seeds and seedlings. If you go out into your lawn and you poke your finger down into the soil, it doesn’t matter if it hasn’t rained for three days, the soil is still damp and that’s because of the bulk of it. It’s very different from a little seedling in a pot. So if the soil is not moist, then your plant literally cannot drink and it cannot take what it needs from the soil.

Mulching Your Soil

One way to help your vegetable bed to keep moist once you’ve planted your seedlings is to mulch it. Mulch is especially important for young plants for all those reasons we’ve just talked about. It keeps your soil moist if you’ve got a couple of inches of mulch on top of the surface of your soil. This is really important regardless of your soil type particularly if you’ve got soil that is going to dry out very quickly. If you keep that mulch there, then everything underneath it is going to be nice and moist and a perfect environment for your plants to grow.

Best Time To Water Your Plants

Some people make a mistake and that is when signs of overwatering look like under-watering. Plants can wilt through over-watering just like they can through under-watering. So don’t necessarily assume that if your plants are wilting and look thirsty, that’s necessarily a sign that you’re under-watering. Just have a look at the soil and then make your decision.

The next tip is to water in the morning. When your seedlings are young or in very hot weather, you might find you need to water more than once a day. But if you are watering just once a day, try and do it in the morning if you can. The reason for this is because the plants have got the water when they need it most. They’re doing most of their work during the day when they’re photosynthesizing. It’s when they’re doing most of their growing. So if you can water in the morning, then your plants have got what they need and when they need it. By watering them, you’re not only giving the plants the water they need but also allowing access to the nutrients in the compost of the soil because they can’t eat, they only drink.

Consistent Watering

When it comes to vegetables in particular consistency is really important. So you don’t want to have a situation where you are absolutely deluging your plants with water one day and then not watering for three days. Lots of plants will really struggle with this like cucumbers, tomatoes and hungry plants of that sort. They need that consistent watering. They will just fail to set through otherwise. All the fruit they set will be very poor. If you suddenly increase or decrease the amount of water for carrots, they can split the roots. So it is quite important to be consistent where you can. You can do this with any method you please but do try and consistently water your plants. We use a little drip-feed in our polytunnel. That’s the method we choose so that they’re constantly getting that low-level watering.

How Do Plant’s Root System Work

The next thing is to understand how your plant’s roots work. If you’re giving your plants a very light sprinkling of water a couple of times a day, that water is going to sit near the surface and that’s where your plant’s roots are going to be encouraged to grow. If you think long term if all your plant’s roots are sat up near the surface, they’re not going to have access to that constant moisture that’s available deeper down in the soil. Particularly with tomato plants, once they’re planted in the ground, make sure that you water them deeply and that means give them a really good soak so that the water gets down deep into the ground if the weather is dry. This will encourage your roots to go down to that same depth and that same depth is where the water is going to keep that soil moist for longer.

This is going to do two things: It’s going to allow them to be more healthy and able to look after themselves when there isn’t as much water available on the surface and it’s also going to take the pressure off you to have to water them every day once they get established because their roots are going to be in the right place to look after themselves. A very shallow root layer is going to struggle because it’s only going to have access to the water when you put it there whereas the deep root layer is going to be able to look after itself in the long term.

Final Thoughts

One of the last things I wanted to mention is not to water your plants with a big spray hose all over their leaves in really hot weather because this can scorch the leaves. So when it’s the middle of the day in the middle of summer, you want to make sure that you’re getting the water to the base of the plant and not over the leaves because you can actually damage the leaves that way and even kill it in really severe cases.

Finally, the last thing is to make sure that you’ve got a method of watering your seedlings that aren’t going to damage them. So if you’ve got a drip irrigation system, which you can set up yourself by just a piece of hosepipe and punched little holes in it that you can run around the base of the plants, then that’s great. But other than that if you’re going to use a hose system with one of those trigger guns, make sure you’ve got it set to mist or the finest setting you have. Even on mist, make sure you stand a fair distance away from your young seedlings because you will just blow them over flat with the power of that water because they’re very young plants
and they’re doing everything they can to get established and we don’t want to knock them back. So I hope you find all of my plant watering tips useful.

14: Episode 14 – planning a vegetable garden

What sort of things go in to planning a vegetable garden? Here I discuss things like wind exposure and crop rotation.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Planning a Vegetable Garden

Today, we’re going to talk about planning your vegetable garden. When it comes to planning my vegetable garden, it’s one of the jobs I actually really look forward to – I get quite excited. I personally do it on a Word document and plan it all out. I’ve basically drawn out a map of my vegetable garden that I printed out and I take with me, which I now keep in the polytunnel. You don’t have to go to that effort. It’s really as much or as little as you want it to be, but personally, I like to spend quite a lot of time planning what’s going where. I put quite a lot of different factors into my decisions. It doesn’t have to be as in-depth as I make it. I do it because I enjoy it, but there are quite a lot of factors to be considered if you do want to think about them. So I’m going to go through some of those.

Planning Around Your Soil Type

When it comes to planning your vegetable garden, particularly if it’s the first year and you currently don’t have a vegetable garden, then one of the things to think about is what sort of ground do you have? If you have a big garden, like we do here, then you might have more than one spot in which to choose. What sort of soil do you have? Have you got a loamy soil, or a sandy soil, or a clay soil?

These likely are going to be the same throughout your whole garden, but you might find that some areas are better than others, particularly if you’ve inherited a garden where one area was already worked, then you might find that area is more conducive to growing vegetables than a separate area. So, have a look at what sort of soil you have. If you have a choice of different areas, then you might opt to go for a loamy type of soil, if you’ve got that choice; most of us aren’t that lucky. Where we live, although we have quite a large area, it’s all clay.

