She Grows Veg with AutoPot

An Insta sensation, brim-full of easy ideas for improving the diversity, appeal, and flavour of your growing? That’ll be @SheGrowsVeg. The cat’s mother in this instance is Lucy Start and happily of late we found ourselves piping a little easy2grow joy into one of her splendid Suffolk greenhouses. A few weeks on we got to chatting about her progress with AutoPot and her growing as a whole.

Above: Czar runner beans, just one of a vast variety of beans Lucy grows

Inevitably, being as it was our opening question, the conversation first alighted on Lucy’s Insta following, the popularity of horticulture, and depictions of gardening online. Some might say that none of that is compatible with ‘real’ growing – which was precisely why we decided to tackle it from the outset. We’re fearless! So, did she set out to create a ‘beautiful’ garden?

Above: Tiny lemons, all part of growing

Look closely at her posts and it’s fairly obvious that, whilst Lucy is aesthetically minded, she finds and elevates the inherent beauty in imperfect plant life. It’s not pictures of ‘perfect’ plants and produce, rather, pictures of plants and produce that perfectly communicate the variety of horticulture. That imperfection also helps emphasise the accessibility of growing.

Above: Heirloom and heritage seeds, one of the central tenets of Lucy’s gardening

Nowhere is natural plant and crop growth found in greater abundance than in heirloom or heritage varieties. It is to the seeds of these traditional, often-forgotten, plants that Lucy has turned in order to show just what is possible in her garden. She is passionate about preserving real seeds from extinction, rescuing them from obscurity, and restoring them from their bad reputation as a novelty. For some growers F1 or hybrid seeds have their place, but breeding veg has arguably diminished a touch of the authentic colour, shape, and character in fresh produce.

Above: One of 45 heirloom tomato varieties across 100 plants

Lucy has an awful lot of growing going on in a fairly small space. Her garden is packed out with three greenhouses and is wall-to-wall with beds. Resident in these spaces are a huge range of plants. Frankly, listing them is daft and there’s something new on show via Insta most days, but we cannot resist. Some selected favourites include a full-spectrum-colour-riot of beans, corn, rhubarb, tubers, peppers, and radishes. There’s a weird, wonderful, and immense cache of onions, shoots, squashes, gourds, cucumbers, citrus fruit, and artichoke. Robust and reassuring micro greens, cauliflower, kale, and broccoli? Just a few! But, where expressing herself in heirlooms is concerned, Lucy is most regularly to be found speaking in tom’s. For 2020 she has a fantastic 45 heirloom tomato varieties across 100 plants.

Above: Japanese Red Bunching onions – delicous

Many of Lucy’s plants are non-indigenous but are afforded ideal growing conditions by the local microclimate and the climate of Suffolk as a whole. In general the area is highly stable, much adverse weather having already dispersed as it, typically, heads west-to-east over the British Isles. Similar in character to those of California, the growing conditions allow Lucy to keep citrus trees as borders year-round and will no doubt help as she tries her hand at papaya, peanut, and bitter melon this year. All with minimal fuss or ground maintenance. That’s fine if you’re lucky enough to enjoy such conditions but what do you do in trickier climes, or if you have no garden at all? 

Above: Microgreens – a intensely flavourful, creative and compact gardening experience

Growing a diverse range whilst keeping things simple and achievable are particular passions of Lucy’s and would stand regardless of where she was located. Therefore she has a naturally strong affinity for techniques that promote accessibility, minimise labour, and demystify horticulture. Not everyone has growing space, much less decent growing space. To those ends Lucy decided to show just what was possible using watering systems.

Above: AutoPot easy2grow modules skirt Lucy’s alternative tech greenhouse

A rapidly developing mini-exhibition greenhouse will play host to a variety of systems including easy2grow modules alongside aeroponic and hydroponic towers. Since being introduced just a few weeks ago the easy2grows have well and truly set light to the growth of 44 young tomato plants. Lucy reports the difference between these and those grown traditionally is staggering, they’ve achieved three times the size of those hand watered in same time. Whilst this is her first time using a watering system she has no doubt she’ll continue to do so in future and looks forward to innovating further with plants grown therein. Aside from the benefits to Lucy’s own garden a focus on the achievable is an absolute must when looking to truly engage with her followers. Watering systems provide exactly this achievability as they allow anyone to garden, regardless of how small their space is or whether it’s indoors. So why aren’t more gardening media platforms and horticultural societies championing simple tech solutions?

Above: Tomatoes in easy2grow – and everyone’s happy!

In Lucy’s opinion the gardening media needs to better understand younger growers and the reality of growing. Traditional horticulture still can’t really conceive of someone who has no outdoor space, who is time-poor, is lacking in experience, and yet is passionate about growing. There has been a failure to cater for those who want to devote time and energy but can’t do it consistently or somewhat slavishly. This is a crying shame as the genesis of a whole new generation of growers is there. That generation is stronger than ever in spirit thanks to an explosion in the interest in food provenance, plant-based diets, and sustainability – let alone the current pandemic. In order to enable younger growers our horticultural societies need to embrace newer methods, different outlooks, and find a voice that encourages people to believe that growing is within their grasp.

Special thanks to Lucy for her time and permission to use images herein – all images copyright Lucy Start 2019/2020 @SheGrowsVeg. 

Thanks also to NVS Simply Veg Magazine for assistance, for more on Lucy check out the Simply Veg Winter Edition 2019/20 via subscription here.

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