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The Gardening 101: Growing Veggies

Lifelong environmentalist and horticulturalist Peter Harper worked for thirty years at the Centre for Alternative Technology (CAT), Britain’s leading research and education centre for sustainability. While at CAT he explored many new horticultural techniques, and wrote The Natural Garden Book. He likes to call a spade a spade.


1. What do you really want? – Lots? Easy? Save money? Exercise? Boasting?

2. Who knows what they’re doing? – Ask them: ‘what works around here?’

3. Read the books – (perhaps go easy on the Permaculture at first)

4. Try two smallish plots to cut your teeth in spring: One for salads, one for spectacle.

5. Plots must be light, sunny: No competition from hedges and trees.

6. Plots must be fertile: If in doubt, bring in lots of muck to start.

7. Salads: buy trays of mixed lettuce at supermarket, £1: Water, break up and plant 6 inches apart.

8. Between rows sow ‘flavour salads’: Rocket, radishes, land cress, parsley.

9. Plant big spectacular things in the other plot, show you can: (Two pumpkins and a stand of sweetcorn?)

10. If you have more land to clear, sheet-mulch it ready for spring: Cover the soil with thick black plastic with carpets on top.




1. Are you sure you are doing what you really want? Is it still fun? Would you rather have a lawn? Are you really saving money?

2. Are you generating all your own compost? You could; with kitchen waste, crumpled paper, grass clippings.

3. Have you optimised the balance of time and space? Time-rich space-poor is different from space-rich time-poor.

4. How about the summer/winter balance? Is the garden still working over the winter?

5. Tunnel-cloches are a great investment: extend the season and double your yields.

9. Use 10-fold diluted urine as a free and natural booster: it’s ‘specially good to get things moving in the spring.

10. Sow inside and plant seedlings out – especially if slugs and snails are a problem.

11. Use temporary/unused spaces: try catch crops, intercrops and green manures.

12. If you try something new, do a ‘control’ the old way as well: then you’ll know whether it really made a difference.

13. Enjoy the struggles of your pests and predators with a hand lens: very often these are more fun than the crops themselves.

Illustrations by the supremely talented Hannah Bailey. Drool over more of her work here.

For practical gardening advice at the festival, visit Shambala’s verdant Permaculture area.