If you only have a small patch of garden, it is still possible to grow fruit and vegetables using pots and containers, potatoes can be grown in old dustbins and with the varieties of dwarf fruit trees now available, it is possible to grow most varieties in a large pot. For those of you with a veg patch or allotment growing on a grand scale is a mammoth task and knowing what to plant and when to plant it can be confusing. Hopefully the information added here will be of use to those starting out with growing fruit and vegetables.
I have to admit that learning how to grow my own fruit and veg has been mind boggling, knowing where to start was the biggest hurdle, preparing the land the next, all that digging is hard work. What I do know is that it is a rewarding past time and something that I want to keep on learning about. So, where do you start? Well, we don't all have wonderfully sunny gardens that face south and so for some it is harder to grow those prize lettuce, we don't all have green houses and we don't all have a huge area to grow in, so deciding what we can and can't grow is the first factor I think. I decided on simple crops like carrots, parsnips, potatoes, lettuce, tomatoes, peas, beans and beetroot for my first years gardening. Oh how the slugs and snails enjoyed the beans and how disappointed i was when only one beet grew and i decided to pick it before it was ready. Hmm and then there were the carrots that tasted like parsnips, oh and the potatoes that grew so tall they shaded the rest of the growth, oh and the tomatoes that failed to go red any time before Christmas despite them being planted in April. So, that first year was a learning curve, as is this one.
The benefits to growing your own veggies are massive, an hour spent gardening is the equivalent to one hour at the gym, so it's a hobby to keep you fit, the money saving benefits are there too, you also know that what you are growing is free from pesticides and that the produce is the freshest you will taste. For those growing in pots, tomatoes, courgettes, French beans, new potatoes, cucumber and quite a few other vegetables can be grown easily.
Where to start.
Select your area for planting, this needs to be dug over during the dryer days in late autumn for sowing in the following spring, you can leave the soil in big clumps and work on these in springtime. If you have a composter you will hopefully have a good supply to dig into the earth when you are preparing your seed beds. I grow in traditional rows whilst i am learning, to name each row is a bit of a recognising what each vegetable is when you have forgotten problem until you have been growing a few seasons, identifying lots of green growth with no clues isn't easy. Growing in rows also seems to make the yearly crop rotation easier.
Rotating annual crops is important, you shouldn't grow the same crops in the same space every year, splitting your veg patch into three and growing certain crops in each third is important for healthy plant growth. In the first section you should grow "brassicas", at this stage i had to head for the book shelf, having no idea what brassicas was and i wasn't quite sure that i would like them, to realise that they were a group of vegetables, well left me feeling a little bit silly to be honest. Anyway brassicas are brussels sprouts, cabbage, swede, cauliflower, radish, turnip and broccoli. I decided to grow none of these which left me with a dilemma so i left part of the veg patch empty and concentrated on the other two thirds which was a relief because i soon considered that i wished i had made my veg patch about half the size it actually is. Filled with stones and bricks it was no light work to clear that area.
The second section that you should have is for "other" vegetables, these include, tomatoes, which i grew in bags anyway, sweet corn, spinach, beans, capsicum, cucumber, leek, lettuce, peas, onions, marrow, celeraiac, courgette and celery. All that said, i am now wondering why i have planted my carrots right in the middle of my lettuce this year.
The last section should be for "root vegetables" these being, potatoes, beetroot, parsnips, carrots and chicory. Not everyone follows the crop rotation plan and i will have to admit to struggling with it all but it's early years and i hope to give Monty Donn a run for his money in years to come.
Preparing a proper seed bed
For those with good soil, this shouldn't be such a big job, for those with more stones than soil then be prepared for some hard graft. A soil sifter can soon start to look like your worst enemy and at this stage i must suggest that you buy yourself the best pair of gardening gloves on the market. The first job in preparing a seed bed is to break down the clumps of soil with a garden fork removing debris and stones or in my case, house bricks. You can then dig in your lovely hand made compost or a dressing of fertiliser, the land should then be ready to rake so that the surface is smooth and level with a crumbly appearance.
Seeds and plants
It is best to buy good quality seeds and plants and to store the seeds in a cool dark place. One of my failings has been to buy cheaper seeds that have little sachets inside that fail to clearly name what the seeds are, once these are separated from the outer packet, well you have no chance of knowing what you are planting. If buying plants, always plant out as soon after purchase as you can.
When to plant?
Your soil must be moist but not waterlogged when you plant out, so weather can affect planting but it is important that you plant at the correct times or as close to. We hope to add a planting diary of monthly veg patch activity so that you can see what to plant and when to plant it.
Care of growing plants.
It is important to remove weeds as they appear, it is also important to thin plants as soon as you can, plants that are grown too close together means that the vegetables can not grow properly. Your plants need to be watered in dry spells and fed regularly to promote healthy growth and good flavour. Pests are another problem that need sorting out as soon as there is a problem noted. Greenfly can reduce plants and fruit trees to a wilting mess in no time and slugs and snails, well they will reduce a veg patch to nothing in 30 seconds so pest control needs to be well thought out in advance and problems dealt with as soon as possible.
So, with some basic information, you should now be able to start growing your own vegetables, i think it takes an experienced gardener and some years of trial and error to produce the veg patch of your dreams but it really is all worth it and eating your home grown vegetables is so rewarding that it makes all the hard work and effort so worth while.