What is it about a home-grown tomato that makes it taste so much better than the ones you buy in your local supermarket? Growing your own flavour-packed fruit and veg is a brilliant way to hit your five-a-day while steering clear of all plastic packaging and famers’ market price tags.
Aside from being good for your health, wallet and local environment, one of the best reasons to grow your own is because it’s fun. What better way to chill out on a summer Sunday afternoon than to nurture those tomatoes from seed to soup?
And there’s no need to feel left out if you don’t have much outdoor space of your own – local allotments and shared-garden schemes are popping up all over the place to give garden-free growers the chance to get their hands dirty and make some new friends at the same time.
So, if you want to try your hand at organic gardening, where should you start? We’ve got some tips to help your vegetable patch take root, wherever you’re planting those first few seeds.
Getting started with your vegetable gardenDecisions, decisions! Your first task is to think about what you want to grow in your vegetable garden, which comes down to how much space you have. If you have a garden, try starting off with some beginner-friendly ground vegetables such as lettuce, spinach, potatoes or green beans. If you have room for a greenhouse, tomatoes or cucumbers are a good and easy option.
If your ‘garden’ is more of a small patio or balcony, grab some large pots, put them in a sunny corner and you’ll have your very own container garden. Radishes are a good option here, and will be ready for your plate within a matter of weeks.
Even if you only have a windowsill to work with, you can still get involved in the gardening game. Herbs and microgreens such as basil, chard and kale will grow nicely in a small seed tray.
Building a raised garden bed
A raised garden bed is a great option for outdoor growing. Create a raised bed by enclosing soil in a container made from wooden planks, concrete or rock, in whatever size or shape you like. This means the soil sits on top of the ground, which allows better drainage, easier access and healthier roots.
With raised garden beds, you’re able to use different kinds of soil, so you can grow anything from soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries to pretty much any veg.
Speak to an assistant at your local garden centre for advice on choosing the best material to build your raised bed. Go for a width of about 1.5m or less so you can easily reach the middle, and don’t make it too long or people might be tempted to walk across it and trample your seedlings!
If you don’t have room for a raised bed or you want to get started sooner, a grow bag in a greenhouse or sunny spot can be a great alternative. These are ideal for short-rooted veg such as beetroot or carrots.
Getting to grips with soil fertility
The most important ingredient to help your homegrown fruit and veg grow successfully is – you guessed it – soil. When you’re browsing your garden centre, you might hear people talking about soil fertility, which is fundamental for plant nutrition. Fertile soil helps plants absorb the essential nutrients and water they need to thrive, without the need for artificial fertilisers.
Your soil needs to have a diverse range of microbes to help your plants grow healthy and strong. Not everyone is lucky enough to have perfect soil in their garden, so chances are you’ll need to top up your beds with organic compost, manure or mulch.
Consider some climbing plants
Short on space? Try planting a vertical garden. Climbing plants look great creeping up your wall and you don’t even have to grow them outside. An organic vine in your office is not only a handy source of healthy snacks, it can improve indoor air quality too. Sugar-snap peas, blueberries and tomatoes are all fairly low maintenance creepers to start off with.
Climbing plants make their way skywards in one of two ways: by twining their stems around a pole or branch, or by using their tendrils to suck on to a wall or other surface. To support your climbers, you might want to try a sturdy trellis. These are also a fun way to get children involved in gardening at home. They’ll love keeping watch for hungry caterpillars and making sure the vines are well-watered.