Digging Dirt To Clear The Mind
Updated: Mar 28
Disclaimer: I am not naturally green fingered but I am very much trying. If anyone is interested in a seed swap or would like me to send them some seeds to have a go with then please email me firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a lot of evidence linking being outdoors with positive effects on mental health and I've certainly seen the benefit. Spending more time at our allotment, even if its just 30 minutes every couple of days, has given me the benefit of better and deeper sleep, being able to switch off, and to have some stress free fresh air and sun. I've also come in to contact with a whole group of people that I would never usually cross paths with, from the man with tourettes opposite, the lady who is a wizard with soft fruits next door, and the builder who can turn his hand to anything in the plot behind ours. You don't need a big space to go gardening.... you don't even need an outdoor space. And now is a great time to get growing, whether its on your patio or your windowsill. Growing is also something that kids can get involved with - may be a good educational and distraction technique!
In a state of hungover melancholy in January 2019, my friend and I stumbled upon a very well hidden but very lively allotment site. We spoke to a lady who was weeding while listening to heavy metal and she told us how she had a really tough job and liked nothing better then to rip her weeds up, listen to some shouting music and detox her brain of any thoughts.
I applied for my allotment that night and we got our keys in August 2019. The plot was a disaster; 1500ft2 of carnage; metal and glass everywhere, weeds higher then my head, and ground so uneven that I feared for my ankles at every step. My husband and I diligently started to dig it over, removing the weeds and glass carefully. Progress was slow and the weeds were forever on our heels but I was hooked (my husband would say fanatical...).
We started to get really in to researching the best way to do things and eventually got in to 'no dig' - name's on the tin. Weeding is tiring and boring and feels like a never ending task but this new way of doing things put a spring back in our steps.
Now we are planting things and it is amazing. It turns out that growing things is really scientific and sometimes a lot like pot luck but its always interesting. Equally, the beauty of new life is never boring to me and I'm as proud of my strong seedlings as I am with a calf that I got out alive.
So, with all that rambling out of the way, I would love to encourage people to get out growing!
What you can plant now:
The three plants above do really well on windowsills with decent heat and light from the sun. You can get fantastic crops with very little effort! Herbs are particularly satisfying and are well worth having around, especially as we may need to get creative with our cooking over the next couple of months!
-Soft fruit canes
I am quite impatient about these as they can take a while to germinate. Peas look lovely climbing and broad beans are particularly pretty. If you want a faster germination then you can always start these inside where its a bit warmer and then plant them out once the seedlings are strong. Most of the supermarkets have fruit canes and trees available, and some have veg seedlings to save time.
If you start now with first early potatoes then you should be able to get them chitted and in the ground by the end of April. First early varieties are great for smaller spaces and do really well in grow bags or large tubs which are available in a lot of shops and online for minimal expense. They are harvested a lot earlier and take less space.
I got some hints and tips from a client who is a potato farmer - he told me to do Red Duke of York for our earlies and Picasso for our main crop so we are going to try them out this year. He also reminded me that 'everything tastes better the closer it is to your back door'. Wise words.
Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting. Start chitting from late January in warmer parts of the country or in February in cooler areas, about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes. Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of 'eyes'. Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light. The potatoes are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long.
Plant your chitted potatoes when the soil has started to warm up, usually from mid-March or early April. Start by digging a trench 7.5-13cm (3-5in) deep, although the exact depth should vary according to the variety of potato you're planting.Plant early potatoes about 30cm (12in) apart with 40-50cm (16-20in) between the rows, and second earlies and maincrops about 38cm (15in) apart with 75cm (30in) between the rows. Handle your chitted tubers with care, gently setting them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, being careful not to break the shoots. Cover the potatoes lightly with soil. As soon as the shoots appear, earth up each plant by covering it with a ridge of soil so that the shoots are just buried. You need to do this at regular intervals and by the end of the season each plant will have a small mound around it about 15cm (6in) high.