Guest blog by Roy Probert
If you’ve ever wanted to give food growing a go but weren’t sure where to start, then this guest blog about how to grow your own foods will hopefully give you the confidence and a few tips to get started! Roy is my brother-in-law and avid allotment keeper, he’s very knowledgable and I’m thrilled he’s agreed to share some of his expertise with us.
Successive lockdowns and the rising cost of living have persuaded many people to explore the possibility of growing their own vegetables and fruit, whether by getting their own allotment (waiting lists permitting) or repurposing some of their own gardens from ornamental plants to edible ones. Those with small, rented or no gardens may even have attempted to grow vegetables in containers.
Spring is approaching and all the gardening magazines and TV programmes will be advising you to start sowing seeds. This very much depends on how well you are set up for seed-sowing. An earlier harvest can often be achieved by sowing seeds indoors or a greenhouse in modules or seed trays (or improvised ones like yoghurt pots or fruit punnets) and then transplanting them out once the weather is more conducive.
But if you don’t have module trays or a suitable space for them, you can wait a few weeks and sow directly in the ground – indeed root crops such as carrots and parsnips prefer this. The fickle British climate means sowing anything – even supposedly hardier crops such as radishes, salad leaves and beetroot – before mid-April is fraught with risk, despite what the seed packets advise, because you need to make sure the soil is warm enough to allow quick germination. Seeds sown a few weeks later often romp away in the warmer weather and sometimes catch up with their mollycoddled equivalents sown in February or March.
A heated propagator can transform your vegetable growing, allowing you to start seeds earlier, especially tender, long-season crops like tomatoes, peppers or courgettes. However, a warm window sill can achieve similar results. When sowing seeds, be realistic about how much space you have to grow the full-sized plant. One courgette plant takes up a lot of room and is enough fruits to meet the needs of a small family. Only the most fanatical of zucchini aficionados will need to grow more than two plants!
The same goes for salad crops. Best not to sow a whole packet of lettuce or beetroot all at once – even if they all grow well, will you really want 50 heads of lettuce maturing at the same time? Better to sow a small amount every few weeks to ensure you have a succession of tasty salads throughout the year. And make sure you grow things that you want to eat. There’s no point in producing tonnes of turnips if you don’t like eating them.
If you are lucky enough to have acquired an allotment plot, but it is in a daunting, bramble-infested state of disrepair, don’t try to achieve too much too quickly. Better to clear enough ground so that you can have a small but successful harvest of things you love to eat than try to do too much and abandon the plot in despair. My first allotment started as a jungle of brambles, nettles and bindweed. Each year I advanced a few metres, clearing the ground and creating new beds until – maybe eight years later – it was all productive.
If you are lucky enough to have an allotment then consider growing fruit and perennial vegetables like asparagus, which are expensive to buy in the supermarket. Once established, they can be productive for many years.
- Repurpose pots and tubs – yoghurt pots and butter pots can have a second life to sow your seeds before planting out (plus there are always larger pots going free, ask around – so no need to buy new)
- The window sill can be a great warm place to get your seeds started
- You don’t need to sow outside too early, despite what the seed packets might say
- Spread out planting your seeds so that you get regular crops maturing at different times (unless you intend to eat them all at once!)
- Only grow what you and your family love to eat – get them involved too
- Start small, whether that’s in a pot on the windowsill or a small section in your allotment or garden, you don’t have to do it all at once
- View it as a long term investment – it can take years to get into the rhythm of successful growing or to create a successful allotment/garden
- Invest in perennials – these can be expensive in the supermarkets, so it’s a good long term investment that will pay off in years to come
And what if you don’t have an allotment or garden? Many vegetables are easy to grow in containers, especially salad leaves, dwarf beans tomatoes and even courgettes. And don’t forget to grow some herbs in pots. Having your own home-grown parsley, basil or chives can transform your meals.
As you become more immersed in this world of vegetable growing, you may find yourself purchasing heated propagators, polytunnels or ingenious methods of pest control; your hobby can become an obsession. Even before it reaches this point, you might find that you don’t grow your own vegetables to save money. However, you will know where your produce has come from and what fertilisers have been used to grow them. More than this, you’ll be getting the proven physical and mental health benefits that come from working the soil and being closer to nature.
Tag us on social media to show us how you’re getting on and feel free to share your tips and advice too!