Growing Your Own Fruit and Vegetables
Growing your own fruit and veg is as rewarding as it is smart, there are so many good reasons to grow your own produce. The food you eat will be cheaper, more nutritious, it will taste better, it will use virtually no packaging, its carbon footprint will be low (probably negative) and it gives you a healthy and relaxing hobby. You don’t need to have a huge garden with a myriad of raised beds filled with a confusing array of fruit and veg. You can start small with a couple of window boxes, tubs and grow bags and slowly build up from there.
If you don’t have any external space at all then you can still grow some useful edible plants in your home. Plants need light so you should choose a space that will get the most amount of light possible. This is why window sills are so great. You can use small trays and pots to grow a huge range of herbs – so get a packet of seeds of your favourite and give it a go. Other possibilities are edible greens like mixed leaves. You can also try sprouting beans and cress.
There are a whole array of new products to make growing your own inside easier from some useful bean sprouting containers to advanced (and expensive) small hydroponic systems that control water, nutrients and light.
If you only have a small terrace or balcony then you will need to restrict your plants to containers. However, you really can grow a huge amount in this small space if you use good quality compost and get the watering right.
First check that any tenancy agreement you have allows you to have plants and containers and don’t overload railings with lots of heavy pots. If you get high winds consider using some rattan or sheeting to act as a wind break.
To get more growing space, think about growing ‘up’. Shelf units can contain several rows of small plants like salad leaves and herbs, while grow bags and support canes can allow you to grow tall vines like tomatoes, peas and beans. Use pots for plants that will come back year after year like berries. Don’t forget that you can use hanging baskets for things like strawberries and herbs.
Just make a quick list of the fruit and veg you like to eat or want to eat more of and do a few minutes research about how and when to grow the plants. If you do a little bit of planning you can achieve 2-4 harvests from each planter.
Establishing A Veg Patch
If you have a garden but you have never tried to grow your own food – have a go. Start small with a few easy to grow things. Tomatoes and beans grown up support canes are easy to grow and provide a lovely screen to garden edges. Herbs are a great way to fill some path edges and sad looking beds so get some seeds and young plants and see what does well in your garden. Onions, carrots, squash, broccoli and kale are also easy to grow – buy plug plants and plant them straight in the ground. Get the kids interested by giving them two pumpkin plants each and seeing who can grow theirs the biggest!
Dig up an area of garden and plant a few potatoes. They are very easy to grow and produce a lot from a small volume of seed potatoes. You can also store them in the ground, and after lifting, for long periods thereafter. Find proper seed potatoes – do not use shop bought ones as they can introduce diseases into your soil that you will never be able to get rid of. Early varieties are planted in late Feb/March and are ready in around 10 weeks. Maincrop varieties are planted late March and take 15-20 weeks to mature.
If you have a garden and already grow some veg you can expand your growing season and the variety of edible plants you have by using a greenhouse. Simple cold frames and polytunnels help protect plants at the start of the season and can allow you to get your first crop earlier. More advanced greenhouses with heating systems can do even more for you and allow you to grow some more tropical varieties. Greenhouses are also fantastic for growing plants from seed and this can save a serious gardener a lot of money. It is also nice to be able to garden with protection from the wind, rain and cold. This means you can enjoy your hobby throughout the year.
You can use the soil in the greenhouse to grow plants directly or to place containers or grow bags. You can also make use of more space by installing shelving and using hanging baskets. Just make sure your greenhouse is secure and well-constructed before adding weight to it in the form of shelves or hanging baskets – these items can dangerously destabilise a rickety old greenhouse. An aluminium greenhouse is the strongest option and resists corrosion and weathering. However, if you prefer a traditional wooden greenhouse and still want the benefits of durability without the risk of rotting then that is possible by looking for a greenhouse made of Accoya wood.
Get a thermometer in your greenhouse so you can monitor the internal temperature. If you want to grow some tropical plants you might need a Winter heater. Conversely in the summer you might find the greenhouse gets too hot and you need to open vents.
You can also grow some more interesting plants like melons and sweet potatoes. You can get a head start by planting Brussels sprouts, celeriac, onions and peas in later Winter where they can germinate in the greenhouse for planting out in Spring. Mid Spring plant crops like chillies, cucumbers and aubergines and basil and then plant then out in Late Spring or early Summer.
Pollination & Pests
Many of the edible plants we want to grow need pollinators in the form of insects and these need to be attracted to your garden or balcony. Good pollination is essential to getting high yields from your garden. All you need to do is set aside some space or a pot for some insect friendly plants and get yourself a special bee friendly seed mix.
You will need to keep an eye on your plants for pests. Every three days look over your plants and turn over a few leaves and check flower buds. If you identify any insect pests you might need to treat your plants. Pests can quickly overrun small terraces or balconies. Greenfly is easily washed off with a sprayer filled with weak washing up liquid. For black fly and mould, you are best buying a specialist treatment from a garden centre.