How to grow food in a small garden

Come along – be inspired and visit one of our lovely unique FREE Open Food Gardens on Sunday 23 June.

The annual programme is run by local residents – across St Albans, Harpenden and the villages – who are passionate about growing food.

It has been running for over nine years – with hundreds of people coming along to visit the gardens, and being inspired to grow their own food. New for this year – each garden has identified a theme which runs through the garden.

Seedlings are sometimes on offer.  Now included are local allotments, and FoodSmiles community food growing spaces and gardens in Harpenden and St Albans. If you are lucky, you may even get a cuppa and cake.

These events are friendly, informal events. Wander around for  20 minutes, stay an hour and chat to the gardener, talk to the flowers, share ideas with other visitors – its up to you!


Sun June 23rd 3 – 5pm. Theme: raised beds

23 Gresford Close, St Albans AL4 OUB

This is a small garden, found in St Albans, near to Oaklands College. It has been excellently organised to make incredible use of the 10 square metres . This Open Food Garden event will certainly give you ideas about how to pack in the most food growing in small spaces – while maintaining a relaxed and enjoyable atmosphere to enjoy the outdoors.

Food is grown in both the back and front gardens. In the south facing front garden there is a mixture of fruit, vegetables and herbs, growbags for tomatoes. The multi-purpose back garden, which also incorporates shaded seating areas, planting to attract wildlife and a small pond, is about 10 metres square. It includes three raised beds where vegetables, minarette fruit trees, soft fruit trained on fences and herbs are grown.

There are several water butts and compost bin. The house has solar panels.IMG_5353


Friendly, fun and informal -you are invited to have a look round, even get a cup of tea and cake if you are lucky! You are welcome to talk to the plants, chat to the gardener or other visitors. Come on your own or bring a neighbour! See what fruit and vegetables can be grown at home! Get tips and advice on designing your vegetable plot and how to deal with critters!

The events are free but we do welcome a suggested £2 donation to Sustainable St Albans charity to help cover the costs.  Volunteers are always needed for the programme especially to help on the day showing visitors in. If you are interested in helping by volunteering on the day, please get in touch and email us click here

juneplustwo

 

What makes our city sustainable?

Place is such an important factor in identity. When you meet someone, your first question is most likely ‘Where are you from?’ The pride that may (or may not) come from the answer given is what I work to foster in St Albans. As #SustFest19 will tell you, sustainability is not just about reduce/reuse/recycle. While important, elements around community cohesion, mental wellbeing and business viability all contribute to a city’s sustainability.


Gin & Jazz 2018 Stephanie Belton (3)

Credit: Stephanie Belton 2018

Today’s blog is written by Helen Burridge, Business Manager of St Albans Bid – which is sponsoring the #SustFest19 St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19th May.


St Albans businesses care deeply about the viability of this city. The economic confidence of the community, the visitors, the employees and the residents will translate into economic prosperity for its businesses. Three years ago, the businesses in St Albans voted to become a Business Improvement District, paying a small contribution into a pot that collectively makes a significant contributor to events, public realm, safety and marketing of the City. The BID can also help to represent those businesses in various discussions with the public and private sectors on a local, regional and national level.

As the BID Manager of St Albans BID it’s my job to make sure that the investment made by the BID Members makes the city a great place to live, work and do business, both now and in the future, and of course a large part of that work then becomes looking at ways to make the city more sustainable, in the many and various ways that that covers.

clown

While I will acknowledge the ongoing wailing and gnashing of teeth about the ‘death of the high street’ in fact, there is an argument to say that this change in retail is actually the death throes of consumerism itself. A change from ‘want/have’ economics to ‘need/consider’ economics: the desperate and hysterical consumption of the 80s and 90s now looks decidedly distasteful and is being replaced by a borrow/reuse/packaging free/fewer-better kind of purchasing.

TimeTurn 2018 Credit Stephanie Belton (42)

Credit: Stephanie Belton

St Albans as a City is well placed to survive this change in consumer behaviour. The self-selecting curation of our retail businesses (you will find an audience if your product is good) is continuing to be demonstrated by reliable, quality local (and national) brands weathering the current climate and providing confident, good-news stories about customer experience, quality product and curated taste-making. On the internet, endless choice is overwhelming. In St Albans you will find a quality offer, selected by informed businesses, helping you to make reasoned decisions about where you shop, where you eat and where you socialise.

small bid logo picture - 19.12.2017In the wider community there are many and various entrepreneurial and disruptive businesses considering these changes in consumer behaviour and working to appeal to a considered and engaged local population. Can you eat vegan or vegetarian? Can you buy locally grown or locally made products? Can you go plastic-free, or packaging-free? Can you travel in a way that is more kind to the environment while still being relevant to what you need to get through your day? There are so many options and it can be overwhelming to know where to start to live a more sustainable life.

With this in mind, St Albans BID is delighted to sponsor the St Albans Market Takeover on Sunday 19 May. Bringing together like-minded businesses to prevent the many and various ways that small interventions by individuals can make a collective difference will help to show that actually these changes are not that insurmountable.

