Living Green: Growing Your Own Vegetables

We all know how tasty fresh vegetables are in meals and salads. However, no matter how well you seem to time your visits to the grocery store, finding the freshest of produce is mostly by sheer luck. Growing your own vegetables gives you a break from grocery store trips while ensuring that you enjoy the freshest of veggies grown organically all year around.

Besides that, gardening is a rewarding task that brings a lot of good to your life. Being around greenery calms the mind, which alleviates signs of stress and anxiety. Additionally, gardening provides a perfect escape from the daily hustles of life, which allows you the break necessary to keep yourself balanced. While it can feel daunting at first, growing your own vegetables isn’t that hard. Here are some tips to get you started.

Mixed vegetable box

©Shutterstock – There’s nothing like the flavour of your own home-grown vegetables!

1.      Find the best location

Getting a good harvest from your vegetable garden depends on how well you provided the right conditions for healthy growth. And, providing the right conditions starts with picking the right location for your garden. Here are some guidelines for you:

Sunny area

Light is a necessity for the growth of any plant, and most vegetables do well when exposed to about 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight. You need to pick a place in your garden that receives sun for the most part of the day. However, this is not to say that you can’t start a vegetable garden if you don’t have a backyard. You can grow some vegetables and culinary herbs indoors or in a window box, and still enjoy a good harvest. If you have a southern or western-facing window, that should be the location of your garden as such windows let in a considerable amount of sunlight.

However, if your house is limited in terms of light, you can grow your plants under grow lights. LED grow lights mimic the sun through technology to ensure that your plants get the full spectrum of the light.

A spot that drains well

When plants sit in soggy soil for too long, they end up having root rot and eventually die. In this case, you need a place that drains well and is not prone to floods. You also want it levelled well to avoid soil erosion.

If you don’t have such a space in your garden, consider planting your vegetables in raised soil beds. If you are growing them indoors, go for the potting mix that drains well and pots that have holes at the bottom.

raised vegetable beds

©Shutterstock – Where soils are poor, a raised bed can overcome this problem.

2.      Decide on the vegetables to grow

When you think about how much money you spend on vegetables, you can easily be enticed to grow every vegetable that you see in the grocery store. However, it is good to start with a few and continue adding more as you perfect your gardening skills. But before you get to decide which vegetables to grow, you need to consider the weather in your area first. If you live in a place that is mostly hot, vegetables that prefer a cooler climate might not do too well. Make sure that you do your research thoroughly.

A good guide on the vegetables that you can start with is in your meals timetable. Consider growing the vegetables that you spend the most money on. It would be a waste of time and resources growing vegetables that are rarely used in your kitchen unless you are doing it as a business.

3.      Have the necessities ready

Before you start growing your vegetables, you need to ensure that you have everything that you need throughout the process. For starters, you need the right tools to prepare the soil for planting. Such tools include a trowel, shovel, and garden rake. You also need a watering can, hose or sprinkler for watering your plants.

If you are growing them on the windowsill indoors, you need to have pots, potting mix, and trays to place the pots on. You also need a small watering can as well.

Whether you are growing your vegetables indoors or outside, you need high-quality seeds or seedlings. Be sure to get them from a reliable supplier.  

Patio tomato plant

©Thompson and Morgan / Derek St Romaine – Make sure that you have all of the tools you’ll need to grow the best crops.

4.      Start planting

Most seed packets come with instructions on how to prepare the soil for planting and how you should plant them. Otherwise, ensure that you dig down your soil to loosen it. Next, remove all the weeds and apply fertilizer. Next, make small troughs in the soil to put in the seeds. If you have an indoor garden, you can use your hand to make troughs. In addition, ensure that you are using a rich soil mixture.

However, you need to make a few considerations when planning your garden. For instance, if you are growing tall vegetables such as sweet corn and pole or runner beans, you need to put them in the farthest part of the garden to avoid shading the shorter plants.

Likewise, plants that don’t like a lot of sun should take the shadier part of the garden. You should also consider staggering plantings by a few weeks if you want a constant supply. This way, you have another lot coming up after every harvest.

vegetable garden

©Thompson and Morgan – Plan your vegetable patch before you start planting to get the best results.

Conclusion

Vegetables require regular care. If you are to grow your vegetables successfully, you must be prepared to put in the work in taking care of your plants. Ensure that you are weeding, pruning, and watering your veggies as required – but with proper care and attention you can enjoy the flavour of your own home grown crops.

Why is Sustainable Gardening so Important These Days?

In essence, sustainable gardening is not a new term, but the practice has started gaining traction recently. What gardening sustainably means, what does the process involve, and what makes it so important today?

