Decided to try to grow your own? Growing veg in your garden takes less effort than you might think and is a cost-effective way to enjoy delicious herbs, fruit and vegetables.
To help you take your first steps, some of our favourite gardening bloggers have kindly shared their top tips, perfected over many years of trial and error. Here are our handy hints…
Where’s the best place to grow vegetables?
Where are you thinking of growing your veg? An old flower bed, new raised beds, containers or maybe a window box? Wherever you decide to plant your produce, the location should satisfy three basic criteria: good soil, some sunshine, and stable growing conditions.
The best soil is a rich loam – it’s fertile and holds moisture without becoming waterlogged. If that doesn’t sound like the soil in your back garden, don’t despair – adding plenty of organic material helps to improve poor soils, and if your soil is prone to waterlogging – build raised beds.
South-facing plots make good veg gardens because they get the best of the sunshine throughout the day. But just because your garden lacks the perfect orientation doesn’t mean it can’t be productive – some veg, like salad leaves and brassicas, prefer slightly shadier conditions. Avoid planting fruit and veg in areas that suffer from extreme conditions – choose somewhere sheltered away from cold winds and pelting rain.
How to choose vegetables for a small garden
You don’t need a big garden to grow lots of tasty veg, but if you’re short on space, it’s important to plant smartly. Mark Willis of the perennially informative blog Mark’s Veg Plot uses a scientific planting scheme he learned from garden writer Joy Larkcom – the Value for Space Rating. VSR takes into account things like crop yield per square metre, growing time, availability of the crop and its quality relative to supermarket purchases. So what’s the best thing to grow if space is at a premium? Mark says:
“The best examples of VSR are in the herb department. Herbs don’t take up much space, and they are usually expensive to buy (and never available when you want them).
Richard, producer of ever-popular The Veg Grower Podcast, adopts a similarly scientific approach. Under his scoring system, top marks go to asparagus, tomatoes and garlic, which is great because he likes all three!
In a small garden, Caro Shrives at The Urban Veg Patch goes for small plants that work hard. She says: “Plants that keep on cropping are a good choice; compact courgette plants look good, have vibrant flowers and provide a decent amount of small courgettes without overwhelm.”
If you’re really short of square footage, Youtube presenter Kelly, of Kelly’s Kitchen Garden, suggests vertical growing: “Growing crops like beans, cucumbers and some types of squash up trellis, supports and cane wigwams can save a lot of space.”
And if you have no garden at all? Kelly says that as long as you have a balcony or somewhere to stand a few pots, you can still grow fresh produce in containers or window boxes: “I’ve had fantastic success growing lettuce in containers. By picking individual leaves to increase yield, I harvested 5.5lbs (2.5kg) from a container measuring no more than two square feet.”
Grow what you like to eat
If you’re lucky enough to have room to grow whatever you like, how do you narrow down the choice? We asked our favourite bloggers that very question – the consensus – though growing expensive or rare veg is a fun and tasty sideline – concentrate on growing what you enjoy eating.
There’s little point cultivating exotic veg if you won’t eat it reckons Pete Polanyk of Weeds up to me Knees. Pete, whose blog offers a wealth of encouragement for beginner gardeners recommends bog standard spuds, tomatoes, runner beans, peas, carrots, beetroots, onions, garlic and herbs. Simple fare maybe, but “they’re a lot more tasty, fresh from the garden.”
Jackie Gulland of Reclaiming Paradise agrees, saying that you’ll be surprised by the flavour of freshly picked produce from your own garden. Although she has an allotment, she explains why she still grows some of her favourites at home:
“The garden [is ideal] for picking herbs to throw in your cooking or a handful of soft fruit for your breakfast and for keeping on top of beans and peas which can grow too fast to eat sometimes. It’s great to go out after work and see what there is that you can have for an evening meal, rather than planning further in advance.
Whether you go for the VSR method or simply plant what you think you’ll enjoy, it’s important to feed your soil and rotate your crops. Avoid planting the same thing in the same place each year to help keep your ground fertile and free of pests.
A well-planted plot of about 12’ x 10’ is the ideal size to supply most of a family of four’s summer and autumn veg needs (with a little left over for freezing). If you start small, you won’t get overwhelmed with veg you can’t eat.
If you’re just testing the water to see if you like growing veg, why not follow Pete’s lead? He planted tomatoes in his flower beds next to his dahlias, pointing out that there’s nothing wrong with a bit of gardening anarchy.
Other options for the first-timer might include planting a few containers. Richard’s a great fan of growing new potatoes this way:
“They’re easy to look after and, if grown in pots, can be moved around if needed. They don’t take much care – plenty of water and food as they are hungry and thirsty plants, and that’s about it. The flavour of homegrown new potatoes far exceeds anything you can buy too.
You might also consider building a raised bed which doesn’t need to take up much space and can easily produce a significant quantity of your favourite veg. Use good quality seeds and plug plants, avoid planting your veg too close together, water well and reap the rewards.
Growing alone? Caro does too. She says: ”It’s tempting to give up when things don’t work out. Joining a local horticultural society, visiting kitchen gardens and attending courses and talks gave me more confidence. Growing food should be fun!”
5 top tips from our brilliant bloggers
- “The most cost-effective crops are the ones that are expensive to buy [in a shop] and don’t keep well – such as Purple Sprouting Broccoli and salads…[but] my favourites are still tomatoes and chillies.” Mark – Mark’s Veg Plot
- “Growing your own is a good way to try unusual veg, especially if you have children. I grow yellow beans, oca, spaghetti squash, sweet red gooseberries – none of which is available in the shops – and physalis (Cape Gooseberries) that taste much nicer freshly picked.” Caro Shrives – The Urban Veg Patch
- “We have rosemary, thyme and bay in the garden that we planted years ago. They’re easy to grow, you just bung them in and voila, you’ve got fresh herbs when you need them.” Pete Polanyk – Weeds up to me knees
- “I try and practise successional (staggered) sowing with salad leaves. This gives our household plenty of delicious salad leaves all year round saving us having to buy those expensive bags from the supermarket.” Richard – The Veg Grower Podcast
- “Things like peas, radishes, salad/spring onions and deliciously sweet turnips are on my budget list – great for the beginner gardener and take up very little space.” Kelly – Kelly’s Kitchen Garden
If you’re thinking about growing your own vegetables we hope our gardening bloggers and YouTubers have provided the inspiration and advice you need to get started. As Kelly says: “Just give it a go and have fun!”
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