Tips on how to grow your own produce at home
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There’s never been a better time to discover your green fingers and have a go at growing your own fruit and vegetables
In recent weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has meant that many of us have a lot more free time on our hands. Whether you have a dedicated outdoor space, a balcony or just some window boxes or hanging baskets, a bit of gardening is a great way to get some much-needed head space and relaxation. However, with the weekly shop often involving long queues and with fresh fruit and vegetables in such high demand, now is the perfect time to try your hand at growing your own produce in the garden too.
Your first task will be to find a suitable location for your vegetable patch. As Guy Barter, chief horticulturist at the RHS, explains, you don’t necessarily need acres and acres of space to get started. ‘A plot of just 1x1m would still produce a good amount of vegetables,’ he insists. If that’s not possible consider putting in place some raised beds, or you could get resourceful and utilise buckets, big plant pots, empty wheelbarrows, and even an old kitchen sink! The key thing is that your vegetable patch has access to plenty of sunlight and that it’s slightly sheltered from the wind, and be sure to remove all weeds before starting planting.
Next, you’ll need to choose what produce you are going to be growing, which is probably going to be the hardest task of all since there are so many options out there. However, gardening expert Sarah Raven, who has been running cooking, flower arranging, gardening and growing courses since 1999, has plenty of advice. ‘The things I’d go for, for a quick and economical veg patch, are edible plants with a high cm-square productivity – so you get the maximum crop out of the minimum garden bed or container space,’ she suggests. ‘Select mainly cut-and-come-again crops, things that you can sow and harvest within 4-6 weeks, and then go back to harvest again and again.’
Sarah recommends planting vegetable varieties like salads, herbs and super-prolific leafy greens, such as spinach ‘Medania’ or ‘Toscane’, as well as any type of kale. ‘Add Swiss chard in there too, in any of its forms (the white or green-stemmed taste cleaner than the earthier ‘Rainbow’ or ‘Bright Lights’ chard). These will give you more meals per square metre than any other plant you can grow and are super versatile,’ Sarah says. She also recommends courgettes, tomatoes, beans and peas and rhubarb. Guy has a similar list of crops to try growing: he suggests planting lettuces, leafy greens like chard or perpetual spinach, tomatoes in pots, new potatoes and squash. Bear in mind factors such as growing time and how much space each crop will take up, and remember to rotate the crops each year too to ensure that the soil does not get depleted of certain nutrients and to prevent pest and disease problems. When it comes to getting hold of the seeds, many companies offer the option to order online so there is no need to rely on garden centres or supermarkets. Try the likes of Suttons, Thompson and Morgan and Dobies as a starting point.
Once your crops are ready for harvest, you’ll have plenty of fresh and organic ingredients for cooking; there’s certainly something about home-grown produce that tastes better, and it’s a great way to encourage children to eat their greens too. However, the benefits of growing your own go far beyond this. Perhaps first and foremost, it can be beneficial for both mental and physical wellbeing, offering a way to get outside and giving you something to focus on. ‘There are very few, if any, other activities that can achieve all of the things that gardening can,’ reflects Guy. ‘In particular, the measurable impact on mental wellbeing, such as reductions in depression, anxiety and body mass index, as well as increases in life satisfaction and quality of life.’ It’s something that all the family can take part in too, serving as both a fun and educational activity for children, and it also means doing your bit for the environment. You’ll be reducing the food miles that are usually involved in transporting produce to supermarkets, minimising the need for synthetic fertilisers and pesticides, and playing your role in reducing monocropping, which is currently having a harmful impact on biodiversity.
Gardening is one of the most therapeutic, satisfying hobbies out there, and through growing your own fruit and vegetables, you’ll be doing your bit for the natural world too. And it doesn’t need to be as challenging as it might first seem - there is plenty of expert advice available online to help you to come into bloom.
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