How To Grow Your Own Fruit and Vegetables
Over the years many people have asked the question- is it worth it?- and every time I come up with the same answer- YES!
*Home grown fruit and veg. can be picked young and fresh when they are at their tastiest and most nutritious.
*Growing your own is the only reliable way of knowing which chemicals, if any, have been used.
*There are many more varieties available than can be found in shops.
*Cost savings can definitely be made by growing your own, especially if plants are grown from seed.
*Growing your own means not only healthy eating but also active and healthy living!
Those of you who have vegetable plots or raised beds already know about all these benefits and, no doubt, how to get the best from your plot. However, there will be many people at this unusual time in all our lives who are thinking about growing their own, perhaps for the first time, and this Blog is to attempt to get you started and to have some quick successes which will encourage you to continue to expand your expertise and hopefully might also encourage some young gardeners to get involved. You never know you may get really get bitten by the gardening bug and will be ready next year to start at the beginning of the growing season rather than part way into it!
On its simplest level there are many vegetables and a few fruits which can be grown in containers on windowsills, on patios or in courtyards. You don’t have to have soil! Almost any container will do as long as it have got some drainage holes and is at least 3-4 inches deep (8-10 cms).
Last year at the Old Railway Line Pippa Greenwood of RHS and Radio 4 fame gave a really interesting and useful talk and one of her many good ideas was to grow salad leaf crops in troughs on windowsills or outside from April to September. I started ours off in May last year using four troughs sown at intervals of around 2-3 weeks. The first started cropping by the end of the month and together they supplied my wife and I with fresh leaves for the rest of the year. Even in winter and early spring this year we have been able to pick Rocket and salad leaves from troughs in our unheated back porch which were sown in September .There are lots of “salad leaf” varieties available as seeds including the “Italian Seeds” which come in lots of shapes and colours. If you like Rocket try Wild Rocket which has a stronger taste and is hardy enough to grow under cover without heat in the winter. These types of seeds tend to be sown fairly thickly as you would with Mustard and Cress and leaves will be ready to pick or cut with scissors certainly within a month of sowing. They can be cropped like this several times before needing to be re-sown. When the time comes just take off the top inch or so of compost as the roots won’t have gone much deeper, replace it with new compost and re-sow.
With other pots it is worth sowing more thinly and letting the plants grow on to either give bigger leaves to cut or for them to “heart up” to give you a whole plant to lift. This is where vegetable plug plants come into their own. They usually come in packs of 6 or 9 and I plant them all in a 10-12 inch pot and can be picking leaves within a few weeks. I use a lot of Lettuce “Little Gem” in both red and green as they are a small, cos-type lettuce which grow upright and take up less room in the pots. Try also Lambs Lettuce (sometimes called Corn Salad) which is a darker colour and different flavour. I also like the mixed red and green lettuce leaves, Spicy Salad leaves and Mizuna. Don’t forget that the Old Railway Line is now selling vegetable plants as well as seeds and sundries for Click and Collect. In fact they are also selling bedding and other plants in this way now. Have a look on their Facebook page where there is a video of young Matthew doing a walk- through of the canopy plant area, I have never seen so many plants!
Once you have got going with some salad leaves you may want to be a little more adventurous and try some larger plants such as Tomatoes, Peppers and Courgettes. These can all be grown from seed but May is a little too late to sow as they are normally started off in heat from February onwards. At this stage it is better to try to get hold of plants but don’t put them outside until the threat of frost has passed and they have been hardened off. They will need a sunny spot and a fair bit of attention ie. watering and feeding. The easiest tomatoes to grow are the bush or trailing types, often with the word “Tumbler” in their names as they don’t need canes to grow up or their side-shoots pinching out. Peppers, and Chillies, are increasingly popular and can even be brought inside onto a windowsill at the end of the summer to continue cropping. Strawberries are the most widely grown fruit in pots and hanging baskets although they are now some varieties of Raspberries for pot growing. The other very good “pot” fruit is the Blueberry but remember that these require an Ericaceous compost ie. an acid soil.
Another group of plants which can be successfully grown in pots are the Peas and Beans but you do need to choose varieties which don’t get too big. For this reason I use mainly Dwarf French Beans although in a big pot with canes you can also grow Runner Beans and Climbing French Beans.
Whatever you chose to have a go at just remember to use a good quality vegetable compost, preferably peat-free (the topic for another blog!) and that plants in pots need a little more watering and feeding than crops in the ground. I use a liquid tomato feed with added seaweed for all of my vegetables.
When you have enjoyed growing your own fruit and vegetables in pots you may decide to use some of your garden, if you have one, for crop growing. One of the best ways of using even quite small spaces is to create a raised bed. This is basically a rectangular bed contained within a wooden, brick or block frame which allows the soil to be built up within it. Once the soil is in it is best not to walk on it as part of a “no-dig” system (yet another blog topic!) and therefore the bed needs to be narrow enough to be able to reach the middle from each side. With beds such as these you can grow a much wider range of crops including those that take up more space including Brassicas (cabbage family), Broad Beans, Onions, Leeks, Root crops and Potatoes. Many people do actually grow Potatoes in pots but they tend to be planted in late March and April so it is a bit late for this year although you can plant later in the year to give you new potatoes for Christmas!
Whatever you decide to have a go at I’m sure you will be thrilled with what you produce. There is not a lot that can beat growing and eating your own food straight from the garden or pot! Enjoy.
With people spending more time in their gardens in these unusual times I’m sure that we are all enjoying not just the fresh air and the plants but also the wildlife in our gardens. In the next blog I’m going to have a look at how we gardeners can make our gardens a little more friendly for wildlife-as long as it is not eating all your lovely vegetables, of course!
Keep well and good gardening. Keith.