A novice's guide to producing his own food

Going to ground

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Having dug over some of the soil, I was desperate to actually get something into the ground. I needed to get planting. 

I had been seeking advice from a colleague of mine called Gordon over what to do next, and he said, “I’ll bring in some potatoes and onion sets.” Sets, I thought, what are these? But I was too ashamed to ask. So a quick Google later, I learned they were baby onions, as opposed to seeds. Of course, I then wondered why gardeners didn’t just call them baby onions. I would have. 

I’d also invested in one of those cheap books you find in odd places in large stores, and that are always reduced by about 70%. This one was called Practical Allotment Gardening, by Caroline Foley, and was reduced from £12.99 to £2.99, and it is was a godsend. Perfect for an idiot like me. Plenty of pictures, but more importantly, few words. Simple and straightforward. 

The first thing I learned was “crop rotation”. Of course, I’d heard of it before in history at school. Crops are rotated each year to maintain the soil, and stop an explosion of pests. I hadn’t planned for this. So, grabbing Gordon’s potatoes and onion sets (and a packet of lettuce and radish seeds from Dobbies), I headed off to the allotment, buzzing with new ideas. 

 Crop rotation meant I should have four roughly-equal beds. One for potatoes, one for legumes (peas, to you and me), one for brassicas (sprouts, cabbage), and one for root veg (carrots). Of the four, I only had potatoes, so, ignoring my kids’ hard work from the previous week (shame on me!), I reorganised the allotment into roughly four equal rectangles, with a spare bit at the top for lettuces, and other odds and sods. 

Then I dug a trench roughly five inches deep, sprinkled it with organic compost, and popped in my first potato. Here it is: 

The very first thing I planted. Ain't she a beauty?

The very first thing I planted. Ain't she a beauty?


I should have been as proud as shit (and part of me was), but I was also riddled with questions? Is the trench too deep? Is it too shallow? Have I damaged the roots? Is anyone watching me make a fool of myself? 

But the biggest question was: do I earth up the potatoes now or later. All the books say you should pile up earth over the potatoes when the first shoots appear to stop frost damage. However, everyone else in the allotment seemed to have done it when they planted their spuds. They didn’t wait.  And, as was pointed out, farmers don’t return to a field to earth up either. They just do it at the same time a s planting. I was confused, but decided to follow the books, and just rake the spuds over. I’ll make the earthing-up decision at another date. 

I had fewer doubts about planting the onion sets. This seemed lemon squeezy – make a wee hole with you finger and pop then in. Nae bother. Distance between onions dictate how big they grow, so I decided to keep them fairly close, as they should be smaller and have more flavour. This was far more satisfying that the potatoes, because when I’d finished you could actually see the results of your work.. 


Two happy little onions


Now, I felt like I was getting somewhere. 

Finally, it was time for the lettuces and radishes. This proved to be easier still. Simply sprinkle in a straight line,  cover lightly with soil, and water gently. Done, and done. 

Mind you, again anxieties did creep in. Did I cover them too deeply? Did they become scattered from their perfectly straight lines? Did the water wash away the seeds? 

Anxieties aside, I’d finally finished. I’d planted one bed full of potatoes, four rows of onions, some lettuces, and some radishes. Not bad for an hour’s work. Now, to sneak off home for a lie down, and hopefully the next time I return I’ll see some growth.

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