Let’s get dirty – my vegetable garden

I know, I know – my last blog post is about 1.5 years ago. It’s crazy how time flies!!! So many things have happened, I am a godmother and aunt now, I have changed jobs twice (no more stressful marketing job), I have bought my first car (a tage 37, everyone!). However, I would like to revive this blog with new posts, starting with a subject that has won my hearrt over the last 2 years: my own vegetable garden!

It was in automn 2017 that I read an article about someone’s first steps in her own vegetable garden on a piece of land a farmer rented for a saison. I was hooked and googled if there was a similar concept in or nearby Hamburg. Quickly was I dreaming of stress-freeing digging in warm soil under a blue summer sky. I would work hard, have dirt under my nails and would fall into bed completely depleted, but happy! My previous gardening attempts had restricted to some pots on my balcony in Munich or Hamburg where I tried to grow tomatoes and strawberries. The yearly outcome was quite scarce, I never harvested more than a handfull of berries/tomates, but those were exceptionally good (my opinion back then).

My research showed that there were a small number of farmers around Hamburg that rent a piece of arable land to gardeners to grow an vegetable garden on it. And one of them was located only a few hundred meters away from my best friend’s house! I talked her into the project and we rented a 45 sq parcel for the 2018 gardening saison (March to November).

And what can I say: I have had the most fun in my life in this vegetable garden! I have had major sun burns (on my back), repeatedly couldn’t walk stairs on Monday mornings due to intensive gardening on the weekend, I have had floods of veggies that were all ripe at once and I have never eaten so many vegetables before in my life!

Let’s start with the beginning: This ist he second year that I have rented a 45 sqm parcel from Dieter, a local farmer and operator of UNSER GEMÜSEGARTEN (Translation: our veggie garden). The parcels are prepared by Dieter before the gardening season starts: he digs over the soil, fertilizes it with cow dung from his own organic cattle farm. The parcels are measured and allocted to the gardeners in early March and now the fun can begin. The parcels are available in different sizes raning from 45 sqm to 120 sqm, each parcel is divided into smaller patches of 1 x 4 m. When starting the season, the patches need to be cleared of any remaining weed, bigger rocks are removed and the soil is loosened and then smoothed with a rake.

Then the first seeds can be planted. Most seeds and plant are provided by Dieter. As his cattle farm and his soil are organic and Demeter certified, he has to make sure he only plants/seeds equally certified plants/seeds in order not to lose his certification. If you have ever bought DEMETER-certified vegetables or meat in Germany, you know that there is nothing more organic – or more expensive! I once bought an organic and DEMETER-certified chicken – and paid nearly € 50.- for it. The most expensive roas chicken in my life!!!

Once the soil is ready, you can seed and plant your first seeds/plants, following the saisonal calendar. Starting with spinach and radishes in March, carrots, beetroot and the first lettuces in April, followed by fennel, potatoes, courgette and pumpkin later in the year. For anyone who wants to grow crops sensitive to cold such as tomatoes, cucumbers and pepper bell, two greenhouses are available. Any tools needed are provided by the farmer (in an old cargo container), water is provided in tanks. In case of questions, Dieter is always availabe via Email and on weekends, he is in attendance in the veggie gardens, helping out where he can, giving his knowledge on, for example, the question how to lay potatoes. And yes, you don’t plant potatoes, you lay them. Something I didn’t know before Dieter told me!

It’s a pure joy to experience how the crop grows, how the first green leaves appear. My tipp: if you don’t know what a beetroot leave looks like, span a lace over the line where you put your seeeds into the soil. Everything growing under the lace remains, everything growing an inch away is probably weed and must be removed.

Now that I have been working in my veggie garden in my second year, I have gained some knowledge (it was a painful learning process, somethimes, I must admit. For example it wasn’t a bright idea to seed 3- rows of spinach at once or to plant 12 courgette plants in the same time. Why? Well, all of the harvest is ripe AT THE SAME MOMENT! That means you have kilos and kilos of spinach and courgettes in your kitchen at once – even the most dedicated vegetarian urges to vomit if he eats spinach in the morning, for lunch, in smoothies and for dinner. And with 3 more kilograms waiting in the kitchen, the veggie love suddenly fades off! Thus: seed your spinach in some weeks‘ time intervals!

Another piece of knowledge: You should only plant those veggies you really like and eat. Last year, I plantes things such as chard, kale or brussel sprounts. I seldomly eat those veggies, resulting in most of these veggies ending up in the compost heap. It’s a waste of time, devotion and material to plant things you won‘t eat, thus I only planted things I really like and have not wasted nearly any veggies (except for 3 lettuces that grew too high during my absence).

I also suggest that you get inspired in the winter months before the gardening seasons starts on how you could cook your veggies. Last winter I got inspired by cookings showes such as Jamie Oliver, his shows were on TV on Sunday mornings. After my first walk with my dog, I would get comfortable on my sofa and watch 1 or 2 episodes, noting down recipe inspirations fort he vegetables I wanted to grow in the next season. I also read recipe books and cooking blogs, which inspired my for example to grow green handdown beans for a spread made of green beans, peas, mint and pecorino cheese (recipe by Jamie Oliver). Unfortunately I forgot to grow peas (will definitely do next year!), but I harvested green beans over a time of nearly 6 weeks, bought fresh peas an mint and made the best spread to be put on toasted rye bread that you can imagine! I would normally make a batch of it on weekends, this would get me through most of the week! So yum!!!

On the question of how much time I had to invest into my veggie garden: Last year, I run the garden together with my best friend and her husband. My best friend was highly pregnant when the season started and only really participated at the and of summer, but if I called on her and her husband for any bigger projects such as potatoe harvesting, they showed up and helped. We harvested more than 50 kg (from only 2 little patches of 1x4m). This year, I run the garden on my own and I realize how much more work it is. I suggest you start with a small veggie garden and see how it goes. I usually work in the garden on Sundays for 3-4 hours, my dog likes to come, too, she can run free of no other gardeners are aound – sometimes she would only lie in the gras, belly up in the sun, and sometimes nibble on a carrot freshly harvested. On weekdays, I only drive to the veggie garden for watering. Or if I need fresh veggies for cooking.

In a nutshell: Gardening has become a wonderful, fulfilling hobby that brings a lot of fun, gets me some fresh air and that is a good counterpart to my job where I mostly sit in front of a screen. I move more, I eat a considerably higher amount of organic veggies, I get my share of sun (with SPF 50 & in moderation) and thus vitamin D. I have met amazing people and I am more than grateful that farmers such as Dieter allow us townies to breathe some country air and get dirty running their own veggie garden. I really look forward to the remaining season and I am more than sure I will continue next year!

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