So, if you have a loamy soil, what that means is that it looks almost like when you buy compost, it’s that lovely, black material that falls apart in your hands and it’s the sweet spot in the middle of the most common soil types. On one end of that common soil spectrum, you’d have your sandy soils, which do feel quite sandy and you can see that when you look at them. And on the other end, you have the clay soils, which clump together when you roll them in your hand. They each have different characteristics that you, as a grower, should be aware of. Sandy soil, as you might expect, drains quite fast, so you might find that you have to water it more frequently. But, you don’t get some of the issues that you do get with clay, because that fast draining soil is actually a benefit when you have quite a lot of rain and for a lot of plants that are going to enjoy having dryer feet. On the other end of the spectrum, you have clay, which is very clumpy and very hard to dig. The biggest issue with clay is that it will dry out quite quickly if you get prolonged dry periods. It’s going to dry and crack, and if you get very wet periods, it’s going to get very claggy and difficult to work.

Whatever type of ground you have, you’re going to want to at least consider using a mulch. The best way to increase the quality of almost any sort of soil is just to add organic matter, so compost. Hopefully you’re making your own compost that you can use, but you can also use well-rotted manure or the old bedding from your animals. All those things really increase the quality of your soil for growing.

Positioning Your Garden Bed

Once you’ve decided what sort of soil you have and where you’re going to put your vegetable bed, the next thing to consider is what position is it in? Is it going to get lots of sun? Is it a south-facing part of your garden? Is it a north-facing part of your garden? Is it particularly exposed to the wind? Whatever it is, with regards to how it’s exposed to the elements, then that might guide some of your other decisions about what you’re going to plant and maybe whereabouts on that plot you’re going to plant things.

There’s very little that can’t be grown, regardless of where in your garden your plot is, but you might change up the ratios slightly. So, if your plot doesn’t get a tremendous amount of sun, you might try to grow some more of the leafy green type vegetables and less of the nightshades, because those leafy greens are quite happy with partial shade, whereas the nightshades are really going to want as much sun as you can give them in most cases. Another thing, is it very very exposed to wind? Because if it is, you might need a windbreak. You could even use your pole beans as a windbreak. This is a great way of getting a dual purpose from your crop, which is something I’m very keen to do.

The final thing about positions is to think about the actual slope of the ground. You might have it undulating slightly and you’ll find that higher points obviously are going to dry out that little bit quicker than the lower points.

Knowing When to Start Planting

The last thing is, and this really is only if you have quite a large space, is it a frost pocket?
Is it quite exposed or is it fairly sheltered. Do you personally live in a frost pocket?
Do you live out in the country or are you in a town? Because this is going to affect your frost dates.

Which brings us on to the next thing to consider, which is when to plant. Again, this is predominantly going to be based on your climate. If you are in the UK or in America or anywhere else, you will have access to some kind of zoning system. Even though I’m not an American, I’m familiar with the USDA zoning system and I imagine most people are, that’s why I mention it. Here in the UK, we have our own, so familiarize yourself with that and work out what zone you’re in. That’s going to dictate to some degree when you should plant certain crops, but it’s also going to dictate which crops are going to do well where you are. That’s an important part of planning your garden.

Working Out What to Plant

The next step is to go through everything I went through in the “Which Plants” article, and that is to work out what your family wants to eat. What are you going to be able to grow? What do you want to grow? Get together your list of actual plants that you’re going to choose to put in your plot, bearing in mind all those other considerations that we’ve just spoken about.

The next thing is to plan your rotations, after you’ve gone through all those other steps. This is where it does start getting fun. What you’re faced with, if you’re doing it the way I do with a physical piece of paper, which I’m ultimately going to print out, but ultimately what you’re going to have is this blank canvas on one hand and a list of crops on the other hand. This is where you start getting to add the color to your color-by-numbers book – it’s the exciting bit. I try and plan my rotations quite simply. I’ve separated my vegetable plot into four equal sizes and I have my crop rotation working so that basically everything this year in bed number one will be planted next year in bed number two, then number three, then number four, and everything that was in bed number four for this year will go into bed number one. That’s how I have my rotation all planned out.

What you’ll find is there are lots of different types of plants and you’ll want to make your own categories that work for you. But for instance, legumes are a very certain type of plant.
I keep them all in their own bed because they have very specific nutritional effects on the soil.
After the legumes, this year I’ll be planting nutrition-hungry plants like sweet corn
and things like that in the same bed, because those legumes actually add the right type of nutrients for the sweet corn to follow on after. I’ll do an entire article on crop rotation in the next few days, but it’s something for you to look into and certainly I include it as part of my planning and I recommend you do the same.

How To Maximize Your Cropping

The next thing to think about, when you have a rough idea of what’s going where, then you want to start thinking about how you can maximize your cropping from the space you have by doing things such as double cropping. For instance, you might have some early peas that you’re going to put in and they’re going to be producing all through the early summer, up to the middle of summer and then they’re probably going to fall away, at which point they may well leave room for a second crop in that same place. These are all things that you can be planning at this stage. It’s worth taking a note.

You have everything written down on paper, where you think everything’s going to go, now look at the actual specific varieties that you have and work out, “Okay, so this is going to go through until late August; that’s going to leave me a gap for x” and then you can come up with what x might be. There are quite a lot of quick-growing plants that will give you a second crop.

The next thing to bear in mind is succession planting. In our first year here, we planted a beautiful big row of lettuce and, like an absolute idiot who didn’t think about anything, I planted them all on the same day. Of course, they were all ready at the same time and I’m talking probably 20 or 30 lettuce. Lettuce is one of the crops that you’re really going to struggle to preserve, so for all the crops like lettuce, you’re going to want to be succession planting. What that means is, if you think that your family might want two lettuce a week, then you might plant the lettuce in batches of six. Then you plant six lettuce every three weeks so that, as they come to fruition, you can crop them and then there’s a steady succession of lettuce for the foreseeable weeks and months as you go.

