I’m a massive fan of growing my own food. And so I take great pleasure in the small part of our garden that I’ve taken to calling the ‘microfarm’. It not only provides us with delicious fruit and vegetables throughout the year, but also connects me with nature and with the passing of the seasons.
The microfarm really is quite ‘micro’; just a few dozen square metres. But it has several raised beds, a few small trees, a selection of edible perennial plants, a greenhouse, some cold frames, a shed and a series of carefully-tended compost bins. And I absolutely love toiling away in it.
I grow my own fruit and vegetables for several reasons. I like the idea of self-reliance and think that the ability to grow our own food is something that we should all have. I like knowing that my food is fresh and that it has been grown in a healthy, sustainable way. And I like being able to just wander out into the garden – sorry, microfarm – and harvest something for lunch or dinner.
With such a small amount of space, I have to be thoughtful in terms of what I grow. But my philosophy here is quite straightforward: I grow things that my wife and I like to eat and that we eat frequently. I grow things that are expensive to buy in the supermarket. And I grow things that we like to eat but can’t buy in the supermarket at all.
I try to make sure that I use the space productively all year round. This means careful planning, lots of successional sowing, judicious sowing of catch crops, and the use of cover crops to protect and enrich the soil. I also husband my crops carefully, from the moment I sow the seeds right through to when I return the plants to the soil.
I also try to strike a balance between annual and perennial crops. On the perennial side, we have two apple trees (as well as a crab apple), a cobnut tree (for nuts and coppiced wood), a (still very small) serviceberry tree, raspberries, Japanese wineberries, alpine strawberries and copious quantities of rhubarb.
In terms of annual crops, I grow an ever-evolving selection of lettuce, leaf salads, spring onions, various different herbs, radishes, spinach, perpetual spinach / leaf beet, beetroot, kohl rabi (my wife’s absolute favourite, which you can’t buy in the supermarket here), climbing beans, French beans, peas, sweetcorn (which has had a shockingly bad year this year), tomatoes, chillis, courgettes and various types of squash (which grow happily on the compost heap).
I also grow a variety of companion plants, which attract pollinators and distract pests. I grow comfrey to make a nourishing ‘tea’ that acts as a great fertiliser. I grow bamboo and willow so that I can make my own plant supports. And I have a small wormery (yes, I technically have livestock!) that takes in kitchen vegetable scraps and turns out amazing compost that gives a boost to plants and soil alike.
The microfarm’s not just about growing fruit and vegetables, though. I grow a range of flowers, partly because they attract bees and other pollinators but partly also because they just look nice. I create and maintain habitats for wild flora and fauna, from solitary bees to the local tribe of hedgehogs. And I collect and save seed from my crops, for use in future years.
We even have our own resident band of slow worms, which make an appearance from time to time and hibernate each year in one of the compost heaps.
I try to spend a bit of time each day working ‘on the microfarm’, regardless the time of year. There’s always something that needs doing. Indeed, it becomes almost a full-time occupation for the main sowing/planting season in spring and peak harvest time in autumn.
And harvesting leads inevitably to preserving and storage, so that we can continue to reap the fruits of our labours throughout the wintertime until spring comes around again.
My microfarm yields benefits beyond the purely nutritional, though. It teaches me to be observant of even the slightest detail. It compels me to plan ahead, not just days or months, but seasons and years. It forces me to be patient and to work to timescales other than my own. It connects me nature and with the passing of the seasons. It feeds not just my stomach, but also my soul.
If you’d like to stay up to date with what I’m thinking, writing and doing, sign up to receive my free email newsletter. Once a fortnight direct to your inbox. Including links to new blog posts as well as exclusive content just for subscribers. Written personally by me. Sign up now.