Part of our plan for our new life in Orkney, is to gradually become as self-sufficient as we can. This year we were supposed to be building our own polytunnel, so that we could could begin to grow our own fruits and vegetables. It would have to be strong enough to withstand the high winds we get on our little island in the North Sea, but be considerably cheaper than a polycrub.
Like people all around the world, our plans for this year had to change because, of the covid-19 lockdown.
I didn’t want to give up completely though, so with the few packets of seeds that we had brought with us in the move, I made a start.
I must confess that I have very little experience when it comes to growing our own food. Our first proper garden was almost completely in shade, so not an ideal space for growing veg. The next garden had been neglected for years and was so overgrown when we bought it, that we couldn’t get into it!
In the three years that we were there, we managed to clear it all and create some pretty spaces, but we had just bought a small polytunnel for veg, when we realised that it was time to move on to Orkney.
I did have a go at growing some veg in that crazy, overgrown garden though. We managed to raise a very fine selection of tomatoes, but unfortunately they all got blight just before they were ready. Other seedlings that we cleared a small space for, got snaffled by the hundreds of slugs and snails that seemed to think our garden was a paradise!
So I have started this whole plan to grow our own fruit and veg, rather nervously, especially since so many people have told us how hard it is to grow vegetables up here.
As much as the covid-19 lockdown had messed with our plans, it also reinforced our feelings that self-sufficiency was the way to go. So I put my doubts and lack of confidence to one side and started sowing seeds.
We didn’t have any seed trays and although I could have ordered some online, we are trying to keep costs to a minimum, so I started hoarding all kinds of food containers that might be useful. Egg boxes, yoghurt pots, custard cartons, milk cartons, mushroom trays, margarine pots – have all found a new use as seed trays and plant pots.
Fortunately, I had already bought three bags of compost for starting seedlings, so we had everything that we needed to begin our growing adventure.
On one of our monthly shopping trips for groceries, Matt even managed to bring home a very large strawberry plant. We were all very excited about that, because we didn’t think that we would be able to start any fruit this year, with it being so difficult to get hold of things. It gave us all a real boost.
In fact, starting our little seedlings has had a really positive impact on our family, at a time which is very difficult and uncertain for everybody. It’s a little step forward and that’s so important in hard times, to feel that you are moving in the right direction, even if it’s slower than you had hoped.
Our kids have all been getting involved with the planting, which is great. We really want them to feel confident to make and grow anything that they need. So they have been planting their own seeds and thinning out the seedlings.
Most of this growing activity has been taking place in the small south-facing room at the front of our house. We call it the porch, but I guess it was intended as a little sun room as it has windows on three sides. Whatever it’s intended purpose it is badly in need of renovation, but for this year it is our temporary greenhouse. We also use it as a storeroom for our groceries, as we buy in bulk every three-four weeks. We’ve found that it’s the cheapest and easiest way, now that we live on a small island.
So you can probably imagine that it’s a rather tight space, overloaded with things. Oh and we have squeezed some tadpoles in there as well! We found the spawn up on the peat bog and thought it would be nice to watch them develop, but that’s another post!
In just a few weeks, we have started a considerable amount of seedlings. Salad leaves, tomatoes, spring onions, broccoli, chard, beetroot, aubergines and some herbs. This week we have also started some turnips, fennel and a few flowers (just for fun).
We have even enjoyed our first homegrown salad, from our cut and come again salad leaves. Everything is doing really well, but the nerves are starting to set in again, because I have run out of compost and at the moment we can’t get anymore. I have also run out of space and as the seedlings grow I need more room to plant them on into bigger containers.
I have had to accept that I am going to have to be brave and start planting them outside. So I am making small beds in our walled front garden, hoping that it will give them some protection from the wind. They have also got to survive the hailstorms that seem to blow up from nowhere and the neighbour’s chickens, who have taken a fancy to our garden. Not to mention the dreaded slugs. I have to say, I have seen very few slugs since we moved here, but I can’t help feeling that they will all queue up at our garden the minute that I put out the first seedling!
We will just have to keep our fingers crossed and see what happens. I will keep the salad crops and herbs indoors, so we’ll have something to show for our efforts and I know that we are all learning from this year, which will make next year all the better – when we finally get our tunnel.