The Benefits of Crop Rotation

Those are the basics and a few not-so-basics of how I planned my original vegetable garden, what I’ve learned from that and how I plan it now every year. There’s lots and lots of information out there and, for me, it’s one of the funnest parts of the downtime that we get in the winter, is planning what’s going to go where next year, and I might decide I’m going to try out a few exciting, different varieties or unusual plants that I haven’t tried before

I just want to very quickly talk about why we rotate the crops and it’s basically for two reasons. The first is, as I’ve already mentioned, different crops have different effects on the nutritional values of the soil. Some crops are what we might call mining crops. They’ll mine minerals from very low down with taproots, very deep roots, and they might bring some of those minerals up to the surface and deposit them in the soil, which is great – we really want that to happen. I make sure that my crops are doing that, it might be comfrey or something of that nature.

The other reason is a buildup of pests. Over time, pests that like a certain crop will feast on your crop during the growing season and then throughout the winter. By planting the same crop there the next year, what you’re doing is you’re basically making sure they’ve got the perfect environment to come back to and expand their numbers. By rotating crops, you very much deal with a lot of those issues.

So, there you go. That’s my thoughts on how to plan a vegetable garden. I hope you’ve found it interesting.

12: Episode 12 – Superplants – Watercress

Watercress is a great plant for anyone to grow. Super easy to grow and propagate. You can also forage for it in the wild.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Superplants – Watercress

Today, we’re talking about one of my favorite plants. It’s a plant I’m very, very passionate about and that is watercress. It’s a plant that I love so much for so many different reasons.
It’s such a utility plant. It serves so many purposes. It’s so easy to propagate. It’s so easy to grow. It’s easy to harvest. You can find it in the wild. You can grow it yourself. It really is a fantastic plant.

Growing Your Own Watercress

The first thing I’m going to talk about is growing your own watercress. It is the easiest plant in the world to grow; you can grow from seed or you can grow it from any part of the plant itself. In nature, different plants have different characteristics. There are some plants that can only be propagated from their seeds. There are some plants that can be propagated from cuttings of a certain part of the plant, be that a stem or a root cutting. There are some plants that can be tip-layered. Some plants that can be divided. There are some plants that you can create new ones purely from a part of the leaf. Watercress is one of those plants that you can do all of those things with.

When I was talking about the different ways plants propagate, it’s to do with which part of the plant contains, effectively, the equivalent of stem cells. Within a raspberry plant, for example, the stems, if you tip layer them, contain all the genetic ingredients, all the coding, to create a new raspberry plant. Every part of that plant has all the coding it needs to create the roots and the stems, the leaves, and the fruit. With watercress, every single part of the plant has that information. So, you could literally take a piece of watercress that you bought in the supermarket and you could chop it up on a chopping board and every single piece is a potential new plant. That in itself for me is just an amazing thing and it’s one that we as self-sufficient gardeners can utilize.

But it gets better. It just gets better and better, because not only are every part of this plant viable to create a new plant with, but, in addition, it’s super easy to do. You don’t need to make a seedbed compost. You don’t need to expose it to rooting hormone or anything like that. The propagation process is literally as simple as throwing it in some water. You can literally take some Watercress from the supermarket, throw it in your pond or throw it in a water butt, and it will grow new plants from it. That’s just a gift we should all be utilizing. I strongly recommend that everybody has some growing in their water butts, and if you have a pond or any other areas, I strongly recommend you have some growing there too.

Guerilla Gardening

You can also do guerrilla gardening with it. You can introduce it to a pond or a stream near you. Please be aware of what that might do to the local ecology and infrastructure of the environment in that area. So, if you’re in an area where it’s not a native plant, then maybe you shouldn’t be doing that. But if it’s native to where you live, then you can take some from one part of a river and introduce it to just somewhere a bit closer to you, if that’s what fits. Once you have it growing, it’s as you might imagine, much of a “cut and come again” plant. You can just keep harvesting it and harvesting it and harvesting it. It’s a perennial, so it will stay there through the winter. You might not want to harvest it in the winter to give it every chance of surviving, but it all depends on how much you’ve grown.

The Uses of Watercress

It’s a great plant to grow yourself, because it’s so easy to do. Another reason it’s such a great plant is what it does in the kitchen. For me, it makes a great salad. I quite often have it as the only part of a salad. I’ll have a big bowl of watercress. Maybe I’ll throw some lemon juice in there. Maybe I’ll throw a little bit of olive oil in there and boom, that’s it – a great tasty salad. But also, you can cook it; if you blanch it, it becomes a cooked vegetable green. So, it’s a very versatile plant in the kitchen as well.

Foraging For Watercress

The final thing I have to say is that it’s also findable in the wild, as you’ve probably gathered by now. It’s something you can go foraging for and that’s another great tool in this plant’s arsenal, is that it can be cultivated domestically, commercially, but it can also grow in the wild. It’s a great thing to go foraging for I love foraging anyway, so the fact that I can forage for one of my favorite plants and maybe bring that home and introduce it to an enclosed, captive space at my house – wow, you know, what could be better.

There is something that is very important to be aware of though, if you are foraging for watercress, and I suppose also to be aware of even if you’re growing it on your own property depending on your property and your layout and where you are. There is a propensity within watercress for it to hold liver flukes; these are little parasites that live in sheep and can also live in humans and they can actually be quite harmful to you.

So, whenever you’re foraging for watercress, my advice is to only use that watercress for cooking. If you find it in the wild, only use it for cooking. If you have sheep on your property, like I do, and the water course that you’re taking them from is in any way downstream from that sheeps run, or in any way possibly connected to it, again only use it for cooking it. Not as much of an issue if you’re growing it and you have sheep, if you’re growing in a water butt or something like that, because there can’t really be any cross-contamination. If you’re in the wild though and you’re foraging, I strongly advise that you cook it, even if you can’t see any sheep, because there can be sheep upstream out of view. There could have been sheep right next to that little stream that you’re in, just three months ago, and they’re not there now. So, it’s always advisable, in my opinion, to take wild watercress and blanch it before you eat it.

