If you’re anything like me, then you’ll use your hobbies to take your mind off the chaos and clutter of everyday life - boy have I needed it recently. As a teacher, the summer is the busiest time of year but all of this was cut short by the UK lockdown and I found myself wondering what I was going to do with all of the time when I would usually be marking exams. I found some mini propagators in the Middle of Lidl whilst on a socially distanced supermarket trip and I stuck some seeds in and hoped for the best.
As the country experienced a lockdown heatwave, the seeds in the propagators reared their little heads. I had planted lots of beans (Mum’s recommendation for a hardy plant) as well as loads of tomatoes (inspired by my grandparents who always have a few plants on their patio in the summer). The shoots peeking through the soil were hopeful and I spent hours watching them, checking the soil and moving them around so that they had an optimal position. I could see the fruits (well, shoots) of my labour and free time growing in front of my eyes.
I am lucky that towards the end of last summer, a friend of a friend got a group of us involved in a local allotment. I originally went along because they really needed a car to help clear some big piles of rubbish, but soon I was weeding and digging too. At the end of last year we had a harvest of potatoes and onions, but seeing my windowsill beans, I realised that we could really branch out this year. As part of my daily outdoor exercise, I went to the allotment and started planting the seedlings into the ground.
Then we got a sharp lesson in British Summer Time - a frost in May killed all but the broad beans. It was a very sad sight - rows of withered beans. We dug them all up and started again.
Lockdown meant that I could visit the allotment nearly every day. The broad beans went from strength to strength and we planted out more onions, potatoes, peas and then lots of courgette plants. I grew some butternut squash seeds and we planted chard and kale. The weather was scorching then torrential rain. At one point (after about 3 weeks of Mancunian rain) I thought the plants would definitely be dead, but when the rain stopped, the plants were bigger than ever! This brought a new challenge - infinite weeding.
Now I’m beginning to see the literal fruits of my labour - beautifully ripe courgettes, hundreds of broad beans, peas so fresh and sweet that they make your mouth water. When the summer crops are finished, I’ve got a load of leeks in my propagators that will see us through winter.
I know that I’m really lucky to have the allotment - in some places you can wait months or years for a plot, but one of my greatest triumphs has come from my garden at home. The humble tomato.
Tomatoes are one of my favourite things to grow because they smell so good! They are also a perfect beginner plant and can be grown at home, in pots or growbags, as well as in the ground. Here are some top tips about tomato growing:
Growing Tomatoes at Home
- You start off with tiny seeds - they’re pretty cheap and you could get loads of fruit from one packet. Pot them into moist soil. You could use a propagator like the ones I got from Lidl, but an empty egg box covered with cling film will do.
- When they have germinated (grown a green stalk), keep the soil moist. Tomatoes love water.
- I keep mine covered for a really long time because my cats love killing baby plants, but it’s not necessary to keep them covered. If they are uncovered, you will probably need to water them a bit more regularly.
- When they’re big enough to pot on, you can put them into individual pots, or straight into a growbag. I used this method (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PWdePGczPU8). Now, mine are outside having the full Mancunian rain treatment. That might give you an idea about the amount of water they need!
- We’ve not got fruit yet, but they smell amazing and are gloriously full of life. I can’t wait to sit in the garden and eat some fresh tomatoes straight from the plant. I’ll definitely be sending some to my grandad for his expert opinion too.
- Tomatoes love warm weather, so if you buy the right variety, it’s not too late to get some of your own! There are lots of varieties listed here: https://thefreerangelife.com/early-tomato-varieties/
Growing (whether in my garden or at the allotment) has been my saviour throughout lockdown. I have really enjoyed focusing on the process of growing things, and when everything else felt a bit unstable, the never-ending chore of weeding has been a welcome constant. As we look forward to autumn, we’re planning some big landscape projects and considering autumn and winter crops too.
Do you have any suggestions? Have you recently found a love for growing things, or are you an experienced hand with advice to share?