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April 27, 2010

Learn to grow

If you want to join the ‘grow your own’ brigade, you can’t just empty a packet of seeds on ground, sit back and wait for the harvest. There’s a bit more to it than that. A local group on the Black Isle have responded by establishing Grow North – a programme of training and support for households which is tailored to local growing conditions

BLACK Isle residents keen to learn how to grow their own fruit and vegetables have an exciting opportunity to learn from experts. 

Households can now sign up for Grow North, a year-long programme of training and tailored support in growing food in the local area.

The project is being run by Transition Black Isle, a local community group which has brought £85,000 of funding to the area for projects to help the Black Isle become more resilient in the face of peak oil and climate change.  The money, from the Scottish Government’s Climate Challenge Fund, will support a range of schemes to cut food miles and decrease dependence on fossil fuels.

Grow North’s newly appointed project officer Sheila Wickens said: “It is possible to grow a very wide range of fruit and vegetables in the Black Isle, providing food over an extended season.

“Many people grew up with a tradition of growing food in their families; however in recent years people have been less inclined to produce their own, with a greater reliance on food from the supermarket.

“There is now an explosion of interest in growing food, with the demand for allotments in Scotland soaring by 40% over the last two years, local allotment waiting-lists in four Black Isle villages, and garden centres increasing their sales of vegetable seeds.

“Many of the books, magazines and television programmes on the subject relate to growing conditions in the south of the UK. Grow North aims to provide practical support for 50 households in learning how to grow, look after and use a range of crops that can be grown successfully on the Black Isle.”

The main focus of the project will be a series of eight training days, which will take place monthly throughout the year, allowing participants to see their crops grow at study sites.  The course will be hands-on, and participants will be able to try out for themselves all aspects of growing, from planting seeds, to potting on, planting out and harvesting during the training. The training fee will be £40 up front or £50 if paying in instalments. A concessionary rate of £20 is available for those on low incomes.

Participants will be able to take home some of the seedlings and plants that they have handled, to grow in their own growing spaces, be it at home or in a neighbouring garden.  The course will also cover planning your garden, dealing with pests, looking after fruit, improving the soil, composting and preserving garden produce.

Practical help days will involve participants receiving and offering help from the network for activities such as erecting polytunnels, clearing rough ground and creating raised beds. Participants will also get the opportunity to visit several established grow-your-own gardens to see how it is done, see a range of different approaches and to be inspired.

Sheila Wickens, who has been growing her own fruit and vegetables for nearly ten years, added: “This practical approach will provide new growers with the support they need to get going, and make the most of their gardens to provide food for the household.   It will also be a great way to meet others interested in growing, which will be invaluable in comparing progress of crops locally, sharing ideas and experiences.”

The first training days will be taking place in early to mid May.   If you are interested in taking part in the project, please contact Sheila on 01463 870223 or e-mail