Eat what you sow - a guide to growing fruit and vegetables
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The pleasure gained from growing your very own fresh, nutritious fruit and vegetables far outweighs any time and effort expended on them. I have been growing my own fruit and vegetables for decades, and over the years have reaped the benefits, not just in the freshness and delicious flavours of what I have grown but also in my physical and mental health.
Certainly in the past difficult year, nurturing young vegetable seeds and plants, tending to fruit bushes and enjoying the harvest has become more important than ever for our wellbeing, and lockdown gave many families the opportunity to try growing their own fruit and vegetables for the first time.
I would love to see this groundswell continue to flourish this year, and April/May is the perfect time to remind you just what a wonderful pastime ‘growing your own’ is, inclusive and healthy for all the family. Involving your children in growing something they can eat provides great family time, coupled with learning about where food comes from. Choose some simple fast growing types such as radish, peas, beans, carrots and lettuce leaves to hold their interest.
Days are much longer now, with night time temperatures on the rise, so it is the perfect time for sowing and planting. If you haven’t done so yet, plant some young strawberry plants and you should get fruit this year.
Other soft fruit such as currants and berries can be planted too, although generally you will have to wait a year before cropping. Well worth the wait though, as once they are established, they will crop reliably for many years.
Home grown soft fruit is worth its weight in gold as, apart from strawberries and blueberries, it is either hard to find or expensive in the shops. Every garden has space for some fruit, as many types can be grown amongst ornamental plants or in containers.
Before rushing out to buy seeds and young vegetable plants, I would heartily recommend you take a moment to think about what you actually like to eat! It’s easy to get carried away by attractive seed packets.
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Make a list of favourites, bearing in mind what you will be able to accomplish both in terms of time and space available. I suggest keeping a diary throughout the year, recording sowing and harvesting times, successes and failures.
There are several handy free online tools available to help you, including planners and calendars, or ask at your local garden centre.
Think about where you can grow your crops – raised beds are great in the garden as they are instant and easy to cope with. Look after the soil by adding compost and fertilizer, and if you are really keen contact your local council about renting an allotment.
Indoor sowing of tender vegetable seeds such as courgettes, beans and sweetcorn can be done now, as they need warmth to germinate successfully. If you’ve really caught the gardening bug and have the space, it is well worth investing in a greenhouse or polytunnel, as crops can be started earlier, more tender vegetables such as cucumbers and aubergines can be grown and the season will be extended well into autumn.
However, many seeds will grow perfectly well in a propagator or on a windowsill so don’t worry if you don’t have a greenhouse. And if you’d rather let someone else do this bit for you, or you only need one courgette plant not a whole packetful, many garden centres stock a wide range of young plants.
Don’t forget what an important part herbs play in creating delicious food. Many herbs are easy-care or simple to grow from seed, and some such as thyme and chives will attract bees and other beneficial insects.
Chives are so versatile in cooking and are so easy to grow, simply shear down when scruffy - fresh growth will appear almost overnight.
I hope I’ve encouraged you to give ‘growing your own’ a try this year and that you enjoy the fruits of your labour – literally!
Easy to grow fruit and vegetables - Strawberries, currants and gooseberries, plums and damsons, raspberries and rhubarb, tomatoes, courgettes, beetroot, radish, salad leaves, peas and beans, onions (from sets), garlic, potatoes and parsnips. Many herbs.
Require a little more care - Blueberries, figs, pears, apple, sweetcorn, carrots, asparagus, cucumbers, onions grown from seed, hearting lettuce such as Iceberg. Chillies.
For those who like a challenge - Cranberries, melons, grapes, peaches, apricots, cauliflower, celery and celeriac, aubergine, Florence fennel, sweet potatoes.