Growing Pains | Incredible Edible Todmorden | Blogs

Growing Pains

Last update: 9.01.20 First posted: 9.01.20 by in

This was my first year looking after the college beds.

I’d never grown edibles before unless you count Morrison’s herbs on the windowsill, so this was quite a step up! Looking back some things worked surprisingly well, others not so much. Here’s my potted review of successes and failures.

1. Leaves, roots, pods, and fruit
Plants with edible roots such as garlic and onions tend to get pulled up too early. I guess people get intrigued and it’s a lot easier to pull up a root than to replant it if it’s not ready. The readiness of leafy plants like kale and spinach along with edible fruits like strawberries or pods like broad beans make them more suitable for public planting sites like the College Beds.

2. Do more of what people like
The outstanding crops in 2019 were spinach, lettuce, and courgettes. These kept on giving right into late Autumn. I loved watching the little ones from the nursery trying to find courgettes among the massive foliage swelled by the constant rains this year. I will definitely do more of these in 2020.

3. Butterflies and Moths
Everyone loves a butterfly these days except maybe me! They destroyed the sprouts, chard, broccoli and cabbage leaves. I realise now that they need proper netting in the early-mid growth stages. Netting also stops people from picking too early though I’m conscious that if we net everything it will look less friendly. Hopefully, we can find a better balance in 2020.

4. Signs
We replaced the plastic signs with blackboards and this seems to have been positively received.

Fitting and painting the plywood backing was an enjoyable job and I think volunteers liked the immediate impact the boards created.
A learning point is that the chalk pens don’t work so well on the plywood base so we generally have to repaint every time we need to make changes. Note to self: use a wood primer next time!

5. Growing from Seed
I thought we could save some cash by growing everything from seed but this proved to be a lot trickier than I expected. You probably need access to a decent-sized greenhouse to really make this work. Also, planting out 2 or 3 inch seedlings meant that volunteers could not distinguish between the seedling and a weed so we lost some plantings by mistake. I think we will use Gordon Riggs large plug plants more this year, Riggs have worked out what works well in the valley climate and have huge greenhouse facilities.

6. Second Plantings
I had hoped to harvest the first crop in early July and get a second one in the ground immediately for an Autumn harvest. All the books and youtube videos believed such a thing was possible! In our climate, I just don’t think this is realistic as we rarely get enough sun in the valley to grow that fast. We need Spring and Summer just to be able to harvest in Autumn. I have learned however that we can plant in Autumn for overwintering so at least something is in the beds over Winter.

7. Stevia
We tried some experimental planting of Stevia (Sweetleaf) in the Station car park beds which produced some interesting conversations. This plant produces leaves which can be used as a sugar substitute. I had grand ideas of IET producing homegrown bottles for consumption. Sadly, despite several attempts drying, soaking in alcohol and boiling, I just could not get it to work. The plants were delivered late and with our wet Summer they never flowered and I wonder whether this was the issue. They are not frost hardy so have died off now apart from one small cutting I am nursing and may return to in brighter summers.
I’m looking forward to 2020, I think we will have more salad leaves and herbs in the beds along with lots of spinach. I also have secret plans for potatoes and a ginger harvest but that’s a different bed and another story!

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