If you're by an open window right now, you’ll probably notice signs of spring. Whether it’s the birds singing, the sun shining higher in the sky or buds appearing on the trees, the season for growing is here.
Vegetable growing is good for you
Growing anything is a great occupation but growing vegetables is better because you will (if you look after your veggie garden) end up with something tasty and sustainable to eat. Gardening is great for your physical and mental wellbeing. Even lighter work like moving pots around is good exercise, and having something to look forward to as your plants grow can be a welcome distraction from worries.
Even better than that, vegetable gardening helps you meet all five of the ways to wellbeing (Connect, Be Active, Take Notice, Learn and Give).
If you haven’t got a garden
You don’t necessarily need a big garden or even a garden at all to grow your own veg. You can start your very own vegetable patch on a balcony, patio or even the pavement outside your house. All you need are some seeds, some light, access to water and something for your veggies to grow in. Here are my top tips for beginner vegetable gardeners.
1. Find your vegetables a home
Your plants are going to need some light, so a south-facing location is ideal but there are vegetable plants that will grow happily in some shade (for example radish and cabbage). If you have a garden raised vegetable beds or boxes are a great option (even better if you make them yourself from scrap wood). Although, you would be surprised how many vegetables will grow in pots or other containers. Here are a few I have successfully tried:
- Large plastic boxes (these will need drainage holes)
- Old chimney pots (with plant pots in the top of them)
- Old compost bags (great for growing potatoes)
- Plastic mushroom boxes (excellent for quick salad crops)
- The inside of loo rolls (brilliant for peas and sunflower)
You will also need something for your veg to grow strong roots in and potting compost is far better for this than soil. Peat-free compost is kinder to the environment but it can be more expensive. If you have a compost bin you can also make your own compost.
2. Sow your seeds
Many retailers (including supermarkets) sell vegetable seeds and these can easily be bought online. If you don’t want to buy seeds you can collect them from your kitchen vegetables (peppers and chillies are great for this). However, I recommend sowing lots of home-collected seeds as these often don’t germinate as well as bought ones.
Before you buy your seeds, read the instructions carefully and check your location is suitable. Some seeds may need to be germinated inside (for warmth) and others can be sown straight into the ground. You also need to take notice of when to sow your seeds but don’t worry, all the information you need will be on the packet. Try to resist the temptation to sow all your seeds at once unless you want all your vegetables to be ready at the same time. If that happens, you’ll also need to learn how to make chutney!
Until you learn how to recognise young vegetable plants, it is a good idea to label your seeds and sow any outdoor ones in rows. This will help you when it comes to weeding and aftercare. Water your seeds regularly but don’t drown them. Don’t worry if some don’t germinate, that is just one of the many things about gardening that teaches you patience. Here are a few suggestions for quick-growing vegetable seeds:
- Spring onions (great with cheese)
- Chard (pretty to grow)
- Bok Choy (for a tasty stir fry)
- Radishes (crunchy in salad)
- Carrots (eat the green tops as well)
3. Look after your crop
I talk to my plants, not because I think they can hear me but because if I get to know them, I am more likely to look after them properly. Regular watering is really important but there are a few other jobs you’ll need to do as your vegetables grow:
- Remove a few to avoid over-crowding (thinning out)
- Move larger veg to bigger containers (potting on)
- Transplant into the garden (planting out)
You will also need to keep an eye out for pests. Get rid of slugs and snails (my slug control has been much more successful since I stopped using slug pellets), watch out for cabbage white caterpillars and plant marigolds (companion planting) to help deal with greenfly.
Vegetables for the whole family
Even if you have never tried gardening before, I recommend giving vegetable growing a go. It is an activity that all the family can share at home and children get the opportunity to learn about where their food comes from. If all goes well, you should be harvesting a tasty crop of vegetables this summer. If it doesn’t, you will have learned a few tips for next year.
That’s my favourite thing about veggie gardening; there is always something new to learn!
Fi Darby is a freelance copywriter and blogger and the co-author of the successful outdoor blog Two Blondes Walking. Fi now runs her own blogging and copywriting business Fi Darby Freelance and works with some great clients from all over the world (including Australia and Argentina).