What is Sustainable Gardening?

It is vital to make one crucial distinction. Cultivating fruits, vegetables, and flowers in your garden without the use of pesticides and chemical fertilizers is organic horticulture. When you add care for the environment to this basis, you get what is considered sustainable gardening. Throughout this process, you are minimizing your impact on the environment and encouraging its regeneration.

vegetable plot

©Shutterstock – Sustainable gardening will minimise your impact on the environment.

How to Reduce Pressure on the Environment

Sustainable horticulture or gardening does not come with a strict set of rules or a guideline, although it has its tenets. To follow these principles means to adopt and apply certain practices.

Management of garden waste

Gardens generate a regular flow of organic waste that can be put to good use. A hotbin mini composter is a quick and efficient solution that produces compost for use in your garden. Instead of sending your branches to a landfill, create mulch with the help of an electric chipper-shredder and battle weeds in an eco-friendlier way.

Hotbin composter

©Suttons – Creating your own compost will manage garden waste as well as feeding your soil.

Water conservation

Set up a rainwater barrel to collect water that would otherwise evaporate or use drip irrigation and low-angle sprinklers. Also, a sufficiently thick layer of mulch helps the soil retain moisture and structure and improves drainage.

Eliminate the use of fossil-fuel tools and appliances

You can reduce your ecological footprint by using electric tools only when necessary. Or, you can keep your tools close to the place where you use them. In case you need to pack the toolshed for relocation closer to your farm or allotment, make tools and other equipment ready to go by preparing them carefully. This involves cleaning the tools and removing any oil or fuel they might contain.

Dedicate to garden maintenance and design

Take the time to plan and design your garden. Battling garden pests and diseases is easy if you plant natural repellents such as rosemary or plants that attract useful insects.

ladybird

©Shutterstock – Encourage natural pest control. Ladybirds feed on destructive aphids!

Importance of Sustainable Horticulture

Once you get familiar with the ways it can reduce your impact on the environment, you realize how powerful it is.

Captures atmospheric carbon

Instead of burning plant-based waste and releasing carbon back to the atmosphere, it is much better to turn it into compost or mulch. Sustainable horticulture captures atmospheric carbon and locks it in the form of stable humus, sequestering it in the ground.

Sustainable gardening preserves the biodiversity of native plants and wildlife

Native plants are well adjusted to local climate factors, soil properties, as well as typical pests. By planting various vegetables native to the region, you are helping preserve their genetic diversity. If you desire to grow exotic plants and show off your garden, think twice. You might be introducing an invasive species or attract a host of new pests or diseases your plants are unaccustomed to.

potatoes

©Shutterstock – Opt for disease reistant varieties to reduce the need for chemical controls.

Also, you might be inadvertently endangering valuable and helpful wildlife. By encouraging wildlife gardening, you help maintain the overall biodiversity of your area and even help your gardening efforts and yields.

Establishing the right mindset for future generations

If you ever stood in front of a market stall looking at fruits and vegetables and wondered why they look so good but lack any natural fragrance, you have likely stumbled upon a realization. Those coming after us may not even know what quality produce tastes and smells like. Through sustainable gardening, we are providing future generations with the means to grow their own healthy sustenance.

Advice for the new allotment holder

Allotment with full beds and plenty of veg to harvest

Make your new allotment a success
Image: T.W. van Urk

If you’re a new allotment plot holder, you may be feeling completely daunted by the large slab of ground you’ve just taken charge of. Where do you start? What should you do first? 

Here are 8 helpful tips from some of the internet’s best allotment growers…

1: Make a detailed plan 

Do you have a clear picture of how you want your allotment to look and what you want to grow? Any time you spend planning before you begin will save time later on. Over at Pumpkins and Bunting, Karen advises sketching your allotment on paper to make it feel more manageable:

Think about what you’d like to grow, watch to see how much sun the plot receives and if there are any shady areas, make a note of fixed features such as a shed, water butts, compost bins etc. I used VegPlotter to plan out my allotment, it’s free and easy to navigate using a simple drag and drop interface…

2: Create access paths

Gardener with compost in a wheelbarrow

Clear paths provide easy access to both sides of these beds
Image: ajlatan

What is the best way to divide up your plot to make growing easier? Catharine Howard suggests that you start with the paths. You’ll need to be able to reach all your produce without standing on it, and you’ll want to move easily between the beds (perhaps with a wheelbarrow) to harvest, weed and feed your crops. Catharine’s tip:

Arm yourself with the following: tape measure, twine and short canes… Visit the plot and divide it into strips 1.2m wide. Peg each strip out with twine and leave [at least] 30cm gap between each one. These gaps will become your pathways. You’ll be able to tramp up and down these to hoe and sow without treading on your vegetable beds – and 1.2m is a perfect width [for a bed so you can] reach in from either side.