St Albans BID supports the Market Takeover because it’s the right thing to do, but also because the day will be fun, engaging, illuminating and most importantly, it will encourage and support enough individuals to make small changes that will, collectively make a large impact. Just like BID. Looking forward to seeing you there!

Market

Follow the Blue Dot trail

From May 11th ’til June 1st join in with Plastic Free St Albans Blue Dot Art Trail #SustFest19 event. Spot the dots and discover a variety of creative perspectives on the topic of single-use plastic through the lens of local artists.

• Over 30 incredible pieces of art created by local artists
• Covering a multitude of media from oil painting, photography to mixed media
• Being exhibited in many venues in and around St Albans incl Courtyard Cafe, Inn On the Park, St Albans Museum, Raft, The Refill Pantry, Headcase barbers, Fade to Black and many more…
• Can be experienced as a full trail or in separate visits, let’s see how many dots you can spot to protect our precious planet, the earth, our blue dot.
• Find the digital map @ https://plasticfreestalbans.org.uk/sustfest19-art-trail/

Don’t forget to share your thoughts and ideas about the trail and what we can do to reduce single-use plastic on our plastic free St Albans FB page, Instagram or twitter! Include #bluedotarttrail

Do you eat food? Then you can change the world.

“We take our groceries for granted, but they’re a big part of every day for us all and it’s easy to forget that what we eat impacts the world in countless ways.”



We are delighted to introduce this fascinating guest blog this week from Naomi Distill, the inspiration behind Incredible Edible St Albans, a project of Food Smiles St Albans – and the winners of  Environmental Champions in the St Albans Mayor’s Pride Awards 2019.


In our modern, global world our food systems play into almost every big issue on earth;

air and water pollution, soil depletion and loss, hunger and poverty, climate change, economy, habitat loss and species extinction, animal cruelty and human slavery, rubbish and landfill, public health and antibiotic resistance.

But as author and activist Michael Pollan famously says:

“The wonderful thing about food is you get three votes a day. Every one of them has the potential to change the world.”

The food with the smallest environmental impact is that which grows easily on the land where you live. That way your food has grown in harmony with its environment without the need for extra inputs, it supports local people and economy, and it doesn’t need to travel, nor be wrapped, gassed and refrigerated for travel. And there’s no better way to reduce those food miles and to know that your food is naturally grown than to grow some of it yourself.

2017 working together2

FoodSmiles St Albans growing site

Healthy food without chemicals and food for the soul

Growing even a little of your own food has countless benefits. Not only do you get healthy food grown without chemicals, without a big carbon footprint and without a plastic wrapper. It is more nutritious and often more delicious, because it’s perfectly fresh and because the soils in biodiverse home gardens and allotments tend to be much more nutrient-rich than tired farm soils bearing monocultures. It’s cheap, easy to do and extemely rewarding.

You get to reconnect with natural cycles and processes that are all but forgotten in modern life..

beetroot

..and you get to spend time outdoors, in contact with the earth, hearing the sounds and witnessing the intricacies of nature and breathing fresh air.

You get a little exercise too, and it’s a perfect way to connect with other like-minded people if you decide to take on an allotment or join a community growing scheme.

But I don’t know how

A lot of people seem afraid to try growing food because they feel they don’t know how, but there really is nothing simpler than putting a few seeds in some compost, keeping it moist and seeing what happens, and you have little to lose!

seedlings

Plants WANT to grow – they WANT to succeed and fruit and prosper –

..so many will take care of themselves if you just provide for their basic needs, and the back of the seed pack usually has a few useful tips too (ALWAYS to be taken as guidelines, not gospel!) and there are many books and websites available to guide you along the way. As with learning to cook, you won’t get everything right all the time, but you’ll learn as you go along and improve each and every time you try!

flower peas

Where to begin

Identify where you’re going to grow..

..choosing an area with as much direct sunshine and natural light as possible.

Next, choose your veg. A great way to do this is to first think of the vegetables you already eat most at home – though if you subsist on aubergines, sweet potatoes and chickpeas some compromise might be a good idea; some crops are easy while others have trickier needs, so it’s a good idea to start with the simplest or else grow a mix!

The absolute easiest crops to grow in our climate are potatoes, French beans, broad beans, Swiss chard, courgettes, tomatoes, beetroots, lettuces and salad leaves.

leaves

Swiss Chard is easy to grow

Short on space

red radishThough you’d get more from a garden patch, many useful crops can be grown in pots on your patio, front drive or even a balcony, and many people grow significant amounts of food this way. Focus on crops that give a continuous harvest for a period, such as tomatoes, beans, and salad greens, and be sure to water (and feed) well as pots often dry out faster than the earth.

Short on time?

Perennial crops save loads of time and last year-round or come back each spring, with no need for digging the soil, sowing, transplanting and so on each year. Fruit bushes, strawberries, rhubarb and woody herbs (rosemary, thyme, oregano etc.) are all reliable low-maintenance perennials..

..but also consider searching out perennial greens such as Caucasian vining spinach, perennial kale, sea beet, wild rocket, sorrel and more, as well as reliable self-seeders such as purslane, winter purslane and land cress.

Once planted, your food plot will need little care other than occasional weeding and thinning, and annual pruning of fruit bushes.

