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Beginner’s guide to growing your own food #3

Do you want to try your hand at growing some food, but don’t know where to start? Then, this is an ideal place to begin. Experienced horticulturalist Sylvia Cordell, Cultivate London’s business and community development manager, is sharing her top tips every month in her exclusive Around Ealing blog.

Here is her third blog. You can still read her previous blogs from June and July.

Sylvia’s blog #3 August and September

Here we are at the end of August and already the days are starting to draw in, and while the weather is still good you can feel the slow turn of the season.

August and September are usually very busy months watering and harvesting all the crops that have been lovingly tended all season. If you planted some beetroot and salad leaves with us in June and July you will get a great sense of satisfaction at harvest time. It doesn’t matter how big or small it is, you’ve done it!

There is still time to continue sowing salad leaves, oriental leaves such as mizuna, mibuna, pak choi (these are very tolerant of cooler weather), spinach, and radishes, even if you have some growing already, sow some new seeds and this will give you a continuous growth of edibles, commonly known as successional planting. It can avoid gluts of food being ready at one time which is especially good if you don’t have a big household to feed. If you missed our article on how to sow you can find it here.

Sowing

Overwintering onion sets (immature bulbs). You can buy these in any good garden shop. They settle in and grow over the winter months when you may not be inclined to garden too much. You can sow these in September or October.

red onions

Find a warm sunny spot in your garden.

Prepare the ground first by digging a shallow trench. Ensure it is reasonably free draining and not heavy clay, and apply some fertiliser if you have it. The sets should be planted 8 – 10 cm apart with the tips (narrow end) just below the surface of the ground.

Water them in and leave them. They should be ready to harvest in late spring or early summer. As the weather warms up next year, keep them weed-free and watered. You will know they are ready when the stems start to turn yellowish. When harvested, onions need to be left to dry out. More about that in spring.

Pots

If you are growing in a pot, use a large pot to hold a few or consider a trough-type pot. Ensure there is enough depth in the pot and drainage and light is good.

Planning

September is also a good time to start considering if you would like to grow any fruit shrubs or trees next year. Redcurrants, blackcurrants, blueberries, apples, pears, plums, the list is endless so consider what would work best in your space. Bare root plants will be available in shops or specialist nurseries soon and are best planted in autumn.

Seed collection

September is a great month to start collecting seeds as many perennial flowers start to dry out. It’s cheap and with a little bit of time and proper storage, you can create a huge amount of extra plants for your garden from easy-to-grow plants next year. It can also be a lovely gift for someone!

What you need:

  • secateurs or snips
  • paper bag
  • paper envelope
  • pencil for labelling
  • cool place to store seeds

Look out for dried seed heads on plants. Often they look like light brown paper. You will know they are ready to be collected as the seeds inside will be dry and will rattle when you shake them gently.
Collect seed on a dry day when the plant seed head is dry.

Simply snip off the seed head and pop it into your paper bag. Use a different bag for each type of plant.
Break open the seed head and extract the seeds. Ensure you don’t include any of the outer papery shells as this may not store well.

Pop them into an envelope, label and seal it.

Store in a cool dry airtight container until spring.

Some examples of easy-to-harvest perennials are:

sunflowers
  • sweetpea
  • sunflowers
  • calendula
  • poppies
  • lychnis
  • love-in-a-mist

Happy gardening
Sylvia
Cultivate London

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