Recent events have meant that a lot of people are at home more than before. This means that without a daily commute, they may have more free time available. With the lovely spring weather we had, gardening has become a more popular pastime. Having to entertain children at home, many people have turned to the idea of growing their own vegetables. If you have never grown your own veg, the good news is that it’s never too late to start and you’ll always be learning something new.
Here are 7 Useful tips for growing your own veg:
1. IT’S FOR FLAVOUR & FUN - NOT FINANCIAL GAIN !!!
I have been growing my own fruit and veg for 40 years and not everything goes to plan every year. But the great thing about gardening is that nearly any disaster in the garden can be fixed. The main thing is that you will be out in the fresh air, getting a bit of exercise. And you should benefit from even a small amount of organic home produced veg.
2. DON’T sicken your family with a huge glut of courgettes.
Plan how many of each item you normally use and grow accordingly.
3. DON’T sow a whole packet of seeds at once – sow 10 seeds every fortnight.
In a packet of salad seeds, there is more than enough to keep you going for years. Sow little and often for a continuous supply.
4. Share seed shopping with friends.
This way, you can double the varieties for the same cost.
5. Have a plan ready to cope with gluts.
If you make ratatouille, it freezes really well and doesn’t take up too much room in the freezer.
6. SWAP goodies, eg: Tomatoes for Scones.
Do you have a friend who is a great baker (or has some other skill you don’t possess) but doesn’t have a greenhouse? Trading is beneficial, fun and fair.
7. DON’T panic if plants die or fail.
Even after all these years, I still have the odd failure. Just put it down to experience and have another go. Don’t worry about potential disasters – just enjoy the experience!
Fun in the Fresh Air. Even after all these years, the novelty never wears off the delight at bringing fresh, home grown, organic veg in from the garden. It always tastes so much better because it’s fresh and you know where it came from.
Don’t Spend a Fortune! If you are new to gardening, you may need to purchase some equipment, but here’s some more good news: you don’t need to spend a fortune. Quite the opposite, in fact. Don’t rush out and buy a lot of items until you are sure it’s going to be an engaging, long term hobby. The following pieces of kit are hard to do without (in my opinion) and you may already own some of these:
Wheelbarrow, Rake, Spade, Hoe, Trowel, Pruning saw – You can buy these in most local hardware shops or B&Q, Homebase, or even have them delivered to your door via EBay or Amazon. I like to support our local business where possible, eg: Rathfriland Hardware
Secateurs (Max £5!) – don’t spend too much more than this. I’m a great believer in Murphy’s Law: the more you spend on a pair of secateurs, the quicker you’ll lose them! I like to have several pairs: one in the kitchen, garage, greenhouse, shed and tool box, so you’ll always have a pair handy wherever you happen to be. I even keep a pair in my van, just in case I see something I want to take cuttings from.
Shed/storage space – You will hopefully already have somewhere to store your tools, but if not, even an outdoor storage box would do the job (available on line including delivery).
Good Gloves - I prefer close fitting, partially waterproof gloves. While I’m not fussy about my manicure, it’s essential to wear gloves when gardening to avoid being injured by sharp stones, thorns or splinters. If you have several pairs, you can change them when they get wet.
Swiss Army Knife – takes up very little space in your pocket, and always handy for cutting string for tying in climbers, etc.
Notebook & pen - Keep one in the greenhouse or shed to remind yourself what needs done, or to note good varieties of veg you’ve grown.
Garden seat – It’s such luxury to have a seat in the veggie garden. You can have a cup of tea and admire your handiwork! Even in the winter, I love to sit and make plans for next year.
Insulated Mug - with its lid to keep out debris, your tea will stay hot for ages. At Christmas you can fill it with mulled wine instead… even more luxurious to go with your garden seat (see above)!
Camera/phone – if you’re out and about, for inspirational ideas to try in your own garden.
Gardening Book - Reader’s Digest: Guide to Gardening (also available from your local library).
The next list of items are unnecessary (again, in my humble opinion!) although this depends on your budget:
Expensive secateurs, Piles of gardening books (Google is free and doesn’t take up any space, and if you follow this blog you shouldn’t need too many other resources !) Cold frame (just use your greenhouse if you have one), Designer wellies (they won’t make you a better gardener, although you might feel they make you look the part!).
