Starting a vegetable garden is one of the most pleasurable ways of spending time outdoors. There’s absolutely nothing like the taste of home grown vegetables, and with a packet of seeds costing pennies and yielding pounds and pounds of crops, it can be economical too. Here are ten top tips to get your vegetable garden thriving and productive.
1. Get the location right
This is the easiest thing to get right if you want to give your vegetables the best start in life. Soil can be improved but you can’t create sunlight. Pick the sunniest place in your garden as your vegetable crops will need a minimum of 6 hours of sun a day.
2. Try no dig gardening
If the sunniest spot in your garden is covered by lawn and you’re desperate to start a vegetable patch, then you need to create some raised beds. Line with a double layer of newspaper and fill with topsoil and compost and you’ll have the perfect organic mix for planting your crops without having to lift a spade.
3. Test your seeds
One of the most economical ways to start a vegetable garden is to save seeds from last year’s crop and/or swap seeds with friends. But how do you know whether they’ll germinate or not? Fold 10 seeds in a piece of damp paper towel and seal in a ziploc bag. If around 50% germinate then sow thickly, if it’s under 40%, buy new seeds.
4. Everything in its space
It’s very tempting to overplant, especially if you only have a limited space and want to make the most of it. Don’t. Planting vegetables too close together can leave them competing for sun and nutrients, and spread disease.
5. Water wisely
Try to get water directly to the roots of your vegetable plants where they need it most. Water close to the soil and try to avoid watering foliage which can rot and become diseased.
6. Go bananas
Banana peel makes an excellent fertiliser for tomatoes, particularly when mixed with crushed up eggshell, or you could make natural fertiliser with plants like borage and nettles. If you use an inorganic fertiliser, check the NPK number – if there’s too much nitrogen (N) you’ll encourage plenty of lush foliage but no fruit or vegetables.
7. Get mulching
Use a layer of organic matter as a mulch around your vegetables. This helps to retain moisture and suppresses weeds. Any organic mulch will do, though beware of using crushed cocoa shells if you have a dog,, as they’re toxic for canines.
8. Try companion planting
There are thousands of different combinations of vegetables and flowers that are beneficial – for example, French marigolds can protect your tomato plants from pests. Or try the 3 sisters – corn, beans and squash – that thrive when planted together.
9. Grow vertical
If space is an issue, then consider training vegetables like cucumbers and squash up a trellis or fence instead of letting them run across the ground.
10. Make it easy
Don’t choose crops unsuitable to your soil and climate – make it easy on yourself by choosing vegetables that you know will do well.