There’s nothing more satisfying then growing and eating your own fruit and veggies. Not only is getting out in your garden or allotment a fun way to stay active and improve your wellbeing – it’s great for the planet too!
Here, our Environmental Performance Manager and keen gardener Mandy shares her tips and tricks for growing perfect produce, as well as some brilliant ways to save time, money and water.
“My advice for beginners would be to grow what you like to eat. Sometimes some things just don't work – but that’s ok! You can always try again or try something else.”
What is your role at South East Water and how long have you worked for the company?
I’ve been with the company for six years now. I worked as an ecological consultant for nearly ten years before joining South East Water. Prior to that my jobs included a brief spell as a laboratory technician in a school, and I also worked in a rainforest as a mammal scientist.
My job title is Environmental Performance Manager and I work in the company’s Environment team. Our team assesses the environmental impact of South East Water’s operations, and works with the rest of the business to identify and reduce potential impacts to the environment.
What made you take up gardening?
My dad had an allotment when I was small where I got into growing pumpkins. My brother and I would go along, play in our makeshift 'camp' and generally cause havoc. I don't recall being involved with the rest of the allotment itself as a child, but I enjoyed eating the produce.
At home I grew sunflowers, cacti and spider plants (I used to sell these to raise funds at school fairs). I also enjoyed going out on my bike into the countryside on hot summer days to pick wild blackberries. Later, I had a few stints doing fruit picking as a casual job. Ever since moving into my own home i’ve grown lots of things in my garden, and the allotment naturally followed. It’s still very much developing and evolving, as gardens and allotments should do!
What are your top tips for green fingered beginners?
My advice for beginners would be to grow what you like to eat. It’s best to start small, growing a few pots or planters well, and then expand. It’s also a good idea to look around you to see what others are growing well in the soil type and climate. Sometimes some things just don't work – but that’s ok! You can always try again or try something else.
Here are some of my top tips:
- Make your own compost using a compost bin – it’s cheaper than having to buy it each year
- Plant seeds in compost, in a toilet roll tube. It’s cheaper than buying biodegradable pots and it’s a great recycling trick
- Farmyard manure is great for your plants over winter. Try to find a source which doesn't bring in too many weeds. Cattle manure is usually a good option
- Freeze surplus fruit and vegetables to see you through winter. Preparing double in the summer doesn't take long, and means you can have home grown produce all year round. You can also make up sauces from items such as tomatoes and onions This will give you a lovely ready-made base for a casserole, curry or soup
- Get jamming with excess and ‘imperfect’ fruit. Try any variety and combination, you will be surprised what works well. A good guide for this is to choose things that grow at the same time.
- Once fruits are developing, water little and oftenTo avoid the fruit cracking, swelling or drying up
- Grow some things to harvest all year round so you can always take something home from your allotment. Purple sprouting broccoli, potatoes and leeks are some of my favourites
- Experiment – some things will work and be really good, other ideas won’t. This year I’ve tried growing a loofah with ideas of home grown dishwashing sponges and Christmas gifts. It hasn’t been much of a success so far, but I’m going to try doing it differently next year
- Share! If you have too many of something pass it on to somebody who will use it. Hopefully they will return the favour
How do you save water in your garden/allotment?
I think it’s really important to use water wisely in your garden or allotment. It can save you time, money and make a big difference to your local environment. Installing water butts is a great place to start. We currently have eight butts with more planned for the future.
Another good tip is to water your plants last thing at night or first thing in the morning. Generally I prefer last thing in the evening, as it’s lovely to be out at that time of day. However, first thing in the morning is best for things like lettuces which are prone to slugs. If you water in the evening you create perfect damp conditions for the slugs when they are most active.
Be careful not to water too much early on, so that your plants grow their roots down to seek water. Watering too much will make the roots grow close to the surface, making them more prone to drying out and less able to obtain water in drier conditions. You could also grow perennials such as asparagus, rhubarb, fruit bushes and trees. These are fairly self-sufficient when it comes to water. They’ll benefit from a small amount of water if it’s dry, but will survive without once they are established – they just won't produce quite so much or so well if there is a dry spell.
Make sure to water the base of most plants straight into the soil near the roots, rather than watering the foliage. You can try putting an upturned two litre drink bottle in the ground with the bottom of the bottle cut off. Just pop an upturned flower pot over the top of the bottle to stop animals falling in. This will help water get straight to the roots.
I also like to save my washing up water and water from washing all my fruit or vegetables to put back on my garden or allotment.
“I think it’s really important to use water wisely in your garden or allotment, it can save you time, money and make a big difference to your local environment. Installing water butts is a great place to start.”
Looking for ways to save water in your garden? Visit our website for free tips and gadgets.