This 'book' is intended for people who want to grow a lot of the food and eat it fresh every week of the year, although it might be useful to more casual gardeners.
You will find that it's more prescriptive than most gardening books, because it's based on what we actually do. None of the content comes from recycling previous gardening books, it's all practical and proven; except where I describe experiments that are currently ongoing. As a result readers will need to interpret how to apply the contents to their personal circumstances. Proven for me, might not translate into right for you.
There are no inflated promises in this book. I'm not going to pretend that you won't have any weeds, or that you can "grow all you can eat, in three square feet", like one book I own. To be mostly self-sufficient in veg a family of four needs about 150m2 or more of actual growing area and an average of a day a week to tend it. It's not easy, but it's possible for it to be a fun hobby, rather than a chore.
<aside> 💡 You can see what we grow in the chapter, How much space do you need and see our progress for each month of the year in the reference information section.
My objective is to provide a good introduction to the way that we grow, harvest and store our food. It's not intended to be a text book, rather a guide to my system of growing. Hopefully by learning about my system will help you to think through how you want to garden, whether you want to be self-sufficient and if so, how you want to be self-sufficient.
This book is different to most gardening books. I’ve tried hard not to regurgitate the same old information that can be found in every previous gardening book going back decades. Rather, it attempts to focus on the specifics of how to actually grow what you want to eat, every week of the year. Then - if you are so inclined - take a copy of this book, adapt it to your needs, philosophy, climate, soil and budget and if you want, publish your own version.
We intentionally don't follow any specific gardening practice, because I want to encourage you to think for yourselves and learn from experiment and experience. We for example, mulch the soil with compost, but we are not religious adherents to ‘no-dig’. We don't use herbicides or insecticides, but we are not organic. We grow a lot of perennial fruit and veg, but we also grow a large number of annuals. We grow intensively at some times of year, but not at others. We multi-sow in spring and summer, but less so in winter.
Although the book itself is quite short, It's also built on top of a rich database of additional information, from detailed information on how to grow each type of veg, to recommended varieties, sowing timelines, seed packet management, over a thousand of videos and handy links to many pre-existing sources of information (like the RHS guides).
This book is a living document, much of the content updates in real-time as I update the underlying databases that make up many of the pages. If I publish a new video, it will appear in the book, if I sow a new variety, that will too, if I amend a planting date you will see it happen. This is very powerful, but it also means it's hard to print the book out. Fortunately the content all works beautifully on desktops, laptops, tablets and phones, all thanks to the hard work of the technology providers that I'm building on top of.
We grow on about 250m2 of land, spread across two allotments and a small back - and even smaller front - garden. We grow about 250 varieties. We grow almost of our own vegetables and much of our fruit and we make all of our own preserves but we don't freeze much because we subscribe to the idea that fresh is best.
<aside> 💡 We used to grow all of our veg, but having achieved that goal for a few years we’ve decided to back off a little. We now plan to supplement what we grow in a couple of areas, for the most inefficient veggies, including cauliflower and winter squash
At our peak (during the COVID 19 pandemic) we fed 28 people, harvesting and preserving £12,000 worth of food. We harvested enough for about 11,000 meals! We have now settled down to feeding a more manageable 14 people, which aligns more with my philosophy of life and gardening.
I (Steve Richards) wrote this book, created the databases and made the videos. I sow the seeds and nurture the seedlings. Debbie (my wife) shares in the planting, weeding and harvesting, but is master of the preserves, Debbie cooks the main meals and looks after most of the perennial planting.
<aside> 💡 I suffer from a rare auto-immune condition that influenced much of my approach to gardening (easy, relaxed, flexible and efficient) but my approach also had a very significant - positive - influence on my health and provided I'm sensible I'm now mostly free of symptoms.
We garden in Lytham St Annes, which is in the North West of England, nestled on the coast, but surrounded by the hills of the Lake District to the North, the Forest of Bowland to the North East and the Rivington reservoir system to the East. To the west we have the Irish sea and to the far south the Welsh mountains. We can see them all from our beach!
Our climate is windy, but also fairly mild, with only moderate rain. Our springs are usually dry and sunny, late summer is wet, autumn drier with some sunshine and winters gloomy and wet but with only infrequent frosts.
Our soil is sandy, but ours has had a considerable amount of organic matter added over the years. Readers will have to interpret timings referenced in this book based on their own climate and soil type. See the chapter, making this book your own for more details.
All of the information in this book is freely available, including the database and videos.
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