3: Talk to the old boys 

If you’re drawn to allotment growing for the community aspect as much as the extra space, making friends with your fellow growers is a great way to learn. In the early days of Real Men Sow, Jono’s new neighbours were happy to share their local knowledge:

There’s every chance that the same people have been working your neighbouring plots for years. They’ll be the ones who can tell you what grows well on the site, what to avoid, and all the other tricks that will get you on your way. From my experience, allotmenteerists are a lovely bunch, and they’ll only be too happy to help. Mind you, they did let me grow my sweetcorn and not tell me about the badgers!

4: Save money by starting small

Kale growing in an allotment

Concentrate on crops that are cheap to grow and expensive to buy, like Kale
Image: Alison Hancock

Starting an allotment from scratch can require a fairly hefty initial outlay, but each year it gets cheaper to grow your own fruit and veg as you learn to become more efficient, make your own compost and save seeds. In his excellent YouTube video, How to grow vegetables cheaply, Huw Richards suggests easy ways to keep the cost down:

Choose just three of your favourite vegetables to grow in your first year. By starting slowly you wont get overwhelmed. And opt for herbs and vegetables that are expensive to buy in the shops but cheap to grow. Leafy greens like Kale, swiss Chard and perpetual spinach are a good place to start.

5: Clear your plot

If your new plot is a bit overgrown, take a few days to clear away any rubbish and tackle the weeds before you start. Over at Allotment Lifestyle, Ian uses the ‘no-dig’ system which involves adding a thick layer of compost to the surface of the ground and planting into it. Ian says:

The tool I use most is a strimmer. If your allotment is overgrown when you take it over, strim it hard to get down to the soil level. Remove the debris and lay out compost on the ground to form beds. You’ll need enough space between the beds to strim the weeds away as they emerge over the season. Two to three inches of compost is enough to get things going…

6: At one with the earth

Gardener digging compost with a spade

Improve your soil with good quality compost
Image: Isha50

Whether you decide to dig over your beds or try the no-dig method, improving your soil is one of the most important things to get right. To keep things simple for fellow newbies, Jack from Jack Wallington Garden Design has four simple tips:

  • “Don’t tread on soil you’re growing on as it will squash the air pockets out and block root growth 
  • Replenish its nutrients annually with a thick layer of peat free compost or well rotted manure
  • Watch it carefully through the year to understand how it holds water
  • Rotate crops every year, never growing the same crops (except perennials) in the same place to prevent pest and disease build up.”

7: Weed little and often

Weeding isn’t much fun, but if you start each visit to the allotment with a quick 30-minute stint, you’ll prevent weeds from getting out of control and stealing vital nutrients from your crops. Over at Pumpkins and Bunting, Karen has a polite request:

Please try to avoid using weed killer, it’s usually unnecessary and it’s harmful to bees – I’d imagine human health too! Use a hoe to weaken small weed seedlings and lift larger weeds from the soil by hand. Try to get all of the root out, doing this regularly really will pay off in the long run.

8: Keep an eye on the harvest windows

Beetroot ‘Wodan’ F1 hybrid from T&M

Crops like beetroot have a more forgiving harvest window
Image: Beetroot ‘Wodan’ F1 hybrid from T&M

Having spent time and effort getting your allotment ready to produce healthy homegrown food, it’s a real shame if your crops spoil while waiting to be harvested. Over at Jack Wallington Garden Design, Jack admits that he was so focussed on growing that he hadn’t given enough thought to harvesting, storing and cooking:

I hadn’t appreciated that many vegetables and fruit have a limited 1 – 2 day window when they are perfect for eating – very difficult when I was down there only once or twice a week. In particular raspberries, courgettes, broccoli and beans. On one Saturday they wouldn’t be ready, then the following Saturday they’d gone past their best. I’ll be hotter this year on predicting the picking days.

Best low maintenance crops for beginners

If you’re keen to start allotment growing but can’t make it to your plot every day, don’t worry, there are plenty of fruits and vegetables that can cope with less frequent attention. With just a little weeding and watering, here are some of the best low-maintenance crops to get you started:

Squash and pumpkin

Chillies

Maincrop potatoes

Rhubarb

Beetroot and Swiss chard

Carrots

Kale

Onions and garlic

Perpetual spinach 

We hope you’ve found some of these tips useful and we wish you every success with your new allotment. Don’t forget to tag us on your photos so we can follow your progress!

Pin It on Pinterest