There is nothing better than stepping out of your kitchen and picking your lunch fresh from the garden

There is nothing better than stepping out of your kitchen and picking your lunch fresh from the garden

We’re happy to announce the Grower of the Month for October 2020, @strainskitchengarden. In this blog post, Shawna tells us how she started gardening, what she loves to grow, what it is like growing with her family, and much more.

How and when did you start gardening/growing?

I definitely have my dad to thank for getting me into gardening. I started growing when I was little, my dad would take me down to his allotment where my sister and I would play, pull up potatoes and see who could grow the tallest sunflower. As I got older, my dad gave me an old pot of my grandma’s and taught me how to grow carrots; this is what sparked my interest in growing my own food.

I became more passionate about growing food when my husband, Sam and I purchased our first home where my main aim was to be able to show my stepdaughter Layla how to grow food like my dad had done with me. When I mentioned this to my dad he came up and helped me to get my garden to where it is today, gifting me my old carrot pot which is now sitting proudly in my garden.

How has your garden changed since you first started growing?

When we first moved into our new build home, we were quite fortunate to have a blank canvas. My primary goal was to have a family garden with the ability to grow a few staple crops such as carrots, parsnips and spring onions. We created a lawn bordered with 3 dwarf fruit trees, strawberries and 3 pots for the vegetables. I soon realised this wasn’t enough space for all the vegetables I wanted to grow and so the following year we created some raised beds out of some old pallet collars and bought a small plastic greenhouse. I then found the Instagram gardening community and discovered more crops that I wanted to try, and so I expanded on my raised beds once again.

Next year I plan to expand even further by growing vertically, this way we can grow more crops without taking over the family garden.

I love that the garden is constantly changing. I cannot see it ever being finished as I will always be looking for ways in which I can improve it.

What do you grow? Do you have a favourite plant/vegetable/crop, and why?

I grow around 20 to 30 different fruits and vegetables in my small kitchen garden, meaning that the spacing probably isn’t what it should be. Whilst I love to grow produce that we eat on a regular basis, I love to challenge myself by trying to grow something that I’ve not seen in the shops before.

I think my favourite crop changes with the season, but if I had to choose one it would have to be the strawberries simply because they are a family favourite! Layla loves to come out on a strawberry hunt to pick them and my baby boy Thomas loves to munch them. This year we experimented by planting them up high on the fence in some upcycled guttering that we had lying around in the shed to prevent them being gobbled up by the pesky slugs. It worked so well and the strawberries were so prolific that this was my inspiration for attempting more vertical growing next year.

We also love to grow salad crops and tomatoes, there is nothing better than stepping out of your kitchen and picking your lunch fresh from the garden.

What is your typical day like, when it comes to tending to your garden?

A typical day is going for a walk around the garden with Thomas or with a cup of tea and making note of jobs that need to be done. I try to get the little jobs done whilst Thomas naps and save the bigger jobs for Sam’s days off. I expect my typical day will change soon as my maternity leave comes to an end in October so we will have to see what that brings. One of the benefits of growing in your back garden is that you can pop in whenever you have a spare minute so I’m hopeful that it will not impact my productivity too much. Now that Thomas has begun to walk, I might have to get him a little gardening kit so he can help me get my jobs done!

What do you enjoy most about growing/gardening?

One of the things I enjoy most is being able to provide fresh fruit and vegetables for my family. It is important to me that whilst I do this, I am teaching Layla and Thomas about their food so that they know where it comes from and how it is produced. I have found with Layla that it also encourages her to try fruits and vegetables that she would usually refuse, for example, she isn’t interested in eating tomatoes if they come from the shop but she will try it if she knows that it has come from the garden and she has watched it grow.

Gardening is also extremely beneficial for your mental health. If I’m having a particularly stressful day I have found getting some jobs done in the garden helps me to focus and clear my mind.

What tips would you offer to other gardeners/growers?

Plan! I’ve found that planning what I’m going to grow and where I’m going to grow it helps me to get the most out of my garden. I then use monthly to-do lists to keep on top of my plan and workload as there are some months where there is so much to do it can become overwhelming without a plan or to-do list in place.

If you’re new to growing, then I recommend starting with a few crops that you love to eat. It can be very tempting to want to grow everything all at once but stick to a few and grow them well and you will be hooked in no time.

What are some of the benefits of growing your own?

For me the main benefit of growing your own is knowing where your food has come from and how it is been grown. I find that my home grown food tastes so much better than shop bought as you can eat it within moments of it being harvested and you have the satisfaction of knowing that you have nurtured a tiny seed into a delicious healthy crop.

Another benefit is that you have the opportunity to grow crops that you may struggle to find in your local supermarket.

What are your future plans for your garden?

I plan to try and make my garden as productive as possible whilst also maintaining it as a place for all the family to enjoy. Next year I am going to utilise more of the fence space and grow vertically, freeing up some of my beds for new crops. Each year I try to grow at least one new crop, I sit down with Layla and ask her which crops she has enjoyed the most and if there is anything she would like to try and grow next year. This year she has opted for Blackberries and so I have ordered a ‘child-friendly’ thornless variety for her. Last year she chose to grow a pumpkin, we both enjoyed growing it so much that I am now considering an allotment for the sole purpose of growing pumpkins!

I would also like to attract more wildlife to my garden, so I am hoping to create a small child friendly pond and grow more flowers to attract pollinators.

Anything else you would like to share?

I would like to thank everyone for all their advice and inspiration. The gardening community is one that I am very proud to be part of and I know that without it my garden would not be what it is today.

[Images provided by: @strainskitchengarden]

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