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Easter Ross gardening enthusiast sows seeds for community effort; Fearn effort encourages others to grow for it

By Louise Glen

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Dr Mairi MacPherson is planting more seeds than ever.
Dr Mairi MacPherson is planting more seeds than ever.

AN Easter Ross business is taking root with plans to grow food for its local community.

Highland Seedlings, a co-op/non-profit vegetable plant nursery and mini smallholding, in Fearn, plans to supply the local community and those further afield with fresh vegetables and produce over the coming months.

Highland Seedlings is building the Fearn Free Food Garden, a small community garden by the side of the road. To pay for the scheme, Dr Mairi MacPherson is knitting custom-made hats which has already raised £900 for the project.

Mairi said: "We are about 85 per cent self-sufficient in fruit and veg, and we normally run a range of workshops, classes and tours, but during the coronavirus pandemic this has all been stopped.

"We also grow vegetable plants which folks can buy from us in person in Fearn or order in online at www.vegseedlings.co.uk

"The Fearn Free Food Garden was originally intended to be a space where folks can mingle and harvest their own food as and when they need it, but with COVID-19 we're aiming to do small free veg boxes for the local community, probably from May, when the first harvests are ready.

"I'm sowing way more seeds than I had originally planned - to grow more food for the local community, and to be able to post plants to people further afield. I'm encouraging anyone with a bit of garden to grow some food for themselves - and for their neighbours.

"I've been sharing 'how to' grow your own advice on my Instagram, Twitter and Facebook, and I also run an online site Veg Garden Mentoring that has a few places left. I've also set up a patreon, www.patreon.com/highlandseedlings, where I'm hosting an online grow-a-long - every week I share what I'm sowing, planting and harvesting, and what we're building in the garden, and I share lots of tips and tricks.

"Folks pay what they can - the default is, around £5 per month. They can message me there and and throw any gardening questions at me. The money all goes towards supporting the Fearn Free Food Garden and to subsidising veg plants for folks who wouldn't otherwise be able to afford them."

People from Fearn are invited to email Mairi to be added to a list for veg boxes at highlandseedlings@gmail.com.

The Fearn Free Food Garden.
The Fearn Free Food Garden.

Some top tips from Mairi MacPherson for growing your own

Look up "no dig" gardening - in particular Charles Dowding's website and youtube channel (https://charlesdowding.co.uk/). It's a way of growing food that does not involve digging - instead you build up your beds on top of your existing grass. Simply put, it's a layer of cardboard, topped up with 6-8 inches of compost (which can be any old rotted material - we use horse manure, which we pick up free locally). We put woodchip on our paths, free from a local tree surgeon. That way, the materials are free, and we're reusing things that would otherwise go to waste. We plant straight into the manure - our rule is if it no longer smells like horse then it's good to grow in. I would encourage anyone who can to start building beds like that in their back or front garden, and to grow food for themselves or their community

I have a sowing schedule free up at www.highlandseedlings.com/resources - it tells you when to sow what for year-round food. Please note that our last frost date is in mid-May, and until then you need to keep any new seedlings under cover - in a greehouse, polytunnel, or on a bright windowsill in a cool room

I'd recommend Lidl and Homebargains for cheap seeds for folks just starting out. Lidl also does excellent cheap peat-free compost.

You can re-purpose loads of things as pots: grape punnets, mushroom trays, cream pots, tetra paks, milk bottles. There is a fab new book just out - Huw Richards' Grow Food For Free, that I'd recommend for loads of fab ideas.

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