Did you make a new year’s resolution to start growing your own vegetables this year? Or are you thinking about expanding on last year’s efforts? Whether you’re thinking about eating more and fresher vegetables, reducing the food miles involved in what you eat, or even saving money on the food budget, now is a great time to start preparing your new patch.
Where to grow?
We’re not all blessed with massive gardens, within which it’s easy to choose the perfect spot for a few veggies. We have to make the best of what we have, and that includes taking into account what else we use the space for. Although there are fruits and vegetables that will grow well in partial shade, for the best crops of the most popular types you’ll need to give them the sunniest spot you can. They need that light most during the late spring and summer, so think about where the sun falls in your garden during that period.
You may be able to give up a section of your lawn , or have room on the patio for a few large pots or even a raised bed. Or think creatively and look at where you could squeeze a few crops into the flower beds, or where you can grow upwards – there are plenty of climbing vegetables and fruits that could scramble up the fence or a pergola, and which look nice into the bargain!
If you’re new to kitchen gardening then don’t go too mad to start with. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a big veg patch, and far better to start small and then expand next year when you’ve got the hang of things.
What to grow?
How much light your patch gets will govern what you can grow a little bit – there’s no point trying to grow beefsteak tomatoes in shade. But beyond that it’s wise to think about what you like to eat – there’s no point putting a lot of time and effort into producing a crop that no one in your family will touch! That doesn’t mean you can’t try new things, just that your favourites should take up the lion’s share of the space.
And you do have to be realistic about what you can achieve. Unless you have an allotment, you’re not going to be self-sufficient in potatoes every year, but even the smallest garden can produce all the herbs and salad leaves you can eat. Pick things that are real gourmet treats when they’re picked fresh and ripe, such as strawberries and tomatoes. Or things that won’t make it into the kitchen – peas are a good choice if you have little fingers that like to pick and nibble!
With one or two courgette plants, you can be self-sufficient in courgettes for the summer (any more and you can feed the neighbours as well!). Try choosing two different varieties – they come in many different shapes and colours, particularly if you look at summer squash as well as the traditional mini marrows.
What else do you need?
We’re living through a wet, mild and wild winter – proof enough that the weather can be hard to predict. Be prepared for a hosepipe ban by installing a water butt or two in the garden. Try and site them where they’ll be convenient to use; plants love rainwater, even when you are allowed to use the hose, and you’ll save money if you don’t use metered mains water on the garden.
As your garden progresses you’ll need to feed your plants, and the easiest way to do that is to feed the soil. If you compost all of your kitchen and garden waste, you can feed your soil completely free. Making good compost is a simple process, but it does take a few months, so get a bin or a heap going as soon as possible. A sunny spot will give you compost sooner, but a hot heap isn’t a necessity – the composting process still happens in the shade, it just takes a little longer. Whether your opt for a plastic compost bin or a fancy wooden beehive, a homemade heap with pallet sides or even a worm composter that sits on the patio, in the long term your plants (and the planet) will thank you for it.
Emma Cooper has been gardening, and blogging, since the dawn of the new millennium. She’s utterly smitten with edible and useful plants, and is never happier than when she’s in the garden, up to her elbows in compost. She’s in the process of building a new garden, and you can follow her progress on her gardening blog, The Unconventional Gardener.