Gardening needs and deserves time

Gardening needs and deserves time

At the age of 5, Steve Newland already knew he was in love with gardening. He attributes this love to his family who brought him up to love wildlife, plants, and nature. Since then, his love for gardening has only grown, and now, along with his wife, Steve continues to pass on this love to his three sons. In this blog post, Steve shares with us his gardening journey, and some important lessons he has learnt along the way.

A family’s love for gardening

Moving houses at the age of 5, Steve remembers arriving at his new home in York and thinking, “wow this garden is massive”. Early on, Steve found inspiration from his own family when it came to gardening. He recalls how his grandad was a keen gardener, “I can remember his garden was more allotment than ornamental, with apple trees, rows of beans and potatoes and cabbages.”

Steve would often help his mum in the garden, “my mum planted potatoes in our new garden as soon as we moved in, to help clear up the soil and remove the weeds. I always helped to dig up the potatoes when they were ready, and still get that same excitement today as I did then of finding buried treasure. I also planted a seed from an apple that my nana gave me into the potato bed. It grew into a tree and had fruit. This fruit was used to make my own homemade cider with a bucket, cricket bat and sheet – rustic was not the word !! I think I was about 12 so it was very exciting.”

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Steve-Newland-5

Today, Steve and his wife continue to pass on this love for gardening to their three sons. Steve says they got their first allotment about 20 years ago and within three months took on another.

Gardening successes

Steve’s first major success was strawberries. The second plot he worked on had a huge overgrown area of strawberries. He would eagerly dug these up and transplant, and as he hated throwing away plants, Steve recalls ending up with around 15 new rows of them, each about 20 feet long. “We ate loads, so did our friends and neighbours, our family and all my colleagues at work”.

Currently, they grow potatoes, onions, garlic, beetroot, tomatoes, chillies, cucumbers. beans, courgettes, salad crops, pumpkins, raspberries, cabbages, kale, purple sprouting broccoli, and leeks in their allotment. Having got a new allotment in June 2021, Steve plans to grow more of the same crops here, but also more flowers and other new things like oca, broccoli raab, luffas, and kalettes.

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It’s the journey that counts

An important lesson that Steve learnt early on is that gardening needs and deserves time, “I think my first major difficulty was understanding that you can’t do everything at once. I wanted it all done and got frustrated with how hard it was to make things the way I wanted them to be. I see this happen with lots of people when they first take on an allotment now. You get an initial burst of energy and enthusiasm and then the reality sinks in – allotment gardening is hard, time consuming and needs constant effort. I think for me I grew to accept that as long as I could get to the plots regularly it didn’t need to all be done, in fact I now get so much satisfaction from the ‘journey’, I don’t ever want to reach the ‘destination’.

Steve goes on to share a four important lessons he has learnt along the way:

Lesson #1: grow things you like

“Firstly, grow things you like, whether that’s flowers, veggies, fruit or all of them. I used to grow things because it was the right time of year to sow or plant them. Not now, if we don’t like something we simply don’t grow it, but it’s difficult sometimes to overcome that FOMO feeling”.

Lesson #2: never rush into gardening jobs

“Secondly, don’t rush things. Look and see what grows well in surrounding gardens or allotments and if you like what you see, have a go. Do experiment with things but don’t flog a dead horse. For example, I grew a few sweet potatoes two years ago. It was fun but the effort involved getting a handful of small tubers was just too great.”

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Steve-Newland-1

Lesson #3: look after your soil

“Thirdly, and this is really key, I think. Look after your soil. For many years I would dig over the plot, add chemical fertilisers and plant and replant and expect great results. This isn’t sustainable and definitely not good for soil health and therefore ultimately plant health. I would never think of adding compost or mulch as it was too much effort”.

However, this has all changed for him now and Steve tries his best to use as few chemicals as possible. His plots are now a mix of beds that get manure and compost and mulch toppings all surrounded by wood chip paths.

“I have wild composting areas on both plots and grow native flowers for the pollinators. I also think my gardening has improved as I’ve understood the importance of weeding. We all have to do it but it always used to get out of hand for me in the height of summer especially after a rainy period. Going nodig has really reduced the amount of weeds on the plots but the other great help is to weed regularly”.

Lesson #4: gathering knowledge

“Finally I’ve learnt to read up about a plant’s lifecycle, the conditions it likes and the pests it has to deal with and when to sow it, plant it, maintain it and harvest it. Lots of this comes with experience of course but simple things like a seed sowing diary or spreadsheet are so helpful to look back on the following year, as are lots of photos of your garden or allotment as they’re so helpful to look back over in future years.”

A love for tomatoes, onions, and pumpkins

On Instagram, Steve is known to love growing tomatoes, onions, and pumpkins, but he says how this really developed only in the last few years. Steve says he is also inspired by the wonderful tomato growers he has come across, especially the variety of tomatoes he has seen, and their array of colours, shapes, and flavours.

Speaking of his own experiences of growing tomatoes, Steve recalls, “a few years ago I grew only red tomatoes, maybe three varieties. Last year I had 35 varieties and they were red, yellow, orange, purple, black, pink and multi-coloured too. For 2022 I currently have 71 varieties and don’t have space for them all”.

“I had so much fun growing my big orange ‘Trumpkin’ pumpkin in 2020 and ‘Son of Trumpkin’ from saved seeds in 2022. The variety is Big Max and this year I’ve saved seeds and given them to my allotment shop so we can have a big pumpkin competition across the whole site.”

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Trying out coir

Steve has also come to use coir-based products, although quite sparingly over the years. “As I’ve said earlier, I haven’t really been too good at looking after my soil health until recently. I have, however, used a coir block and once rehydrated, it made a wonderful mulch that I used to top dress one of my nodig beds. This was done in the autumn and the bed has been standing empty waiting for Spring but it looks lovely and weed free still”.

Currently, Steve says he is using some coir coins to germinate some early chillies and peppers. “They were really easy to use and I was pleased with a quick germination and seedlings popped up from every coin. It wasn’t a 100% success rate but I’m blaming the seeds. I also have some coir plant pots which I will be using to germinate seedlings later this year. I like the fact that they will naturally break down over time and add goodness to the soil so I will simply be able to put the pots into the ground without having to disturb the plants. Coir is a natural product so fits in with my desire to use as few chemicals as possible and when it breaks down it feeds my soil which is perfect.”

Enjoy the process

Steve reminds everyone to take their time and enjoy the process, to learn through experience and local knowledge, and to grow what they love to eat and look at. Importantly, he says, “have fun and remember to stand back, and look at your garden regularly – don’t always have your Airpods in, listen to the sounds of the birds and the bees and the breeze”.

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