VEG programme sprouts off to a good start

Naomi and Chris at VEG event in Penrith The Freegle Visiting Edible Gardens (VEG) programme launched on Sunday 23 March with a chance to see a Penrith lawn being transformed into a veg patch.

It was the first in a monthly series of events with Eden residents opening up their gardens and veg plots to visitors, organised by the Penrith and Eden District Freegle group. The visits are designed to help people get started with growing their own food, while also giving experienced gardeners a chance to share tips and help each other grow even more.

"The idea behind VEG is that people can come along and see first hand what's involved in growing fruit and veg," said VEG organiser Chris Cant from the Penrith and Eden District Freegle group. "It's a chance to ask questions, get tips, meet other growers, and even get some free plants and seeds."

There were certainly plenty of tips on offer at the first VEG event, hosted by experienced grower Naomi van der Velden, who's in the early stages of turning her lawn into a veg-growing patch. As an experienced allotment keeper, as well as a plant ecologist and lecturer at University of Cumbria, Naomi had a wealth of knowledge to share.

"I moved here at the end of summer 2013 and I'm really happy to finally have enough space for a veg patch," she said. Her first challenge was to decide on a layout for her small front lawn.

"The circular design I've gone for is based on the permaculture ‘keyhole' idea," she explained. "It's a circular design, with five segments of veg beds and paths in between, so that I can reach into the centre of each bed without walking on it."

Naomi will have five different types of plants in each of the beds, which she'll rotate each year, to keep the soil fertile.

"I'll have potatoes and carrots together in one bed, then onions, leeks and garlic in another," she explained. "The third bed will have brassicas, like spring cabbage and purple sprouting broccoli, and then there'll be peas, beans and lettuce in the fourth. I'll probably have squash in the last one."

Naomi has good reasons for her choice of veg.

"The peas and beans are known as nitrogen fixers, which means they take nitrogen from the air and make it useable by plants in the soil, enriching it. The reason for growing lettuce along with the peas is that they'll give the lettuce some shade, which they like. As for potatoes, they're a great first veg to grow in a new bed, as they break up the soil and are low maintenance."

Naomi demonstrated how to prepare the soil in a new bed, from removing the existing turf through to testing the texture of the soil and the acidity levels.

"My best advice to new growers is to start off by choosing veg you like to eat and then narrow down what you can grow in the space you've got," Naomi said.

Visit our Growing Tips page to find out more of Naomi's secrets for a great veg crop, especially for new growers.

The next VEG visit is on 27 April in Appleby, with a chance to visit a new community polytunnel.