Using a Multi-Pond System

We also use watercress in a multi-pond system. What our set up is, or will be when it’s complete, is we have three ponds. One of them is exclusively for watercress. So, in that pond, we just grow watercress. That pond feeds down into another pond, which is predominantly growing duckweed. And then that pond feeds up into the top pond, which grows a couple of edible plants around the outside of it, but is predominantly for growing fish that are
for the table. What happens is the fish excrement effectively is fertilizer for our watercress
and then our duckweed, and the duckweed and watercress both filter the water before it goes back to the fish, and the duckweed feeds the geese and the ducks. So, it works great in a multi-pond system like that.

Final Thoughts

That’s watercress. I strongly recommend you get some. It can be cultivated from seed and, again, that’s very easy to do. I bought a packet of seeds when I first started looking into it, before I realized how easy it was to propagate from the plant itself and they all came to fruition very easily. If, for whatever reason, you find it hard to get hold of fresh watercress, then maybe buying seeds is the way you go.

What I recommend you do, if you’re just starting out and you haven’t got any yet, is you just buy a bag from the supermarket. It’s not very often I’ll advocate buying a bag of food from the supermarket. Or better still, go and forage it. But if you can’t forage any and, for whatever reason, you can’t get hold of the seeds, go out and buy a bag of watercress and boom – that’s it; you’re set up. Turn half of it into an amazing salad and put the other half into a water butt or a bit of a pond or even a bucket of water outside, and that is starting your cycle of perpetual watercress production at home. What a great feeling that is.

11: Episode 11 – protecting seedlings from frost

Managing frost can be tricky at the start of the season. The longer you extend your planting season, the more you expose your plants to frost and the risk it presents. Even with the most risk averse attentions a late frost can catch you by surprise and decimate your crop before its even got a foothold. Here I talk about some cheap and free ways to protect your young plants from frost.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Protecting Seedlings From Frost

We're going to be talking about how you can protect your seedlings from frost. Everywhere has
a different last frost a day. You can find this online and this is the date that traditionally would be
the latest you could expect a frost. So the actual day of your last frost any given year is likely to
be earlier than your last frost date. That is the last date you could reasonably expect to get a
frost. From this day onwards, it's safe to assume you won't.
What that means is that on or around that date, you're ready to let your garden go on the
assumption that you're not going to have any frost. It still makes sense to keep half an eye on
the weather because the climate is changing all the time, but on the run-up to the last frost date,
the chances of you having a frost get lower and lower. So it's very tempting to get your plants
out a little bit before this date and when I say tempting for me personally, it's irresistible and I
don't even try to hold off for that date any longer, I simply go for it.
The downside of this is that you are exposing your seedlings to the risk of frost for a lot longer
and at a lot higher frequency. I've already planted out a fair number of seedlings that will need
to be protected from the frost because the frost will kill them. I'm going to go through a number
of different ways of protecting our plants from that frost and tell you how you can do the same.

How To Protect Your Seedlings From Frost

Greenhouse or Polytunnel

The first thing is a greenhouse or a polytunnel. If you’re growing your seedlings in pots or trays in a greenhouse or a polytunnel, then chances are they’re already protected from frost. That’s the first thing you need to remember because that’s doing the job. If you’ve got plants out in pots, even if you’re growing their seedlings in pots, you can always just bring them inside of the polytunnel or the greenhouse to protect them.

But if you’ve got them growing in the ground as I do, then you’re going to need to do one of a number of other things to protect them from the frost. You need to be aware of how deep that frost is going to be because if it’s only a light frost you only need to take very light measures but if it’s going to be a deep hard frost then you need to think a little bit more.

Hoop House

One of the favourite methods I have is a hooped run. It’s about six little wire hoops with clear plastic that runs over the top of them and I bought these from the one-pound shop two years ago and they’re doing really well. They’re still holding up fine. The reason I like using these is the cost. They’re just so cheap. For 10 pounds, you can get enough to cover a significant number of rows of plants. You set these up by pushing the edges of your loops in the ground either side of your row and then a piece of string at each end just pulls them tight.

The upside of these is that they’re semi-permanent so I can put them in when I plant and I cannot worry and it’s almost like those seedlings are growing in a greenhouse until I take them away. The downside can be if we’ve got really unseasonably hot weather and bright sunshine, then some of the plants that you might have growing under them can perhaps scorcher little because they’re quite delicate and so small. But that’s really an outlier for that to ever be an issue.
If you don’t have anything like that and you have to make do with what you have around you, then I’ve got three other methods that are super simple and I’d be stunned if you didn’t have at least one of these available to you.

Jam Jar

The first one is a jam jar or something similar. You take the lid off, turn it upside down and place one on top of each of your seedlings. Now if you’re mulched like I am, this can actually serve two purposes. If you’ve got tiny, little seedlings, then this is going to enable you to mark your rows a little bit easier because you’re going to be able to see where everything is in your mulch. They are working exactly the same as a greenhouse. So it’s not a bad idea. Even if you’re not going to get a frost, they’re going to help give your plants that extra boost.
One thing I do want you to be aware of though is that they’re going to recreate that greenhouse environment. So you’re going to have to go through the process of hardening off again if you’ve got nice warm weather and you’re leaving them in place. When you come to remove them, just do it gradually. First of all, just remove them during the day and then slowly remove them overnight when your plants get strong enough and you feel that they’re ready to be hardened off that way.

Plastic Bottles

The next one is plastic bottles. I like to use these for things like peas. I cut both ends off the plastic bottles like an orange squash bottle and I like to feed that down over the cane that I’m using for my peas to grow up. I do this regardless of the weather because it also serves a fantastic second purpose when you plant peas and beans. Quite often they’re going to be seen as food by some of your friendly garden pests and I’m talking about mice, pigeons or anything like that. They’re going to love to find a pee while they’re scratching around on your soil. These semi clashes if you like without a lid serve two purposes.

