Vegetable gardens are finally entering the mainstream and rightly so! Owning an edible garden means having power over your food. You’ll reduce your weekly shopping bill, improve the environment and I’ll be damned if you don’t enjoy it! Growing your own food is the only way to totally ensure that you know what you’re eating, and to make that food as fresh as the time it takes you to run back to the kitchen. Above all, gardening is a fantastic hobby and one that can teach you a lot about yourself.
In the past few years famous chefs have been pushing the agenda of home-grown veg, and it seems to have worked! In many stores sales have surpassed those of flowers even. This is a trend that’s not moving anytime soon. So, for those of you who are just starting what will likely be a lifelong love affair with gardening, you’ve come to the right place. All you need is some basic tools and a willingness to learn!
Where should you put your veg?
A great rule of thumb to go by is to choose a place where you would likely lay to sunbathe. This is going to make sure that your veg is getting plenty of sunlight, and also keep it protected. Wind can damage many fragile plants, so something as simple as a fence will help shelter them. Secondly, you can use netting to help protect your precious veg from birds and other animals.
With regards to soil, most common ground is fine for growing veg, but there are some things to look out for. Excess stones in your soil can slow and limit your plants growth, so if this is the case you should either look to remove the stones if possible, or grow in a raised bed or pot. Another problem that you could face is trying to grow without enough soil. As a guide, at minimum you should have a spade length of soil. While summer crops dream for clay rich soil, once you get to winter this can be an issue. This is highly dependent on your climate, but the soil will often become very wet and cold, which can harden and make it tougher for your plants.
Keep Critters Away!
Wildlife is wonderful, there’s no doubt about that. But we want to be the ones benefiting from your hard work! It’s important that you clean your plot regularly; this will mean that you can more easily see any critters who are trying to get a free meal.
You’ll often see experienced gardeners have pathways through their plots. This is great for multiple reasons. Firstly, it quite obviously gives you somewhere to walk and prevents you tripping over your plants and damaging them. Secondly, it’ll quickly become a slug highway, where birds can easily spot them and get rid of them for you. Anything you can do to make your job easier is a benefit in my book!
Weeds? What weeds?
Prevention is always better than a cure. So before you start your plot you need to ensure that you get rid of as many weeds as physically possible. You can do this by simply picking them out by hand and clearing the ground with a fork or spade as you dig to ensure that you don’t miss any roots. For some persistent weeds this won’t be enough. In this case you’ll want to use some form of mulch around your plants, preferably an organic kind such as straw. Mulch is essentially a covering material which can be used to prevent weeds and also retain moisture. Alternatively, an inorganic mulch such as thin plastic or fabric can be used. Quite often you’ll see modern gardens have wood chips around the plants, this is again an organic type of mulch.
Should I use an allotment?
Allotments can be great. They are the perfect way to meet fellow gardeners, get advice and see what more experienced gardeners are up to! I believe that starting in an allotment can be extremely beneficial to the beginner gardener, but there can be issues.
- Firstly, you need to make sure that the allotment isn’t too far from your home. The seemingly perfect allotment won’t be so perfect after a few months of commuting.
- Check out your plot – Some things you should look out for include; distance to water supply, how far it is to where you’ll park your car and the surrounding area. You should try to avoid plots which are in harsh shade and those most likely to experience high levels of wind.
- Ask about restrictions, which will differ from allotment to allotment. Most are relatively relaxed with what they allow, but if you have any special requirements then make sure to discuss this.
Common Gardening Myths
- You can’t plant veg in the same spot each year. Whilst this is a tactic employed by large scale commercial farms, it’s going to be pretty difficult to do this in your own plot. Instead, you might want to use a 3 year rotation, meaning every third year move the crops around.
- You can only plant in the spring. This is a common misconception; in fact some crops are very frost resistant and will grow fine all year round. Make sure to follow the growing periods on the seed packet or plant tag.
Harvest year round
The art of vegetable gardening is in the planning and preparation. Whilst it might be more convenient to plant for a season on one day, you are then limited to a narrow harvest, meaning that some crops may go bad and be wasted. Instead, try to plant weekly, meaning that you’ll constantly be harvesting fresh veg for you to use!
What can you do now?
- One of the first things you should do is to start making your own compost. You can do this in a compost bin, or make your own out of timber. This allows you to make better use of your waste and means that you’ll be self-sufficient once it is time to plant.
- Plan out your garden – As I’ve already said, planning is key. Think what kind of crops you enjoy eating, what goes well together in food and then what can grow together. Plan, plan, plan!
- Consider buying or building raised garden beds. After a few hours of gardening on your knees, you’ll wish you’d invested in raised beds, especially if like me you’re getting on a bit!
What are the best vegetables for beginner gardeners to grow?
- Salad Leaves – This is without doubt one of the best grows for new gardeners. Firstly, they are relatively easy to grow and not overly demanding. Secondly, they taste gorgeous, which is the whole point of having a vegetable garden! Finally, they can be ready to harvest in just a few weeks. It can often be demotivating to beginner gardeners to have to wait many months to see the reward of their hard work. Salad will give you instant gratification and will reward you over and over.
- Cabbage— Not everyone’s favorite veg, but a great grow regardless. Members of the cabbage family are often grown indoors to save space and for easy access. Cabbage is another vegetable that’s easy to grow, making it perfect for novice gardeners.
- Cucumber – Outdoor cucumbers are normally sown in May or June. They really love the warmth so make sure that they are protected and regularly watered.
- Peas — Peas are glorious fresh from your garden, so crisp and tasty! Peas are easy to grow and don’t require much maintenance, making them perfect for a first crop. Simply support the stems of the peas with some form of netting and plant between March and June.
- Potatoes — Probably one of the easiest vegetables to grow at home, they are truly resilient and you’ll struggle to go wrong. They are best planted in March, with a harvest time of around 15 weeks. More and more gardeners are moving towards growing potatoes in bags, simply to prevent having to dig up the potatoes. Instead, you can just tip the bag over and pull out your potatoes.
- Carrots – Carrots can be grown basically anywhere, just make sure that the soil isn’t too hard and that you’ve removed any stones. They are normally planted between March and July, but earlier varieties can be sown at the end of winter. One mistake that beginners often make is to over water their carrots. Make sure that once seedlings appear that you keep watering to a minimum, just enough so that the soil doesn’t dry out. To help protect your crop you should cover them with a clear plastic sheeting that will allow light to penetrate, but keeps insects out.
- Strawberries — Everyone’s favorite. They taste delicious and growing your own will save you a fortune. Most types of strawberry are planted in either October or early spring, around March-April time, and then harvested in the height of summer. It’s crucial that you keep them well watered, especially with new plants. It is suggested that you water from the bottom to prevent ruining the fruit, so make sure to be careful and water into the soil not directly onto the plant.
Although these are what we have recommended for beginners, it’s always important that you choose based on your local weather and personal taste preferences. After all, there’s no point you trying to grow something that you won’t want to eat. Good luck with your gardening!