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Grow your own: plan, prepare, purchase and plant

In between the snow, sleet and the rain showers last weekend, we had a bit of excitement when we managed to lay out piles of cardboard and wood chip to create a lovely new planting area while simultaneously putting paid to a life-time’s supply of the dreaded couch grass.

Doing some planning and preparation before planting and purchasing your seeds can save you time and money
Doing some planning and preparation before planting and purchasing your seeds can save you time and money

This ‘weeding for the terminally lazy’ will last for a year –two if we’re very lucky - and give the plants we actually want to grow a great head start before the couch grass sneaks in again.

(Couch grass can regenerate from the tiniest bit of root and I’ve seen it grow right through a potato, so it’s a persistent little &%$*!£. If you have couch grass where you want to grow – or any of the really pernicious perennial weeds - never be tempted to rotivate your patch!  Just don’t do it! There lies a one-way route to weed hell.)

Now I know that laying out a double or even triple layer of cardboard and smothering it with woodchips may seem like the strangest of all possible ways to have a good time at the weekend, but stay with me!

Firstly, we had … sun. Not a lot of it and not for long and with the wind-chill factor we were still in skiwear territory, but it was there, honest. And it was lovely.

Secondly, the whole family got involved. My eight-year-old has a frighteningly well-defined ‘chore radar’ and can not only spot them a mile away but is also a dab hand at chore avoidance. This ‘activity’ sneaked under her radar. We all spent a couple of happy hours working together and ended up with a real sense of achievement, hot chocolate to warm us up afterwards and a sense that Spring is just around the corner.

Taking a task you know you can complete in a couple of hours is a great way to keep the motivation levels high – if you’ve got a big project in the garden, breaking it down into small, manageable chunks that give you a sense of achievement and a big tick on your ‘to do’ list at the end of a single day is a really good habit to get into.

There’s another good habit that will save you loads of money and help you grow a great garden for less. It’s called the Four ‘P’ Rule: Plan, Prepare, Purchase, Plant. Make it your mantra and keep your ‘P’s in the right order and you can’t go far wrong.

I’ve been growing some of my own for many years now and the jury is still out on whether it’s actually saved me any money. On taste and freshness there’s no question – Grow Your Own can knock spots off all-comers. But it can be so very easy to spend more than you save in seeds and plants and bits and bobs and all the ‘must-have’s that make the Grow Your Own market a multi-million pound business.

So this year as we bob up and down around our triple-dip recession and the five years of fiscal belt tightening looks set to stretch into a decade or two, I thought it was time to finally apply a cost-benefit analysis and look at the profit and loss stats on my little green habit.

And I quickly realised that over the years I’ve wasted a new-greenhouse-worth of money because I’ve got my ‘P’s all mixed up. I’m not the only one. Talking to other Grow-Your-Owners, it’s as easy to be an impulse buying retail therapist in a garden centre as it is in Harvey Nics.

Instead of ‘Plan, Prepare, Purchase, Plant’ all too often my MO is ‘Purchase, Park It Anywhere, Panic, Put on the Compost Heap’.

This year, in an attempt to grow even more of what we eat and eat even more of what we grow, I’m being really strict with myself and keeping my ‘P’s in the right order.

Which could have been my third reason why our little mulching exercise last weekend was such a blast. That ready-made planting area was my ‘Prepare’ all ready for me to ‘Purchase’ and then ‘Plant’ a heady mix of chokeberry bushes underplanted with alpine strawberries. We do good berries here and the latest evidence shows that a diet high in berry fruits is particularly healthy. As berries in the shops cost an arm and a leg and have already lost much of their nutritional value, I plan to major on berries this year…

However, the ‘boys’ got a bit carried away with their new toy and chipped a small thicket’s worth of branches onto my nice new bed. The next workday or two will be spent spreading yet more cardboard so we have somewhere to put all those flipping woodchips. My retail therapy will have to wait for another day.

But the snow is clearing now and the birds are twitterpating outside and my rhubarb is coming through.

Can’t you just feel the sap rising? Time to sharpen those spades and get ready for a great year’s growing!

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