They protect the plant from frost that’s growing but also they protect it from the pests that want to dig it up and eat it for their tea. One thing you do need to be aware of is that if you’re going to get a super hard frost, you might want to place something over the top as well like some plastic or cling film because the bottles that I use, I’ve cut both ends off because I leave them in place once they’re in and the plant grows up out of them and up the cane. If you’re going to use that method, just be mindful that the top is open and therefore if you get a really hard frost then the element that’s inside that bottle is still going to be susceptible.

Straws and Grass Clippings

The last way of protecting your seedlings from frost is by using something like straws. Straw is a great insulator because you can kind of fluff it up a little bit and it creates loads and loads of lovely air pockets. It’s also super light so it’s not going to do too much damage to your seedlings by pushing them down.

I’ve used grass clippings as well but I tend to use that more when I actually plant when I’m trying to protect a seedling. I’m certainly going to use hay much more common than grass clippings because grass clippings are going to weigh down on the seedling and probably damage it whereas, with hay, you can fluff up and really protect it. I tend to use hay quite a lot on my potatoes as well for their first covering because it gives them the opportunity to carry on and grow up through it really quickly while at the same time keeping the sun off those first few.

Final Thoughts

These are all the ways I use to protect my seedlings from the frost. Keep an eye on the weather and be proactive. Take those steps because there’s nothing more disheartening than coming out and just seeing a lovely row of vegetables that were just coming on or wilting because they’ve been frostbitten. Take all precautionary measures. You’ll appreciate it and it will certainly pay you back.

10: Episode 10 – Planting seeds

How to plant seeds, either direct sowing or in seed starter trays. I use a no digging method in my vegetable bed.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Planting Seeds

Today, we’re going to be talking about seeds. It’s the time of year when we’re all busy planting seeds. The weather’s just turned; some of us have just enjoyed some lovely hot days
and the summer is definitely just around the corner. Winter, I think we can say, is behind us. I certainly am very, very busy planting seeds, transplanting seeds, some I’m direct sowing already, others I’m putting in pots in the polytunnel.

There’s no mystery to planting seeds. It really can be quite simple. So, I’m going to try and demystify it a little bit here today. The first thing I want everyone to remember is that plants want to grow. They absolutely are built to do a job and that is to grow into the finished plant. A lot of the time, what we really need to do is give them what they need and then get out of the way. We don’t need to be tinkering too much; we just need to make sure we don’t do anything wrong. The plant is already raring to go. We just need to make sure we don’t do anything wrong to spoil it.

Planting Undercover

So, there’s two types of planting: one would be planting undercover in a polytunnel
or under a cold frame or something similar, with a view to planting out once the seedlings are strong enough to be handled and transplanted into their final destination. And then there is direct sowing, where we put the seed where the plant is going to ultimately stay. I’m going to talk quickly about planting undercover first.

There are a lot of seeds you can’t plant when there’s going to be a frost; they will benefit from being planted in a greenhouse or under some kind of protective environment. Now, obviously the information is going to vary from seed to seed. You’ll be able to find that on your seed packet or if you do a bit of Googling about the specific plant you’re going to grow.

Using the Right Soil

If you have a plant that you’re going to start in a seed tray or a small pot and put in a polytunnel or on a windowsill, then the type of soil that you use is quite important. If you are going down the route of buying compost and soil, then make sure you buy a seed starting compost. But if you’re not, you can make your own potting mix, which isn’t particularly difficult and does make quite a lot of difference.

You want to make sure that there’s no weeds and bugs in it. One of the common mistakes people make is that they take soil from their garden, put it in a pot, plant something in it and then put it in the greenhouse. Well, some of the problems that can happen from this is that there’s not just going to be the seed from your seedling in there. There could be something in there from a nearby weed. There could be bugs in there that are currently dormant but are about to be woken up by the lovely, warm temperature in the greenhouse environment, and lots of things of that nature. It’s always best, if you can, to use a piece of soil that has been covered or somehow protected from these things, so that when you introduce it to your greenhouse, then it’s not going to suddenly come alive with things you don’t want in there.

I have heard of people who take the soil and they put it over boiling water to sterilize it. Personally, I think that’s a bit too much work. But, by all means, that may be the way to go if you feel that you’ve got it in you to go to that effort.

You also want something that’s going to be fairly well draining, so you can water the plant
and without it getting waterlogged, but also something that’s going to retain plenty of the moisture. We’re lucky and we tend to just use the compost that we’ve made from the season before and we mix a tiny bit of sand or something with it. But you can buy products, such as perlite, which are designed to hold the moisture in the soil, but not in the soil where your seeds are. The perlite are little white balls that act like mini sponges. They soak the water out of the soil when it’s waterlogged, but they also slowly release it back after it has dried out.

How Deep Should I Plant My Seeds?

Once you have your soil in your pot, you go ahead and plant your seeds. Now, the methods for this are going to vary greatly from seed to seed. A general rule of thumb is that the bigger the seed, the deeper you plant it. So, a tiny little seed, such as that of a carrot, you’re going to plant under just the tiniest bit of compost, whereas a much bigger seed, such as a bean, you’re going to really push down in there with your finger. That’s one rule of thumb.

Monitoring Moisture Levels

Another thing to be aware of is that, once you’ve planted your seedlings, you’re going to need to monitor that moisture level, particularly if you have warm days and you have the pot in your polytunnel or greenhouse, as they’re going to dry out fairly quickly. Through the last week or so, we’ve had some really warm weather where we are and I’ve been watering my seedlings at least twice every single day. There are ways around that – you can place your pots in something that’s going to hold some water. Personally, I just make sure I’m out there checking them, because I’m in the garden anyway.

Knowing When to Transplant Your Seeds

Once you have your seeds planted in your pots and they’re in your greenhouse or other environment where you’re going to bring them on, could be on a windowsill, then really all you need to do is keep out of the way. You make sure that they’ve got the water they need and other than that, you trust that they’re going to do the right thing.

Now, you’re never going to get a hundred percent germination rate, so don’t be upset when you don’t, because no one does. Some of these seeds are not viable; they simply are not viable in nature. So, there’s no way you could make them grow, regardless of how perfect you made the conditions for them.

