PLANT Note: Kaska has agreed to blog for us as a participant in grow-at-home challenge – you can read her contributions here.
How long have you been growing food at home?
On and off probably for about 15 years but never in great quantities.
Is this your first garden?
I actually do not have a real garden at the moment – I am trying to grow on two balconies and around the drying green area in my block of flats. I grew food in real gardens before but that was in Canberra in Australia. So it is really my first attempt at growing in a Scottish climate – I started 3-4 years ago.
What inspired you to start growing food?
I grew up in Poland in the 1970s and 80s and at that time everybody grew their own food, mostly because there was not much of it in the shops. Allotments and local market gardens were a big thing. Lawns not so much;) I still miss the glut of fresh and very cheap strawberries and cherries which would appear in season. So I think growing food was just a natural thing to do. Most recent balcony growing started because we wanted some fresh herbs for our cooking and a nice place to sit out in summer. This year, I started a ‘bag garden’ for veggies, inspired by Fife Diet and PLANT CCF project, and their call to reduce carbon food print by growing and eating local.
What is your gardening philosophy/main influence?
Despite their horticultural background, my parents were not particularly impressive food growers (sorry, Mum and Dad) – but I inherited my passion for all things botanical from them. It is hard to pinpoint a single main influence just now but I remember always being impressed with unordered, imprecise gardens, where food growing was the main purpose but which were also aesthetically pleasant in a shabby chic sort of way, and provided plenty of space for wildlife. Gardens which required minimum input – maintenance-, resource- and cash-wise. I still remember the gardens of Greek and Italian immigrants in Canberra who went against the local grass obsession and converted their front and back lawns into lush food havens. I also remember my family friend in Poland, Jarek, whose cavalier sowing style would drive any self-respecting row- and spacing-obsessed horticulturist to distraction. I am forever in awe of permacultural food forests. I would like to try it one day. And continental balconies – they tend to overflow with flowers and often also with food. A couple of more recent influences are the Incredible Edible movement in the UK which promotes growing food in public spaces, and James Wong (@botanygeek) with his passion for unusual and exotic but useful.
Your favourite food plant to grow right now and why?
Fresh herbs – they do not take up too much space, do not generally require any mollycoddling and can make such a difference in your cooking!
Current challenge and how you’re tackling it?
I am trying to grow some vegetables in addition to my balcony herbs this year and I have set up a bag garden in my drying green (I thought that the balconies may not take the extra weight from the additional soil!). I chose potatoes as I have not grown them before and they are supposed to be quite easy to grow in Scotland – and so far they are living up to that reputation. I managed to adopt a zucchini and a tomato as well…So far the challenge is not as much growing the things – but keeping off the council’s herbicide sprays. I think perhaps a politely worded sign may discourage them:)
Your favourite local nursery/garden centre/supplier and why?
I have used the usual suspects in Dundee so far but I am always on the lookout for somewhere that grows things locally rather than importing ready-grown seedlings from elsewhere. For the potatoes I discovered Bidgend Nursery at Freuchie this year – they have over 100 varieties of seed tatties (Thanks Jessie:). Otherwise I try to scavenge local resources – for example, just now trying to make some liquid feed from nettle and comfrey leaves collected along the bike path.
What is your go-to resource for food gardening at the moment and why?
This year I came across Vertical Veg on Facebook, which has been an amazing resource and inspiration for growing in containers and confined spaces in the UK. It’s run by Mark Ridsdill Smith. I have used some of his tips but I also enjoy seeing pictures from container gardeners from around the world which he showcases on the Facebook page.
What would be a single piece of advice you would give to somebody just starting to grow food in a Tayport garden?
It is surprisingly easy to grow your own. And very satifsying. Start with a small plot, or even a couple of pots, pick a couple of your favourite vegetables or herbs and research how to grow them. Find a friendly neighbour – or a friendly PLANT member 😉 – whom you can bribe with tea and cake in exchange for their growing advice.