On Friday morning, as many people were settling down to watch the royal wedding, Mr M and I braved the DIY and gardening centre on the Greenwich Peninsula. Trips there normally feel like descending into the fifth circle of hell, but as our windowsill seedlings were in desperate need of planting out and I really needed to get started on my vertical allotment, we could not put off the visit any longer!
Since moving into our little house, I have been determined to turn our tiny urban garden into an extension of our fridge and larder. If I had my way our small back yard would be home to vegetables, herbs, some fruit bushes, bees and a couple of chickens. Mr M has, however, put his foot down where bees are concerned and responded to my proposal for chickens with a lukewarm “maybe”. I am therefore concentrating on nurturing my vegetable garden, for now at least.
My food-growing ambitions have however been hampered slightly by a number of factors: not having lived at home full-time for over a year is a major one, as is the abysmal quality of the soil. Both of these issues are being fixed. I am home full-time for a decent stretch and when I return to work, it will be on a part-time basis giving me more time to spend outside in my Wellington boots. I am also feeding our three-square metre raised bed with endless bags of peat-free compost whilst we wait for our compost maker to do its thing, as well as digging out the bushes that starve the soil of nutrients.
The third inhabiting factor is limited sun. Our garden faces north-east so the back of the garden catch the sun in the morning as well as some light during the spring and summer months when the sun is high enough to peep over the roof top. Having charted the course of the sun, I have concluded that we have a “P” shaped area in which to grow food. In fact, while we are feeding the soil in the raised bed, we only have an area that resembles a stylised “F” but with some nifty planning I am squeezing every last growing inch out of this space.
Last weekend I planted out the young bushy tomato plants I had grown from seeds. The grow bags that form their new home are hardly attractive but they are good value and, more importantly, are available within carrying distance – always a good thing for a carless household! The Romano peppers were also planted out in traditional terracotta pots that fit on the steps up to the third level of our garden. Referring to levels in our case makes the garden sound more grand than it is – we are not exactly talking about a terraced estate! The dwarf peas are now winding their way up a cane wigwam in one of the large glazed pots left by the previous owners. And the strawberry planter is definitely starting to show signs of life.
The brick edges of our raised bed are supporting my lettuce leaf trays. To ensure a steady supply of rocket, sorrel, baby spinach and lettuce this spring and summer I am sowing rows of leaves in wine crates recycled from our local wine merchant. And to make the most out of the sunny wall at the top of our “F”-shaped growing area I am even growing vertically, thanks to some ladder allotments. These three-tier structures consist of two lightweight foot-deep grow bags and a third shelf for pots or troughs. In my case the top tier will be used to grow beetroot and chart following another visit to our friendly wine shop for more crates.
By the end of the extended bank holiday, Mr M and I were both feeling the effects of carrying, bending, lifting and digging but our “F”-shaped sun trap is now the backbone of this year’s vegetable garden. And by sowing vertically we have managed to squeeze an extra square yard or two of growing space into our “terraced” back garden and hopefully a few extra handfuls of tomatoes, strawberries and broccoli.