Every few days I’m going to post a ‘Coronavirus Diary’ blog intended to help people who are new to gardening. We should all be growing at least some of our own food, and especially this year. I’m not trying to monetise this site in any way: there won’t be any ads or hidden agendas. Just honest, helpful information. If it’s useful to you, great. If not, no worries. Just so you know.
Currently I have an allotment in Northumberland where it’s usually wet and colder than the rest of England. It was VERY overgrown and unloved when I got it, but it’s undergoing a transformation right now.
Coronavirus Garden Diary, 1
If there was ever a year for getting started on a vegetable patch, this is it. If you haven’t got yourself out into the garden by now, do it! Time is passing…despite what you might be feeling, stuck at home in lockdown. Each day you could have another spot prepared for planting vegetables – and, who knows just how valuable that will be in the months ahead? To say nothing of what it will do for you.
Gardening is one of those activities that, the more you do it, the better it gets. Gardens are a wonderful way to recharge tired batteries. Gardening is healthy – usually, unless you put your back out – and incredibly rewarding. So please, get out there and do some. You won’t regret it.
These are very very weird times, no question. And probably some of you have never gardened before, and are wondering how to go about it. The easy answer is, a day at a time. You can’t do everything at once, and gardening is NOT an ‘instant gratification’ thing. Like most good things, it takes a little time and effort – and that’s where you come in.
The first thing is to start digging – a bit. Don’t overdo it, just do a bit at a time. These days, you can always come back and do some more tomorrow! I don’t much enjoy digging and I wish I knew a few people who did, because I’d have lots of work for them.
Don’t bother with a spade. It’s more difficult, and besides that all the worms (and weed roots) will be cut in half. Get a fork if you can, push it into the ground with your foot and push it forwards, then pull it back. This loosens the earth for the next process and means you don’t have to lift anything. Usually I fork through a patch about 30 cms wide across the full width of the bed I’m planning to create.
Then, ideally, get a short plank of wood (1 metre is plenty), that’s just wide enough to put a kneeling pad on. Kneeling pads are very important gardening tools, as anyone who has ever had knee problems will tell you. Ask me how I know. Then you need a small hand fork, and put on a pair of fairly soft gloves. These are slowly going to get trashed, so don’t use anything expensive!
Having loosened the earth with the big fork, you can now dig it over properly with the hand fork. Go as deep as you can and gradually work back towards you. Pull ALL the weeds out as you go.
Couch grass is awful – tough and invasive. It puts out roots so long you could weave baskets from them, and it just suddenly pops up in the middle of a bed you thought you’d cleared. You can only compost it if you have a ‘hot’ pile, otherwise it just keeps growing. Even a tiny length can start up again.
Dandelions are perennials! Each year they get bigger and go deeper! Some Victorian gardeners grew them to make a kind of tea out of the roots, but nowadays, we…don’t usually do that. Lovely though the flowers are, they don’t last for long and then put out vast numbers of seeds that get blown far and wide. Do yourself a favour: pull off the flowers before they turn to seed.
Dock has genetically evolved to try and contact Australia, via its roots. They go deeper than just about anything else. Get that big fork again, stick it deep into the ground just in front of the plant, and then push forwards…you may loosen the roots enough to grab it and pull it the rest of the way out.
Always be careful! Don’t hurt yourself!
Doctors have enough to do right now without you turning up with a bad back. Don’t try to lift big clods out of the earth with the fork, and don’t pull too hard on anything. Just take it easy. Remember to stop every so often and listen to the birds, or have a drink of water, or just to appreciate how far your new bed has come.
In my next blog, in a day or two, we’ll start to plant stuff.