Once they’re big enough to transplant and when they’re looking sturdy enough that you’re fairly confident you can pick them up, take them out from where they are, and plant them somewhere else, then that’s the time to consider doing so. Now, there are lots of plants that will need to be protected from the frost, so you don’t really want to plant them out until the risk of frost is gone. But even the best gardeners I know – and I certainly I don’t include myself as one of the best gardeners I know, but I do include myself as someone who does plant their seedlings out a bit early – even I don’t like to wait until every single risk of frost has gone, because our last frost can be in May. I like to get things out in the garden before then, because otherwise I feel as though I just lose so much produce by not using that extra time.

So, if you’re like me and you’re going to put your seedlings out before the risk of frost has passed, then you’re going to just make sure you monitor the weather and be prepared to protect them from frost if a frost comes. I’m going to go into some ways of doing that in our next blog post.

Direct Sowing

If you’re going to sow something out directly, then, again, it’s based on the type of seed
and the information will be on the seed packet as to whether and when you sow it directly. But some things you really have to sow directly. For instance, with carrots, the whole thing you’re growing is the tuber, or the root. So, anything with a strong taproot like that, you’re going to want to plant in its final destination. Just bear that in mind.

What I tend to do is I just part the mulch, because all of our vegetable beds are covered all year round in a thick layer of mulch. I part the mulch and I tend to just place my seeds on the soil and then cover them in a tiny bit of compost and then recover with the mulch, but maybe not quite so deep. I do very little digging. I tend to plant everything in the mulch or just at the bottom layer of the mulch, down through the mulch. It saves a lot of back-breaking digging. But also, it actually does your soil really good, because there are a tremendous number of organisms, including the mycelial web, which is the fungi underneath the soil, that actually work like a distribution network amongst all your plants and they will make sure that all your plants get what they need. Every time you dig the soil, you disturb this and it has to start from scratch again.

You’ll find that some people with more traditional methods of growing food, will always say you need to dig; you need to keep the soil dug over and loose. But the method I use is very much a “no dig” method and there’s lots of evidence to suggest that it’s at least as good, if not better than the more traditional vegetable growing methods.

Selecting the Final Position For Your Seeds

Once you have your seedlings in their final position, again, it’s all about getting out the way and letting them do their thing. When you’re choosing their final position, be mindful of that particular plant’s characteristics: some will like shade, some will like full sun, some will need to be protected from the elements such as wind, some will need canes. Just bear all that in mind and make sure that you don’t plant something such as tomatoes on the south side of a big stack of runner beans, because what’s going to happen is that the runner beans are going to catch all that sun and the tomatoes, which are just behind it in the shade, are going to really struggle. So, make sure you plan how and where you’re going to plant things before you actually go out and do it.

Why You Should Save Extra Seeds

There you go – that’s seed planting and the time really is now. Another thing to bear in mind is to plant more seeds than you need. Generally, speaking, they’re almost free and a lot of the seeds that you’re going to plant next year are going to be seeds you’ve saved. Make sure you’re saving extra seeds so you have enough to over-plant. When it comes to seeds, I do this for three reasons:

  1. Firstly, there’s going to be a natural element of unviable seeds, which for whatever reason aren’t going to germinate. So, you’re going to lose some that way.
  2. The second reason is that it means you get to pick the strongest plants, the best looking plants, that are most likely to go on and do well and to be the ones you’re going to place in your garden. They’ll be the ones you save your seeds for next year.
  3. The third one is that you’re able to then sell some seedlings and that generates a small amount of income, which goes back into the homestead. So, make sure you over-plant. Let the seed do its thing and I’m sure you’ll have great success.

Good luck being more self-sufficient this year than last. That’s always the plan, at least, it is mine.

8: Episode 8 – making free plants through tip layering

One of the key components of a self sufficient life is to have plants that reproduce without too much effort. Tip layering is a great method for propagating more berry plants to increase your production, but also make excess plants to sell if desired.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Making Free Plants Through Tip Layering

Today we're going to be talking about tip layering. Tip layering is a way of propagating plants,
particularly woody stem plants, and it's a great way to get free plants, to take one plant and turn
it into ten, a hundred, so on and so forth.

What is Tip Layering?

Tip layering is basically mimicking what happens in nature anyway. In nature, plants, such as blackberries and strawberries, propagate themselves by effectively reaching out with a branch or a stem, touching the ground, forming roots from that bit of the plant and then shooting off a new plant from there. So, you can do it with almost any woody stemmed plant, and the actual process is very, very simple. Every plant is slightly different insofar as which parts of the plant contain the genetic code for the entire plant.

Watercress is a great example of this. It’s one I use all the time. Every single part of a watercress plant, a bit of stem, even a tiny bit of leaf, contains all the genetic coding required to make a brand new plant. If you just tear a bit of a leaf off of a watercress plant and put it in a bowl of water, it will grow roots and eventually grow a whole new plant.

Within most Woody plants such as blackcurrants, red currants, blackberries, raspberries, cranberries, blueberries, all these kinds of things, the genetic code required is in all the stems, all the branches, and this is also true of a lot of trees – almost all trees.

Simple Steps to Follow

One thing that’s not quite so easy to do with trees though, that is quite simple to do with the plants I’m talking about today, is you can bend the stems down and pop them into the ground. So, if you’re doing it with a pot plant, you’d get a pot of whatever type of soil you want and next to the pot that the plants are growing in, you’d bend the stem over and you’d force it into the ground. That will eventually root and a new plant will come up from that set of roots, forming a whole new plant.

How you do it is really, really simple. So, you take the stem of your cranberry plant, for example, and some of this season’s growth towards the end of the stem at the tip, then you scratch off a bit of the bark with your thumb and you place that into the soil in your second pot, or just into the ground next to where it’s growing, and you force that to stay below the soil. Then, in addition, you have a small amount of that stem coming back out the other side, just a few inches. That’s literally all there is to it.

