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Growing Advice from River Cottage’s Head Gardener Will Livingstone

30th October 2018

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On 25th October Will Livingstone, head gardener at the brilliant River Cottage, took over Grow Your Own’s social media platforms! He shared with us top growing advice and inspirational tips, but don’t worry if you missed it as you can catch up by reading this blog! Scroll down to see Will’s great posts.


Hi, I’m Will. I manage just over an acre of organic fruit and veg production which supplies the restaurant and cookery school for River Cottage. We grow using a mix of old and new techniques, always developing new ideas and trying new varieties to reach perfect organic harmony… Not there yet! I’m going to share a few tips to help you with your quest for delicious veg.

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The majority of what we grow here at River Cottage is propagated from seed. Some we save ourselves and some we buy from other organic seed suppliers. Quality of seed can vary, so it’s worth cataloguing seeds that germinated well and seed growers that supplied you with healthy viable seed. I tend to buy open pollinated seed as oppose to F1 (hybrid) seed. Hybridised seed contains genetic material from two parent plants meaning that it will grow with vigour in the first year but will not grow true to type. This means it may be stunted and genetically different to the plant you saved the seed from. It can sometimes result in some interesting genetic throwbacks but mostly it will reduce the yield and strength of the plant.

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Aspect is very important when choosing a veg patch. It covers two things: wind and sun. We all know that a south facing garden is preferable for growing fruit and veg. So be aware of where the sun is when planting and sowing. I visited some allotments last year where they were growing tall climbing beans on the south side and short plants behind them, in the shade – obviously not ideal planning. Manage your rotation with shady and sunny areas in mind. Wind can have a very negative effect on the health and yield of your plants. If you live in a windy area think about putting in a windbreak to reduce damage on delicate seedlings and blossoms.

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If you have limited space, grow the high value crops and think about what you eat most of. Salads, soft herbs and strawberries are a good place to start, as they have shallow, fibrous roots which respond well to container growing. Tomatoes and chillies are firm favourites for the urban kitchen gardener but will need a sheltered, sunny position in order to thrive. If you have areas of partial shade, oriental greens, chard, kale, spring onions and spinach do quite well with only three to four hours of sun per day. Everyone can grow a few herbs no matter where they live.

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Know your weeds! Improving your weed identification skills will greatly improve success in the garden. Annual weeds such as meadow grass, hairy bittercress and fat hen tend to be less of a problem as they are easily dealt with and easily removed. The pernicious perennial weeds such as couch grass, mare’s tail and bindweed are the ones to watch. Be sure to remove all the roots of perennials, as most can propagate from the tiniest piece of missed root. Avoid putting invasive weeds on your compost heap, because if not composted properly, they can cause all sorts of problems after compost application the following season.

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I find it quite comforting that of all the people I meet in the gardens at River Cottage, most are growing at least a little of their own food, no matter where they live. The truth is, you don’t need acres of space to grow some of your own fruit and vegetables. The food that you pick at home will inevitably be some of the most delicious you will ever eat. Part of this is scientific – as soon as you harvest your crop, all of those lovely sugars that the plant has been producing during growth will begin to convert to starch, so the quicker you eat what you have grown, the sweeter and more delicious it will be. However, most of the enjoyment comes from that overwhelming satisfaction of success thanks to your effort.

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For more advice from Will you can follow him on Instagram or visit the River Cottage website.

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