More people in Britain were already starting to grow their own because of Brexit but, with this new viral madness causing scarcity with panic buying from fear of disruption to food supply lines, many more of us are using the age-old wisdom of beneficial companion planting to grow fruit, flowers and vegetables together in any available land from allotments to windowboxes. I planted potatoes, Brussels sprouts and cabbages next to chives and sage on Good Friday a fortnight ago (on the Western church calendar) and since then beetroot, runner beans and sunflowers.
Monoculture may look neat but when you try to grow all of the same plants in rows you create problems of pests and space and support and soil nutrient depletion, all of which then need to be solved. Forest gardening is an age-old form of permaculture that I’d heard about from a Jamaican English friend and that’s the direction I want to move in – but plants don’t react well to huge sudden change (forget all the horticultural entertainment you see on TV) so I decided to start small.
Growing different companion layers of both root and leafy veg uses space efficiently and healthily but I wanted to provide more protection (from birds and my dog Ben) as well as good soil nutrition – and I had a huge pile of twigs and branches I’d trimmed in autumn that had served as a hedgehog hotel over winter. There would be more this autumn so I could use them now. First thing was to grade them and half the long ones. Then I put in the posts at the corners and intervals using a dibber, a hammer and a bit of wood.
Now I could start to weave. My blind grandfather had woven mats during the war, taught the skills by Blind Veterans UK (then St Dunstan’s) so the skill should be in my genes. It was certainly in my imagination but I’d no idea how much time it would take to even weave a foot-high wicker fence. I’d decided to grow sunflowers and runner beans in the sunniest corner, so I made that higher.
Checking on compatibility, I saw that sunflowers are allopathic meaning that the growth of neighbouring plants can suffer, so I decided that when they sprouted I’d keep them in pots and set them on tiles surrounding the damper soil I’d sown with beetroot and covered with the riddle to keep the birds off. But the beans could go directly under the fencing and use it to climb – though they’ll need stakes too for when they get taller.
My sister gave me some strawberry plants and they have joined the parsley and the lovely sanvitalia (with the unlovely common name of creeping zinnia) and the pot of tulips and hostas in the greenhouse.
She also gave me a purple ball-flowered plant that I think is an allium, related to onions and garlic, so good for keeping pests away and attracting bees. I put that next to the sage – no, it’s not thyme, what was I thinking?
So much for plants and their protection, what about their nutrition? Before heading out the door for the garden centre (probably not open) consider that most of us already have all the ingredients of good compost at home: greens (basically everything organic), browns (paper and cardboard including inked and coloured but not plasticated), air and moisture. Advice varies about the ratios and frequency of turning but it’s generally agreed that all four ingredients make for a happy compost heap – even indoors! So why recycle your greens and browns separately, then spend money on compost, when you can combine them and make your own?
With that in mind, I relocated the compost bin to a shady spot, on top of some twigs covering the space where a slab had been, and took the opportunity to turn it over. Then I raided the recycling bin and ended up composting about three quarters of it!
So, in this present war against madness, dig for victory! And if you’d like to find out who’s the real enemy (cos it’s really not about that bat soup crazy virus theory) then dig for truth. Two people who are doing just that are Spiro Skouras and Whitney Webb. Their content will probably soon be censored so, if you want to find out what’s really going on, dig in!
Photos © Alan McManus