Growing your own food is daunting, but everyone starts somewhere

Would-be veg growers are often deterred by the seeming complexity of home-growing, but as permaculture columnist Nicole Vosper says, it’s a learning exercise – even master gardeners were newbies once

Spring was a long time coming. We were clearing snow from our greenhouses in March, and cautiously starting everything later for fear of germinating temperatures.

But now, with the glorious sunshine, everything has finally come to life. The soil warmed up and seedlings with their long roots and bolshy leaves demanded to be planted out.

When I first started growing, it all felt like a tightrope of uncertainty. Would the seeds germinate? Was I planting things out at the right time? What if the slugs got them?

Not growing up in a culture where food growing is something you observe from birth, it feels like a major re-learning. Studying horticulture and permaculture helped; getting my head around Latin names, botany and soil science was slightly comforting in understanding what on Earth I was meant to do next. Of course, it still felt like a mystery.

Fortunately I have been able to learn from my Mum, who I garden with, who lately has been pretty much holding the fort on her own while I become engulfed in campaigns and work. I fall in the house after long days of calls, computers and organising, and she washes the soil from her hands and informs me what’s doing well and invariably asks – again – where we’re going to put those courgettes.

One recent aspect of my work with Somerset Community Food, the local charity I work for, has been starting a Master Gardener Scheme in partnership with national charity, Garden Organic. Master Gardeners are volunteers that encourage and advise people who would like to grow their own in whatever space they have, from a pot on a windowsill to a new allotment, and everything in between.

We now have 16 Master Gardeners in Somerset, each aiming to support at least five households in starting to grow, or keeping on with growing, their own veg. The idea isn’t that volunteers go in and turn your soil for you (or lay down mulch if they are no-dig enthusiasts, like most of our Master Gardeners are). The idea is that they are there to answer questions, to inspire, to encourage you to keep going even if the carrot fly have got at your carrots, or your compost is still a soggy mess. They’ll keep suggesting things to try and offer that holding hand as people gain confidence in beginning a relationship with food, from plot to plate.

Master Gardeners also promote food growing at events. Nothing beats a long morning in front of the computer screen than a phone call from a Master Gardener saying what a great event they did recently, how many seeds they gave out and all the kids that took interest in sowing peas.

And guess who was one of the first people to sign up as a Master Gardener in Somerset? That’s right, my Mum. Having witnessed her passion and learned from her ways over the past three years, I feel like she has helped me to grow, and not just in the garden!

So if you’re a confident food grower, how about sharing a bit of that knowledge this season? If you’re a newbie, how about finding the courage to ask your neighbour why their brassicas are dwarfing yours?

If we are going to be able to feed ourselves in the future, really achieve food sovereignty or simply find some nourishing food among our industrial food system, we need to support each other to learn how to grow. So what are you waiting for? Get in the garden!