Where are you going to grow your veg?
Even if you only have a window box on a balcony, you could still grow your own salad leaves and maybe tomatoes and courgettes. If you have space in your garden, choose an area which gets the sun most of the day. Start with just a small veg bed. This means you won’t be overwhelmed by the workload. If it’s a popular feature, you can add to it. On the other hand, if it doesn’t turn out to be as thrilling a hobby as you thought, a small bed can more easily be turned back into grass.
What kind of soil do you have?
Heavy clay is very high in nutrients, but it needs lightened & opened up. Sandy soil is easy to dig, but is very free draining and so it needs body added to it to help retain moisture. The best treatment for most soils is to add leaf mould, well rotted manure & garden compost to all soils. Obviously if you’re only starting in gardening, you won’t necessarily have access to compost yet, but farmyard manure can be purchased from most garden centres. Alternatively, find out where your nearest stables are and they are sure to oblige with a bit of horse manure. However, if it isn’t well rotted, don’t add it to your soil straight away or you could burn your plants – pile it up somewhere until next year. If it is well rotted, dig it in or even just spread it on top and leave it to the worms and rain to work it down in to the soil. If you are planting some new fruit bushes or trees, add a handful of Growmore granular fertilizer to everything you plant.
The compost heap is an essential feature of my garden.
Into this goes all fruit & veg peelings, teabags, shredded paper, tumble dryer lint, hoover bag contents, wood ash, lawn mower clippings, hoed weeds, mown leaves, hen house or pet rabbit litter, junk mail, etc. Our compost heap is actually divided into 3 separate sections: the first is being filled, the second is maturing and the 3rd is ready for use. The reason for this is that if you keep piling fresh matter on to the same compost pile, it will never be mature and ready for use. Again, there is no need to spend a fortune on a compost bin. Ours is made from pallets put together to create 3 sections, so there’s no need for a plastic Dalek! Your compost heap will provide an excellent hibernation site for insects and of course, invaluable soil conditioner. The secret to good compost is to ensure that there are thin layers of different matter. For example, grass clippings make brilliant compost because of the heat they generate, but if they are added in one large pile, they will turn into a solid mass. Make a point of turning your pile regularly to add oxygen and mix fresh bits in with the maturing matter. An added bonus is that it’s also great exercise, so you can cancel your gym membership! There isn’t much to beat the great satisfaction when you see your own home made compost being dug out to add to your veg beds.
What are you going to grow?
The best plan is to grow what you normally use. Plan in advance how many you need and buy enough plants or sow enough seeds to suit this if possible. For example, courgette plants are reliably heavy croppers in the greenhouse or even in a sunny sheltered area outside. 4 courgette plants would be plenty for an average household. Don’t sicken your family with a huge glut ! Regarding quick cropping veg such as radish or lettuce, don’t sow a whole packet of seeds at once. If you sow 10 salad seeds every fortnight, that should yield a regular quantity of lettuce throughout the summer months.
A packet of seeds may contain enough for hundreds of veg, so why not get together with a friend and share or swap seeds or seedlings. This means you will be doubling up on varieties. A lot of seeds don’t really keep from one year to the next, so it is better to use them up as soon as possible.
Coping with gluts:
Hopefully you will have some good success, so the next thing to do is to have a plan ready to cope with gluts. I take great satisfaction in swapping goodies. For example, I have a friend who is a great baker but doesn’t have a greenhouse, so we regularly swap my tomatoes for her lovely home baked scones – everybody wins!
Next time – check out our next blog entry where I will have suggestions for fruit and vegetables that are worth growing and some that are not worth the effort.
In the meantime, if you would like any further information, please contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Vanessa Drew is a highly experienced garden designer based near Rathfriland, Co Down. Vanessa is also a part-time farmer, animal lover and owner of Ballyroney Cottage farmstay B&B. She enjoys hiking, mindfulness and is a wildlife and conservation enthusiast. In her blogs, she shares her passion for horticulture, animals and country lifestyle.