“In the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”- Margaret Atwood

Spring has officially sprung. Last week we had the Spring Equinox which brought the good news that the days will be getting longer, and winter is officially over. What does this mean for us here at The Cheshire Dining Experience? It means get your gardening gloves on!!

When we were looking for a space to set up our kitchen 3 years ago, we were lucky enough to find a lovely spot in Barrowmore, with its beautiful countryside, just on the outskirts of Chester. To add to our good fortune, the unit we took over had its own garden space which is now our humble allotment.

Violas are beautiful edible flowers.

I was originally born in Northern Ireland, but I moved to England at an early age. Naturally, the summer holidays always meant a trip back home to visit my close family, and the main stop would be at my grandparents who live a 5-minute walk from the beautiful Lough Neagh. My grandad was in construction, but he was also a farmer and along with my gran they farmed potatoes, scallions, lettuce, tomatoes and fruit for the local community. I remember the door would constantly knock and people would turn up to get their vegetables. I would love to go out and help weigh and bag the produce and get a cheeky 20p tip for helping!

Part of my grandparent’s land. It used to be filled with polytunnels.

This is where you probably start thinking that gardening is in my blood…

Well, my fondest memories are of hanging on the side of the tractor while my grandad drove us to the field to pick potatoes. I’d work all day (probably 2 hours at the most in hindsight), get paid a few pounds, and be allowed to ‘drive’ (steer) the tractor back. Unfortunately, I didn’t really take any notice of growing techniques or hints and tips and I as I grew older, my visits back to Lough Neagh became less frequent.

Lough Neagh, a stone’s throw away from my grandparent’s house

Fast forward 30 years and now I have the chance to plan, sow and plant produce for the year (bear in mind my personal garden has artificial grass, much to my dad’s dismay).

It’s a daunting prospect, but our ethos is simple: home grown or local is best. We love to use as much of our own produce as we can throughout the year, ranging from herbs and edible flowers to beetroots and aubergines. For the task of getting the garden ready, my plan was also simple: look through the menus we had for the coming summer months and plot what could be planted so we could reap the rewards later…

Have you heard the saying, ‘all the gear and no idea’? Well, this was never more relevant than when it came to me and the garden.

Rainbow carrots are a great addition for both meat and veg dishes.

I had the menus, the produce needed, the space to plant, the compost, the seeds and the plans – but I needed help. This help came in the form of Andi’s lovely mum, Jane. What would have taken me weeks to do by myself was done over two afternoons.

Jane, the hero.

The best thing for me about getting this invaluable help is the advice that comes with it. When to plant, where to plant, how deep to sow, when to water, when to harvest, how to harvest and so on. As with most things in life, every day is a school day and when it comes to gardening this is definitely the case.

Plenty of sunlight will help your produce grow.

So, after all the hard work, here are my top 5 tips for vegetable gardening:

Compost needs time to integrate and stabilise in the soil. Apply two to three weeks prior to planting. Any keen gardener will tell you that a good quality compost is key.

Plant in raised beds. Raised beds yield up to four times more than the same amount of space planted in rows.

Plant your raised bed vegetable garden in a place you know is exposed to light for most of the day. Your crops will need to have 6-8 hours of sunlight.

Insects can’t stand plants such as garlic, onions, chives and chrysanthemums. Grow these plants around the garden to help repel insects.

Water your garden in the early morning to conserve moisture loss and help avoid powdery mildew and other fungal diseases that are often spread by high humidity levels.

We’ll keep you updated with our allotment’s progress over the coming months. Good luck if you decide to give it a go yourself. From my experience, it truly is worth it!

Steveo x