A few weeks ago I received an email from someone called Susan, asking me if I could offer any advice about starting a vegetable garden and getting a bit of a handle of doing things more sustainably. Well, some would say it is dangerous to ask me for advice because it is something I have plenty of and I shouldn't be encouraged to give it too often! However, Susan didn't know this and having more advice than could reasonably be written in a thousand emails, I offered to go and visit her and see what we could come up with together.
What I discovered was a wonderful blank slate..... a back yard unadulterated with anything much except a couple of sheds, a bit of concrete, some kikuyu grass..... and a couple of dogs, one being a visitor. Susan started the whole operation as if she knew me well..... by offering me a really good cup of coffee, made to measure.
We went outside and dug around a bit in the soil, talked about what she knew and what she hoped to achieve. Susan has plenty of enthusiasm and lots of energy and it was so lovely to think of the years she has ahead of her and all the things she will learn and grow to love..... and hate.... about her garden. I gave her some seeds to get her started because there is nothing better than getting on with things as soon as you can. She sent me an email a couple of days later and said she had sowed some of the seeds already, in a little seed-raising tray someone had given her ages ago which had still been in its wrapper when I saw it!
We drew up a bit of a sketch and I jotted down some ideas. I love seeing people start gardening for the first time. I am so happy to help ensure some success and careful not to swamp them with details that will put them off while trying to give enough advice to be useful. I am no expert but I have learned a few things over the years that I hope will help Susan make the most of her patch.
I recommended a book to Susan, that removes the uncertainty of where and how to begin. It is by Jackie French and was written maybe 20 years ago and called "Towards Backyard Self-sufficiency".... I think! She says, to get started clear a patch 3m square. Dig it over a bit, rake it smoothish. Buy a few seed packets of your favourite vegetables and sprinkle them liberally over the patch of soil. Sprinkle over some more soil, press it down and water in. Keep damp and see what happens. This is a wonderful way to discover for yourself quite a lot of things to help you in the future, without worrying at all about what "the experts" say. I once read that an "ex" is a has-been and a "spurt" is a drip under pressure..... so the advice of experts should be taken as advice (or not taken at all) and not as set of rules!
Susan, I wish you a bountiful harvest and many happy years in what will soon be your garden. And I hope that when you are 50, like me, you will be lucky enough to be asked to help someone else get started on the road towards backyard self-sufficiency.