One Magic Square
‘Produce locally what is consumed locally’.
This inspiring book sets out to encourage everyone to start growing produce even if it’s the first time you have ever considered doing so and in whatever limited space there is available. And however overgrown your garden Lolo Houbein says you should be able to find one square metre to weed, plant and keep tidy before moving on to a block of two or three or even four as your enthusiasm grows. Limiting the beds to one square metre is an excellent way to ensure that the preparation is manageable both in time and effort and it will certainly reduce the mystery and challenge for first time growers.
Plots are graded from the easiest and most robust to the complex and tender and Part One starts with various salad plots since salad crops are relatively easy to grow. Lettuce leaves can be picked for several months by taking them from the sides of the plant following the pick-&-come-again method. Houbein chooses five imaginative collections in this group all beautifully illustrated and ranging from winter to summer produce. In Salad crop A the plan includes lettuce, bush beans, spring onions, cherry tomatoes, radishes and rocket. A large tub to one side takes 2 cucumber plants and in other plot designs she suggests filling the tub with new potatoes or a single courgette plant.
If salads aren’t your thing then a square metre bed can be devoted to broad beans …
…carrots are sown round the edges of this bed. Other plots charmingly illustrated with easy to follow layout plans include: The Soup Plot, The Herb Plot, The Peas Plot, The Aztec Plot and two Anti-Cancer Plots. If you enjoy making curries here’s Curry Plot B with potatoes and garlic sown separately to extend the crop.
Throughout the book there are many tips and tricks to help build confidence and to get the most out of your beds plus an A-Z of vegetable groups to rotate to help keep your beds fertile.
Now January is probably not the best time to get started it might be icy and it will certainly be cold. But today in the South-West it’s sunny and even if you aren’t tempted outside the preparation could begin on the back of an envelope. But if you want to get started (and Houbein advises that you should without further hesitation) then dress warmly and pick up a fork or a spade and a tape measure. Choose a spot in the sun and fork over a square metre plot removing all weeds. Rake it flat and sprinkle on blood, fish and bone fertiliser following instructions on the box. If you plan to dig up the lawn lift the sods with a spade and pile them grass side down in an empty corner of the garden to decompose into mulch to use later. Fork in the fertiliser and if necessary top up the earth with a bag of organic top soil to raise it level with the surroundings. A bed in a lawn may need to be edged with re-cycled wood to stop the grass encroaching.
Food security has been Lolo Houbein’s preoccupation since her childhood in Western Holland where 24,000 people died of starvation in the second world war. And she has inspiring credentials starting with her great, great grandfather who was a market gardener and from several family members currently involved in growing food. Yet she meets people with no growing history who produce impressive vegetables at first try. I too see this on the allotment-first time growers with an abundance of healthy produce in their first six months. So get started and if you find no satisfaction after a season or two you can re-turf the lawn or fill the space with shrubs. My guess is that with the help of this book you’ll steadily increase your square beds and enjoy the satisfaction, exercise and creativity that growing your own food brings.
The book is beautifully written with huge enthusiasm and packed full of sound advice. It’s published on February 5th and is available from http://www.greenbooks.co.uk
Several of us have decided to blog a scented plant from our garden (or conservatory or allotment) each month throughout 2015. Above is Sarcococca confusa (sweet box) which I have mentioned before since it started flowering in December and it’s at full throttle now outside the kitchen door. It’s a great evergreen for cheering up winter days and by swapping plant recommendations we could ensure a scented plant every month of the year somewhere in the house or garden. Please feel free to join in whether it’s a scented leaf or a gorgeous scented flower- wellywoman has some great selections on her blog as does Christina on myhesperidesgarden.
Today I cut three sprigs of sweet box for my desk to mix with three winter pansies and some variegated Lamium and the room smells delicious.