How I do it is by following those steps, and then I break off a twig in a sort of y-shape and I turn that upside down. I pin the y-shape either side of our stem to hold it under the soil, put a bit more soil on top, and it’s as simple as that. Then, if you come back in six months or whenever it might be, you will find that, if you dig that soil around, you’ll see that there are roots growing from the stem.

The Benefit of Tip Layering

There’s one super important advantage of doing it this way rather than taking cuttings. That’s because we’re utilizing all the same tricks as taking a cutting, but a big bonus of doing it this way is that you’re enabling the new plant – what would otherwise be your cutting – to remain attached to the mother plant and continue to draw nutrients from it while it’s establishing its own root system. That’s really important. So, the failure rate is much lower with tip layering.

How it Works

You’ll find in nature this happens anyway. This is how blackberries propagate; this is how strawberries propagate. If you watch a strawberry plant, you’ll see that it sends out runners all across the garden and it just pops itself into the soil, sorts out its own roots and builds a brand new plant for you. This is exactly the same as tip layering. Once you’ve done this and it’s established itself, you literally snip the original stem on the mother plant side of the new root and you’ve got yourself a brand-new plant.

A couple of things to think about when you’re doing this: this is not the same as sexual propagation when plants are pollinated by bees or whatever other insect. This is an asexual reproduction. What that means is you’re creating a genetic clone of the mother plant. So, it’s only worth doing this with your best plants. If you’re going to do it with your gooseberries, and you have five gooseberry bushes and you want five more, then take five tip-layered clones of the best plant you have. There’s no point doing it any other way.

There is a product called rooting hormone, which you can purchase and it is supposed to increase the chances and the rate of roots forming. Personally, I’ve never really had a great deal of success with it. What I mean by that is I’ve not seen it increase my success rate, so I don’t bother with it. I just do it without and the success rate on the right plants is nearly 100% without it. So I personally don’t see the need.

Making a Residual Income

If you have got yourself some berry plants or other currants and that kind of thing that you want more of, go ahead, get out there, tip layer them and get yourself some more plants. The time to do it is right now in the early spring, and then it’s got all summer to get itself set up, ready for next year. I personally like to leave it a year. So, I will do my tip layering now. I’ve actually done all the tip layering I’m doing this year and I won’t touch those plants now, or at least I won’t touch that portion of the plant now, until next spring. Next spring will be when I sever the original stem, which acts a bit like an umbilical cord throughout this process, and then I’m ready to transfer the new clone plants to their final home.

It’s a great way of increasing your stock of plants. If you don’t need to increase your stock of plants, it’s a great way of getting yourself a small residual income, because this is just one of the other things that you can sell, so that’s how we use this.

So, there you go. That’s all you need to know about tip layering. It really is as simple as that. Get out there. Give it a go. I hope you have fun.

5: Episode 5 – Edible Perrenials

The gift that keeps on giving! Plant once, harvest for a lifetime, edible perennials should form the backbone of every self sufficient food plan.

Send in a voice message: https://anchor.fm/self-sufficient-hub/message


Edible Perennials

Edible perennials are such an important part of self-sufficiency because it's a lot of work to grow
your own food and to raise your own food, and edible perennials form a part of that self-
sufficient food income, if you like, that over time requires less and less input. So it's the same
amount of work as planting your lettuce this year, to plant (for example) kale, but the difference
is that the kale won't need planting again next year. It's an edible perennial.
So we're going to run through a list of edible perennials. It's not exhaustive and I'm sure later
date, we will go into a lot more depth in some of these, but for now, I just wanted to run through
just some of the edible perennials that we've got growing here to illustrate just how important
they can be for part of your self-sufficient food security.

List of Edible Perennials for Self-Sufficiency


So we’re going to start with vegetables and I’m just going to list four or five that are really key for me.


The first one is asparagus. Now asparagus is hugely important to me because it is something we all love eating. We really enjoy eating it, and it can be the centerpiece of a meal. So if you’re a carnivore – like I am, and you enjoy eating meat, asparagus and mushrooms are two things that can take the place of meat in a meal. You can make asparagus-based main courses, and it reduces the need to produce as much meat as you might otherwise. At least that’s how we look at it.

Another reason asparagus is so great is that, once you’ve got yourself your asparagus bed established, it will go on for decades, giving you a fantastic crop every year. So we started with eight crowns that we bought and we’re expecting our first harvest this year. We put them in two years ago. And this is year three and that’s really when you can start harvesting. There were quite a few Spears came up last year, but we didn’t touch them. As tempting as they were, we left them so the energy could remain within the plant and, as of this year, we should be able to harvest lightly, and next year full harvest. So, from those eight grounds, I’m fully expecting to get enough asparagus to meet our needs, certainly for the summer half the year. And in subsequent years, we should get enough asparagus to fill our needs for the whole year and potentially with some to sell. So that’s a great crop.


The second one is something I've already mentioned and that is kale. We planted a row of kale
two years ago, and it's overwintered and we've basically used it as a cut and come again crop
for vegetables, for leafy vegetables like spinach and equivalent; and it's still going two years
later. And it's strong as ever. So kale is a great plant because it's got two parts. It's got the stem
and the leaf. You treat them both differently and you can actually serve it up as two different
vegetables on a plate. They look very different, tastes very different. So kale is a great perennial
vegetable and it's actually got a place in our vegetable plot with our annuals.


