Grow Your Own
Although the idea of growing your own fruit and vegetables might sound like something other people do, it’s not as hard as you first think. Once you’ve done the initial planning and preparing, many foods take care of themselves, with little need for any technical skill. As long as you have patience, you should get some great results from your veggie patch.
by Lisamarie Lamb
The first step is to choose where to set up your new food-producing garden. A lot depends on what you want to grow, and how much room you have in which to grow it. However, generally, you can start in containers, a greenhouse, a few feet of lawn turned over or, if you are lucky enough to be able to become part of one, an allotment. A good tip when it comes to location is to ask yourself where you would like to sunbathe – somewhere sunny with some shelter from the wind. Don’t allow overhanging trees or garden sheds to get in the way of a bountiful crop.
However and wherever you are working, a good word of advice is to divide your space into four quadrants – one for each of the first vegetables you choose to grow. This makes it easier to maintain, as different products need different amounts of water and tending, and easier to remember what went where before things start to grow. If you want to grow more than four, why not use the quadrants to separate your seeds into type? You could have legumes (beans and peas), salads, root vegetables, and herbs, or any other combination that takes your fancy.
Another question to answer is whether or not you want to make your beds raised. Raised beds are those that are set in a frame a few inches from the ground, rather than digging straight into the earth itself. If you have very little topsoil (which would occur when your soil is mostly chalk, sand, or clay), then raised beds could be a great idea for you – you can add inches of good quality topsoil to enable your seeds to grow to their full potential.
Once you have decided on the place and type of vegetable patch you want, you need to prepare the ground. Remove all the turf and turn over the earth, making sure that any stones or lumps of brick and building debris are removed. All of the weeds have to go too. It may be tempting just to plant the seeds straight away, but you do need to ensure that your soil is ready for them. To really make the soil ideal, you should add as much compost as possible to it. This is available from the garden centre, although you may want to consider setting up your own compost heap in the garden – it saves time and money when you need nutrient rich goodness for your veggies.
Now you are ready. But what to grow? Some produce takes a lot of looking after, and for the effort put in, doesn’t produce that much reward (things like peppers and potatoes), so you may want to stay away from those at the beginning. The best things to grow are those ‘cut and come again’ varieties that keep coming back, seemingly no matter what. These include salad vegetables and herbs, as well as a number of other delicious items. Below is a list of what to sow when, and when to harvest them, so you have an idea of what you might be able to achieve from your lovely new vegetable patch.
Salad vegetables such as lettuce, rocket, endive, arugula, and radicchio are super easy to grow, and come back quickly once harvested, meaning you could have a homegrown salad at least once a week just from what you are growing in your own garden.
Plant your salad leaves in any month you choose – they grow all year round. You can harvest them as soon as they are ready, at any time. Perfect for grow-your-own beginners!
Ideal as an addition to your salad or as an ingredient in any number of homemade dishes, the tomato is a lovely thing to grow. Many people like to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse, but if you haven’t got one that’s not a problem – they do well in a bag of compost or well-composted soil, so you can plant them directly into the patch you’ve prepared. Bear in mind that you will need to tie your tomato plants to stakes as they grow.
Plant tomatoes in late April, and harvest them in August to October.
Courgettes will give you a bumper crop, so don’t plant too many or you’ll have more than you know what to do with! They don’t take long to grow, and you’ll be amazed at the difference in taste when you pick them from your own garden.
Plant courgettes in late May to June, and harvest them in late July to October.
If you don’t have the space for a full-grown vegetable patch, strawberries are a wonderful fruit as they are happy to grow in the ground or a container on a patio – and they grow fast too, so once planted you should have beautiful fruit within a few weeks. As a bonus, strawberry plants produce attractive flowers too.
Plant your strawberries in April to June, and you’ll be eating them in June to September. Plant them early and they’ll be ready for Wimbledon!
Beetroot is one of the UK’s best selling seeds, and it’s no wonder considering the big return you get on whatever you plant; these crunchy, earthy vegetables are a ‘super fruit’ so they are a great thing to have on hand.
Plant beetroot between March and July, and you’ll be able to harvest them between July and October.
Herbs are a great thing to add to your homegrown supplies; they are great for adding to recipes and can really boost the taste of pretty much anything, which means you can use less salt when cooking. Most herbs will fare well when outside, and these hardy plants don’t need much looking after.
Mint is especially good, as this versatile herb can be planted at any time of the year and harvested as soon as it is ready.
Onions come in a variety of shapes and sizes, but whether it is the traditional white onion, the tangy spring onion, flavoursome red onion, or even shallots that are ideal for a warming stew, they are all just as easy to grow.
Plant onions in late February to April, and you’ll be harvesting them in July to August. They keep for ages (especially if you pickle them for Christmas, for example, or freeze them), so you should have enough to see you through until it’s time to harvest again.
Whether eaten raw, used as a purée, or added to pretty much anything from cakes to salad, carrots are a fantastic vegetable to have on tap.
Plant your carrots from February to July, and you’ll have a crunchy sweet crop between May and October.