If you are new to the concept of growing your own fruit and veg, there are two things you need to know: it’s not hard, and you don’t need acres of space.
What you do need are a bit of patience, a way of reminding yourself to water your seedlings and plants, and a plan.
Now is the time to start planning what you want to grow. Home grown tastes infinitely better than anything you could buy in a supermarket, but you aren’t suddenly going to like something that you don’t eat just because you made it yourself. So think about the things you like to eat, primarily.
Many fruit and veg can be grown in pots, such as tomatoes, courgettes and salads. New potatoes can be grown in compost bags or similar. Others, like asparagus, are a labour of love, and will be in the ground for three years before you get your first spear. Not one I recommend for the beginner.
Draw a rough plan of your garden, or whatever outdoor space you have, and identify the space you have for growing. I intend to make more space for growing this year, by re-arranging some of the shrubs. You can grow lots of things in pots, so if you only have a hard standing area in your garden, you can still grow things.
So, seeds. The rows and rows of seed packets at your local garden centre can seem daunting. So, here are a few things to help you out:
On the reverse of the packets you will find information on when to sow it, when to plant it out and when you can expect to harvest your hard work. It will also have a use by date. Some crop can be planted straight into the ground. This saves space in the house. I confess though, I have cats, and they would wreak havoc on such an arrangement. You would also need to be able to distinguish between a weed and a seedling, which isn’t easy until you are a dab hand.
Some seeds will be referred to as ‘hybrids’. These are seeds that have been bred to be resistant to a type of disease that the veg is susceptible to. For example. Courgette ‘Defender’ should be mildew resistant. If you are a newby gardener, hybrid seeds are good ones to go for, so that the worse case should be avoided. You should be aware though that some situations are unavoidable.
If there is a hose pipe ban, you can still water by hand in the event of drought. But if there is too much rain, some crop, like potatoes, are likely to rot in the ground. Not enough sun light will be an issue for the sun lovers – the peppers and chillies, for example. There’s not a great deal you can do about the weather, sadly. You will also need to look out for Jack Frost – but not until we are ready to plant out. However, many people grow lots of things successfully – too much rain might not make for good potatoes, but pumpkins and squash will thrive in all that water.
I do recommend you go to a proper garden centre, and not the garden section of your DIY store. The garden centre will have a much better selection, and the staff will be able to help you if you get confused. You should also be able to get heritage seeds – such as purple carrots. Yes, carrots were purple, until the pesky Victorians liked the novelty of orange carrots, and they caught on. I am a big fan of heritage seeds and seed libraries. If our farmers are struck by a plague that wipes out all of a particular type of crop, it’s the seed library they will rely on to re-introduce it. A few years ago, the US sweet corn industry was nearly wiped out by a mystery disease, but the seed libraries came to the rescue and ultimately kept those farms going.
You don’t have to buy seeds. If you eat a pepper, or a tomato, that you really like, you can save the seeds from it in a tissue and have a go at growing them. It really does work and will save your some seed money. Don’t go mad and buy too many packets, especially if you are just starting out. You might not enjoy it as much as you thought – although I think working the land is good for the soul, even if you have a teeny patch – but it might not be for you.
Whilst you are picking the seeds you want to grow, you will need to think about what you are going to grow them in. You could pick up plastic module trays, which are probably the cheapest thing. You could also save your toilet rolls – the good thing about these is that they will rot in the ground, so you need not take the seedling out as it gets bigger. You will need some pots for when your seedlings get bigger too, but I will go into this in a later post. You will also need a way of noting what seeds are where, unless you don’t mind playing a game of ‘what plant will this turn into?’ You can buy white plastic markers, but wooden lolly pop sticks, or even cocktail sticks with a little handwritten label on them will do.
You will need a bag of compost – I recommend seed compost, as it is finer so it’s easier for your seedling to make its way up to the surface. However, any compost will do, so long as it has been sterilised. Earth from your garden won’t do, I’m afraid. It might start off well but it will be full of bacteria and it is very likely that your seedling will die. This is called ‘damping off’. So you will hear gardeners say ‘don’t use old compost if you want to avoid damping off’.
One last thing to consider is where you are going to put your seedlings. You see, in order to germinate and stay alive, they will require a minimum temperature, which is warmer than outdoors. So until probably around April – it depends on the weather – they will have to live in the house, or somewhere else warm.
When you get your seeds home, you need to keep them somewhere cool, and dry. This is to preserve the integrity of them, and stop them sprouting. I organise mine in a cat food box, as it is just the right width for seed packets and I can flip through them easily.
If you want to grow fruit, I recommend purchasing fruit bushes. Strawberries (known as runners) are easy to grow in pots or hanging baskets, which keeps those pesky slugs at bay. I purchased raspberries (known as canes) from an Aldi store for £1.99 each, and the raspberries were plentiful, and delicious. They often have other types of berries available so are worth a look – their website will detail offers they have, which are usually in store on Thursdays. I suggest you look out in March, but if I see any offers I will post them on Twitter and Facebook.
One more thing – buy some sunflower seeds. A competition to see who can grow the tallest one is such fun, the bees love them and they are guaranteed to make you smile when their heads bob in the wind.
Part Two – sowing your seeds – will be in a couple of weeks.