The second and third are both artichokes. They're actually not related, but they've got the
artichoke in the name. So that's the globe artichoke and the Jerusalem artichoke. They're very
very different plants.
Now Globe artichoke flowers, you can put it in the corner of a border flower bed, and it wouldn't
look out of place. Which is in fact what we've done. We've got four or five scattered around our
flower beds. And it produces beautiful Globe artichoke vegetables every single year. And again,
that's a perennial. It will go on and on.
And the second one Jerusalem artichoke – strictly speaking, it's more of an annual but it can be
grown as a perennial. If you've ever tried to grow Jerusalem artichokes as an annual then you'll
be familiar with the situation that they're actually quite difficult to get rid of once you've got them
because they're so prolific. The edible part is a tuber under the ground. You need to think of
them really as very like a potato plant. They grow like a potato. So once you've planted them –
and we planted some last year, and I have just left them in the ground that year for those tubers
to spread, and this year we shall dig and bring some of them up – and by pure chance without
me trying I'm certain that there will be some left behind and they will grow every year. So literally
it's just the case of harvesting from here on in.
I planted them on the edge of our pig wood. The idea being that they'll spread into the wood as
well, and they'll be tubers for the pigs to forage for. So for us, they are a dual-purpose crop in
that way.


And the final one is rhubarb. Rhubarb is a fantastic plant. It is so generous. We inherited a
couple of plants when we moved here. They're huge and those two plants alone produce
enough rhubarb for us to meet our needs all year round, but also, sell a reasonable amount at
the side of the road. So rhubarb's a great cropping plant.
We've also picked up five or six small crowns from Freecycle someone who wanted them
cleared. So we took them and I've place them somewhere else. We're going to leave them
another year, but that will give us another source of rhubarb because we can't meet the demand
we've got at our little shop at the side of the road. So we're going to have a lot more to sell next
year, hopefully.

Vines / Fruits

The next section is Vines. Fruit trees and berries Berry bushes, and things like that. Now here you really are spoiled for choice. A lot of them I’m sure you’ll be familiar with.

As always. I’m talking about a temperate climate, so things might change slightly based on where you are. As you’re aware, I’m in the UK. So do a bit of research on what the best varieties of these things are for you. Something to be aware of whenever you’re planting a fruit tree or a Vine or something like that, is you need to make sure if you’re only planting one that it’s self-pollinating.

So for instance, we have a kiwi here. I can’t remember the name of the variety. But the variety we chose was specifically one that would (a.) grow in our temperate climate, but (b.) would be self-pollinating. So that one plant would be enough. (edit; it’s the variety Jenny)

So I’ve mentioned kiwi. Another great one is grapes. These are something else that we acquired. They were already here. They were actually in a bit of overgrown land and we didn’t know they were there. We cut it all back and while I was debating what to do with it the following spring, these Grape Vines shot up. And I’ve just recently in the last few days built a structure for them to grow up and over. So we’ve inherited those.

We all know about the (what I’m going to call) the standard Garden variety of fruit. We’re talking apples, pears, plums, and that kind of thing. So one thing to be aware of is that you should be able to dry these. So we dry an awful lot of our fruit. We have more than enough from each of our trees to supply our needs. And we get lots of these when they’re in season. So we tend to dry them and that keeps us going through the winter. You can also freeze them and can them.

We’ve got lots of berries and I’ve acquired most of our berries from freecycle for free. So I’m very very happy about that. We’ve got red currants, blackcurrant, gooseberries, blackberries, strawberries, and raspberries. And these are plants again that will come back every single year. They’re great for the kids. Again, we tend to have gluts of these, and they freeze really well. So that’s how we tend to preserve our berries. We also make a lot of cordials, jams, preserves, and fruit leathers. If you’re not familiar with fruit leather, it’s basically this – you make it very similar to a jam – and then you spread it out very thin on a piece of greaseproof paper. Or at least this is how I do it. And then we put In the dehydrator and you can either leave it as it is, smash it into pieces, or cut it into strips. And it’s like a chewy sweet – my kids absolutely love it.


The next section I wanted to talk to you about with regards to edible perennials is nuts. Now hazelnuts are very prolific. They’re so easy to go foraging for. We didn’t have anywhere locally to us that had lots of hazelnuts for me to forage. And when I say local, I mean within walking distance of the property. So what I have done is I’ve planted a load of hazelnuts that I foraged from slightly further away and we’ve got about 15 little Hazel plants growing now, They’re going to take a few years before they crop but thinking long-term, I’m quite comfortable with that. We’ve bought an almond tree, and we acquired a nicely established black walnut tree. So we’ve got hazelnuts, almonds, and walnuts here.

One thing to be aware of with nuts is squirrels. It’s very very difficult to stop the squirrels from getting there first. So you’ve got three options. If your trees are small enough, you can net the whole tree out. That’s quite tricky and not always practical. It can make your own harvesting difficult. So that’s option one. Option two is obviously pest control which you can do with traps or an air rifle. And option 3, which is quite ingenious – and I’ve tried it this year, so I’ll have to let in the Autumn how it went. This is something I found online. I can’t remember where I got it so I can’t quote the source, unfortunately. But if you bury a little four-inch pipe under the ground next to the tree and leave one end slightly exposed chances are the squirrels will find it and all he’s looking for is somewhere to hide his nuts. So he will use that to hide the nuts for himself. At which point, you can let him do the harvesting for you and then come along and take the nuts.

Now, I suggest that you look at this one of two ways. There are only two ways to do it humanely. I don’t think it’s particularly humane to let a squirrel starve to death in the middle of winter. So in my opinion, and you want to do one of two things, you want to do this along with a pest control measure. So you are actively ending the squirrels as humanely as possible alongside this, or what I’m going to do is I’m just going to take half the nuts. So I think that’s a fair deal. I’m growing nuts for the squirrel. He’s harvesting them for me and we split the produce. We’ll have to see how that works out.


The last and final thing is mushrooms. And you can buy impregnated plugs that are impregnated with the spores of things like oyster mushrooms and lion’s mane mushrooms, etc. But if you’re a bit of a forager, like I am, you can actually find your own mushrooms and bring them back and leave them to drop their spores on the logs yourself. This is particularly good with oyster mushrooms. Oysters are very prolific at propagating their spores. So they are great ones to find in the wild, bring back, and allow to propagate your own logs.

So there you go. There is my rundown of the really important edible perennials – the ones that come to my mind straight away for ones that you should be thinking about and finding room for if you can.