Short on sunshine

Leafy crops are a good choice for shady plots; try lettuces, rocket, cabbage, kale, spring onions, spinach and chard.

If your plot gets sunlight for half the day, most root crops will be okay too; potatoes, carrots and beetroots are all well worth a try, and so are peas and broad beans.

beansand carrots

What are you waiting for?

Now is the perfect time to start planning, whether you’d like to rent an allotment, revamp the garden or just start a single pot on your patio. Grow a little something this year and see how rewarding, healthy and delicious it can be!

Or if you’re still not ready to go it alone, consider joining a community growing group such as FoodSmiles St Albans, where members work together to grow food and learn growing skills –

or join us at one of our Incredible Edible gardens where you can see how we do it and grill us with your gardening questions!

Tips for low-carbon growing:

  • Buy only peat-free compost (or make your own, but clean and sterile commercial compost will give you a higher success rate when seed-sowing).
  • Grow from organic seeds or seeds that you (or a friend) have saved. Organic seeds come from strains of plants that haven’t had to rely on chemical fertilisers or pesticides, so their offspring shouldn’t have to rely on them either.
  • Sow at the correct time, when light levels and temperatures are adequate for what you’re trying to grow – this avoids the need for growlights or heated propagators. Often a seed packet will tell you the very earliest time you could possibly get away with sowing a seed, but aim a bit later to give it the best chance. On a similar note, do you best to grow plants which are suitable for your location; plants with less-than-desirable growing conditions often need more input to keep them healthy. Consider growing more of the things you grow well, and swapping some with a friend who succeeds with different crops.
  • Avoid chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which have a high carbon footprint and harm the soil, the insect life and possibly you! Most pest problems on a small scale can be controlled by hand (removal or squishing!), with a mild home-made soap spray, or by using insect-proof mesh to keep insects off.
  • Install a water butt to harvest rainwater for your garden.
  • Don’t be tempted by all the fancy equipment that’s available! Buy only what you need, or share tools with a friend, and buy quality that will last. And try not to buy plastic pots – many gardeners will have a surplus they’re happy to share with you, or you can easily find inspiration online for repurposing other containers for food-growing.

Naomi Distill, FoodSmiles St Albans 2019 (All photos from Naomi Distill).

 

If you are intrigued and want to find out more – FoodSmiles St Albans are taking part in SustFest19 with at least three events during the festival.

Sat 11 May: FoodSmiles Open Day, and site tour – with cake!  Hammonds End Farm site

Sun 12 May: Incredible Edible, Civic Centre St Albans

Sat 25th May: Incredible Edible Russell AVe, St Albans

Also see Open Food Gardens 2019 programme

onions leeks

The Easiest Food to Grow in a Sustainable Vegetable Garden

Sustainability is the order of the day, and more people are aware of the effects of traditional gardening on the environment. The goal of sustainable gardening is to reduce the impact of pesticides, herbicides and excessive energy consumption on our planet.


Many thanks to our guest writer today – on sustainable food growing –  James Carpenter from Carpenter’s Nursery


While maintaining a sustainable garden is more of a challenge, it is possible to have one without a ton of work. Here are the easiest foods to grow in a sustainable vegetable garden.

Tomatoes

There are several reasons you see tomatoes in almost every garden including container gardens. One is that they’re so versatile. Use them as the base for a sauce, toss them in salads or eat them off the vine like the fruit they really are. The other advantage is that they’re easy to grow once the seeds have taken root. Many people love cherry tomatoes because they produce fruit so fast. And there’s the fact that they grow vertically, a serious advantage when you have a container garden.

tomatoes sustainable vegetable garden carpenters nursery

Shallots

Shallots can be grown in pots as long as they receive full sun, and they don’t need much to help them grow. All they need is rich and loose soil to thrive. They can also be a great substitute for onions, but require much less space and care.

Garlic

If you want to start a kitchen garden, herbs are one of the best choices. Parsley and chives make this list, but you’ll get the most out of vegetables that will fill a growbag, containers, or troughs while giving you the greatest flavor per ounce. And the first herb that we find that meets those criteria is garlic.

Garlic needs deep, wide containers with lots of sun. Other than that, garlic is easy to grow. You can harvest a bulb and use it in a meal while the rest of the plants continue to grow. A little fresh garlic will add zing to any sauce, soup or meat dish.

Leafy Greens

Lettuce can be grown indoors as long as the containers receive enough sun. You could also try chard as an alternative. It grows like a weed and will regenerate leaves you chop off. It can even be used in place of lettuce in salads, but it could be added to stews and soups as well.

Another easy to grow leafy green is spinach. It can be raised in containers outside or in an indoor container. It only needs six inches of soil, though more is preferable. It will be ready to harvest in six to eight weeks.

Beetroot

Beetroot is ideal for container gardens because it grows in almost any soil and any climate – it is almost impossible to mess up unless you hide it in the closet. All it needs is a container at least ten inches deep and adequate sunlight.

Choose the right plants for your container garden, and you’ll enjoy as much produce as if you had a garden plot. They’ll also require much less water and energy to be grown, which is a right step towards more sustainability.