During this lockdown our thoughts have turned to food shortages and from there to growing our own food. But it seems that many people who love plants and gardens, and even active gardeners, are often a bit daunted by the thought of growing plants for food.
So we thought we’d jot down a few tips and pointers to lower that barrier to getting started.
Keep it easy. Simple. Cheap.
It can be daunting. You want results. So go for easy stuff first.
Once you’ve tasted your own salad leaves there’ll be no going back.
Don’t get overambitious, pick a few things you’ll like and just focus on them. That way you’re going to succeed, and there’s nothing like success to make you want to keep going. And don’t blow your savings on it. Spend what you don’t mind losing (so in the very unlikely event that it doesn’t work the pain is bearable). So go for cheap!
If this is new to you there’s plenty to get your head round so go for simple. Don’t be trying to grow aubergines outside in Yorkshire for your first project. Here’s a few easy suggestions;
Salad leaves. Spinach. Beans (runner or French). Courgettes. Radishes. Cherry tomatoes. Possibly beetroot, carrots, chard.
That’s not a complete list, nowhere near. But we’d be surprised if there isn’t at least a couple on there that you like enough to have a go at growing.
Grow what you like!
Yes its easily forgotten but the idea is to fill your plate with gorgeousness. So grow something you actually like to eat!
You don’t need a lot of space
For two people a bed of around 3 x 1m s enough for a small but steady supply of veg through the seasons. It must be in a spot that gets sun most of the day. And ideally not too far from a water supply – lugging a full watering can right down the garden is no fun.
If you don’t have space like that or even a garden, no worries. A friend grows mini cucumbers and chillies on his tiny kitchen window sill. Wonderful treats that liven up his meals and give huge satisfaction. And if you only have a mostly shady patch then its still worth trying salad leaves and spinach as leafy veg don’t need full sun to grow.
Many types of veg can be grown in containers or grow bags in a sunny spot. Courgettes and tomatoes are good examples. And grow bags, as long as you water them very regularly, are pretty much fool-proof and labour free – they’re already stocked with the nutrients your veg will need (thought you will need to add a liquid tomato feed or similar later on) and the plastic keeps weeding down to almost nothing.
You can use containers. You can use growbags. You can use plastic buckets, yoghurt pots, milk containers, drink bottles. Anything as long as they’re big enough for your chosen veg, you clean them and can make drainage holes.
It’s not too late.
What can you plant now to get onto your plate this year?
Don’t think it’s too late, now we’re in June, to start from seeds. Here’s a few to get you started if you’re quick: Beetroot, carrots, chicory, courgettes, squash, late peas, chard, lettuce… but…
Seedlings are easy – and can be surprisingly cheap.
There’s no shame in starting from seedlings. If you’ve a lot of mouths to feed it could get expensive, but if there’s only a couple of you it’s not going to cost much at all.
Because they were started off earlier in the season the sky’s still pretty much the limit when it comes to what you can grow from seedlings at this time of year. I’d go for these especially for plants you only need a couple of, such as courgettes and tomatoes. For some, you don’t even have to get to a garden centre…
Supermarket herbs – a great hack.
Buy a pot of Basil from the supermarket. I know they never last and are pretty tasteless. But that’s because they are so young they’ve not had time to develop any flavour. So this time instead of eating them – pot them on. One supermarket pot of basil should give you enough basil plants to last all summer long. All you need to do is to turn out the contents of the pot carefully onto a sheet of newspaper or a plastic bag. Now gently tease apart the mass of basil plants out into several smaller clumps. Go gently in order to damage the roots as little as possible. There are so many plants in one pot that you can afford to lose a few. So don’t stress over it.
Plant each bunch into a pot (15-20cm is a good size), using peat-free compost. It’s warm enough now to put these directly outside. Put them in a sunny spot near your kitchen door so it’s easy to pop out and grab a few leaves.
Over 30 basil plants from one pot of tasteless supermarket basil!
Now wait, just water well and regularly– basil is a greedy plant. Resist the temptation to pick for a couple of weeks at least as they get settled in and start to grow. Your reward will be the superb peppery sweet and sharp taste of mature basil, a world away from the bland supermarket fare. You can plant directly out into a bed if you’ve a garden, but pots will do very well so this works just fine if you have a balcony, a small yard or even just a kitchen windowsill.
You can do the same with parsley (go for the flat leaved Italian or French variety not the curly leaved English which is almost completely flavourless), or chives, or oregano. It’s so cheap and easy you could try other herbs, anything in a pot is probably worth a go.
Remember your pal with the allotment…
… they can be a great source for seedlings. They always grow too many from seed and need to thin them out, so a quiet word at the right moment and they could be dropping off a wee tray of seedlings you can pop straight into pots or your veg bed.
Fruit is included too
Did you know you can get dwarf apple trees that will thrive in a large pot? Yup, and pears too. Strawberries are easy provided you’re not in an area where slugs and snails are rampant. Redcurrants and whitecurrants will grow happily in large containers and need little attention.
Just do it
We’ve literally grazed the surface on this topic. The most important thing is to take a deep breath. Pick something easy that you like and… start. You will be astonished at how easy it is and wonder why you never did this before.
A good read:
Veg In One Bed, Huw Richards, Dorling Kindersley. This book is seriously good. It’s for absolute beginners. It’s very well organised, packed full of sound ideas and arranged on a monthly calendar.
https://www.paddocks-allotments.org.uk The month by month section is brilliant. Lots of ideas, covers just about everything. Written by people who actually have allotments.
Still not sure? At North Leeds Garden Design we have lots of experience at including edibles in gardens and are very happy to share our expertise with you. We’re at www.northleedsgardendesign.co.uk or contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.