Nurturing vegetables is a big part of our work with client gardeners and to mark National Gardening Week, our very own Julia Smith reveals the joys and challenges of growing your own.
I am now into my second full year of growing veg as a Horticultural Therapist at Thrive.
I decided early on that I would allocate each of my groups of client gardeners their own beds in our allotment field at Thrive Reading so that they could see the growing process through from preparing the soil, sowing the seed, nurturing it, harvesting and even eating what they have grown.
Our season really begins the previous autumn when we cover the beds with manure or sieved garden compost. We have client gardeners that love the physical hard work of sieving our own compost onto the bed. We then cover it with black plastic for the winter to keep the weeds out and warm the soil in spring.
As spring comes, we are busy seed sowing. I quickly learned that sowing seeds directly was not very successful, so we now sow in trays and pots in our glasshouse, but this could also be done on a window sill.
One of my favourite things is to come in each morning and open the hotbox (a bit like an airing cupboard) and see what seeds have germinated. Our gardeners then prick out and pot on seedlings. This is an activity that suits our less able or mobile gardeners but is also something we can do in a shady spot in the garden on a hot day.
As the weather starts to warm up in May, we start planting out our young beetroot, leeks, sweetcorn, courgettes, squash, potatoes, carrots, fennel and parsnips. Most clients can get involved with this; we adapt how we plant, maybe a seat can help, or a long-handled trowel to use if standing. As the summer progresses we weed, earth up, net and water our crops.
Last year we had mixed success. We must have sown about 200 parsnips seeds both direct and in trays and only got about seven wonky parsnips! Our leeks were hit by allium leaf miner, but we spotted it early and were able to harvest the leeks and salvage a lot of them to freeze. Our fennel had to be re-sown after rabbits ate the first crop.
We had amazing results with others; a bumper crop of sweetcorn which we harvested, cooked and ate within 30 minutes!
Our main crop potatoes were huge and tasted wonderful. We made potato wedges and homemade salsa with onions, garlic and chilli from the garden which was enjoyed by all.
Our great beetroot harvest was bunched up and sold, together with the courgettes, fennel and rhubarb.
Even as winter came we were still cooking and eating our produce. A pumpkin and coriander curry may not sound delicious but made with pumpkin, onions, chilli, garlic and coriander, all grown and cooked by our clients, it was a real crowd-pleaser with everyone, especially when accompanied by homemade chapatis.
As we begin to plant out our crops for this year, we look forward to what will grow well and the fun, excitement and reward of growing your own.