The swallows have arrived, the nightingale and cuckoo have begun their summer odes, fruit trees and wildflowers are blooming and the hills are growing green again…
Spring is most definitely in the air as a flurry of growth, colour and awakening begins to surface from its winter slumber. It’s that time when we start to set everything in motion for the oncoming season…and the perfect time to consider starting an edible garden…even the smallest and most simple herb and vegetable spaces can bring fantastic benefits to your home, family and health.
Vegetable growing has traditionally been mainly undertaken by those with land or access to it, however, with the growing concerns of GMO infiltration into our foods, the health problems associated with the use and subsequent ingestion of pesticides and chemicals used by modern farming and the growing concern about the effect of pesticides on bees and their rapid decline…many are turning back to our forefathers’ traditions of home growing vegetables, to enjoy the almost meditative process, the improved flavor and quality of organic produce and the satisfaction, pleasure and valuable knowledge gained through growing your own food and sharing the experience with family and friends.
Micro gardening is an easy, inexpensive, fun and rewarding way for anyone interested in testing or training their green fingers and it can be a fantastic introduction to gardening for children or for urban dwellers who don’t have the luxury of a large growing area. People are often amazed at how productive and varied a small, dedicated gardening space can become with a little time, imagination, trial and patience.
From a single container garden, to vertical gardening and creative raised beds; micro gardening is stepping back into the spotlight as a productive, relaxing and empowering hobby with many benefits for you and your family. With the great weather that we enjoy here in Spain, it is possible to stock your kitchen with herbs, fruit and veg practically all year round.
Containers don’t have to be expensive or even shop bought. Anything from recycled tires, pallets and plastic bottles, to breeze-blocks, wooden sleepers, grow bags and old bathtubs can be used to start your garden. A little imagination and DIY decoration can make even the most mundane containers look pretty and interesting. Second hand markets provide interesting hunting grounds for very affordable and unique containers, if you’re so inclined or would like your garden to compliment the style of your home.
Potting Mixes for your Containers
There are many types of potting compost available, some have added feeds or fertilizers of varying strengths, some do not, so be sure to check. There is a huge difference between certified organic and unlabelled contents from undisclosed origins…some of which may also have added chemical polymers in wetting agents, so be aware and be sure to ask what is best for your requirements when you buy.
You will need to ensure that whatever mix you use, provides drainage, aeration, water retention, nutrient retention and good root support without becoming compacted.
If you prefer to make your own, here’s a handy recipe:
1 part pre soaked coconut husk (Coir) peat (long-lasting renewable source, unlike moss peat)
1 part Vermiculite
2 parts sieved organic compost
1 cup of Worm castings or well rotted organic humus.
Some people prefer to feed their plants at particular times of their cycles but it is possible to also add minerals and slow release fertilizers to the mix at this stage to ensure your veggies have all the growing power they need, saving time and oversight later. Seaweed and fish liquid are great plant foods which provide essential trace elements that boost root growth, plant health, production of fruit/veg and disease resistance.
Once you have everything mixed up and ready to go, test it with a PH meter.
Most veggies like a PH range of 6.2 – 6.8. If your mix is too alkaline, add 0.3g of sulphur per litre of potting mix. If it is too acidic, add 1 – 1.5g of lime per litre of mix.
Reduce your waste footprint – Make your own Organic Compost
Instead of throwing away uncooked food scraps to be buried in landfills, they can be collected and used for making organic compost; providing a healthy and free food source for your gardening containers.
The Benefits: Less waste, less methane gas emissions, reduces the need to water, improve soil quality & plant health, save money and reduce pesticides.
The composting process can take 2-6 months…so it is a good idea to prepare 2 or 3 bins, so that one can be left to do its decomposing magic, while the other(s) can be used to collect fresh material.
You can use:
Fruit and veg scraps, leaves, eggshells, garden plants, grass and flowers, hay or straw, coffee grinds, teabags, newspaper/paper/cardboard, woodchips, seaweed, chicken manure.
Do not use materials that will attract pests or spread disease, such as: Meat, bones, dairy products, fish scraps, cooked foods, perennial weeds, pine needles, diseased plants, pet manures or citric peels.
Make Your Own Compost Bin
You will need:
1 rugged plastic dustbin with well-fitting lid. (30 gallon capacity works well)
Drill with 8-12mm drill bit.
50% dry/carbon mix (newspaper/sawdust/shredded cardboard/leaves).
50% wet/nitrogen mix (fruit/veg/plant scraps).
A couple of handfuls of active-microbe compost .
Small amount of rock dust (trace minerals).
Drill several holes into the base of the bin.
Drill holes all around the sides of the bin about 20cm apart.
Sit your compost bins on blocks to allow air to circulate underneath and aid the breakdown process.
Add the active compost and the trace mineral powder to your wet compost and mix well.
Place coarser materials like twigs and straw in the compost bin first, to aid ventilation and drainage. Add materials in layers, alternating between dry and moist materials. Cover these layers finally with dry/carbon mix. You will also need to keep your compost bin moist (but not soaked) and covered up to aid the breakdown. You can continue to add 50/50 organic matter to the bin until it is full. You will need to aerate the contents of your compost bin regularly to keep the decomposition process working, so turn it every couple of weeks with a fork. Adding some live worms also speeds up the breakdown and the castings add valuable nutrients to your mix. You will know that it is ready when you can no longer see the original components of the mix. Everything is broken down into a crumbly dark compost that smells earthy. Once it reaches this stage, ideally it to mature for a couple of months before using in your containers.
Tip: Too much brown material will mean the decomposing process will be slow.
Too much green material will make the mix become slimy and odorous. The trick is to maintain a 50/50 balance between the two.
Next month: Companion Planting – what fruit and vegetables grow best together.