Growing your own food isn’t as difficult as you may think. In fact it’s easier than ever thanks to a number of innovations in the gardening industry, and the fact that it’s an increasingly popular pastime, contributing to much less “fear” than there used to be regarding growing your own food. You don’t need a huge garden to make your first foray into the world of edible gardening either, an extraordinary amount of things may be grown on balconies and in city courtyards with great success.
To make a start on your journey into growing your own food, it’s important to think about what might be the best crops to invest in. Think about the foods which you eat most as a family or if you live alone, what are your favourite salads, fruits and vegetables? Some things such as potatoes, which are a staple food, are very easy to grow in containers so you won’t need to give over your entire garden to crops. If you only have a small space, you can still enjoy home grown potatoes as well as your flowers!
Other vegetables such as asparagus are a good choice as they’re an expensive item to buy in the shops. Similarly specialist lettuces make a good option; growing your own means that you can enjoy the freshest of the fresh without paying over the odds.
Where to begin
Knowing what to plant and when to plant it is half the battle; the other half concerns keeping creepy crawlies away from your precious crops! Begin by making a list of the things which you would like to grow; planting times will vary, though some things will keep on giving for a good portion of the year. Lettuce, for instance, may be picked and re-sown so as you remove one plant, you simply add more seeds in the empty spot. As they grow so quickly you will find that you don’t run out so easily.
However, you can’t really go wrong with you start with potatoes
Potatoes grown in containers are just as easy to manage as those grown in the ground. If you’re going to use containers for your potatoes then you should remember that container crops will require a lot of water, because they’re more prone to drying out than crops in the ground.
You can either purchase seed potatoes from a good garden centre or you can use organic potatoes which you have bought yourself and left in a dark place to shoot. To begin you will need a good, deep container with drainage. Many people choose plastic rubbish bins for this, as they can be bought cheaply and it’s not hard to pop some holes in the base for drainage.
Other people choose grow bags which are large and deep enough to provide a decent crop and which can be stored easily over the winter – but any large container will do the job. You will need to use some good quality potting soil and fertiliser. If you can spare the cash, try to choose organic products. If not, please see my article on improving soil quality.
Fill the container with the soil, but not right to the top; you need to allow for the addition of more fertiliser once the plants sprout. Mix in fertiliser according to the measurements on the package. If you are using your own sprouting potatoes and they are on the large side, cut them into pieces; just make sure there are at least two “eyes” on each piece. Potato plants grow to quite a size as their foliage is quite bushy, so place about four potatoes to each container and ensure that each has around five inches growing room on all sides. Cover the potatoes with about three inches of soil and check daily for signs of dryness. To check for dryness you should put your hand into the earth up to the second knuckle. Keep your plants well watered.
Once the potatoes have about 6 inches of growth, you can heap extra fertiliser around the plants; this will be repeated as the plants continue to grow. When the plants flower, then you can feel beneath the soil and find your first potatoes. Some people like to wait until the flowers and leaves have died back, as this means the potatoes will be larger.
You can grow potatoes in the ground just as easily as in containers, but pests are more of an issue and you will need to keep an eye out for little critters that may destroy your crop.
Next up, let’s take a look at my next favourite crop to grow – salad!
Salad and in particular, lettuce is easy to grow and can be grown on windowsills, in containers outdoors or in a vegetable patch. Depending upon the size of your home or garden you can decide how many varieties to grow and where to plant them. Some varieties are very attractive and look great popped in amongst the flowers in your garden! We’ll look at growing lettuce in the ground to begin with as it’s almost alarmingly simple to achieve.
Choose your favourite lettuce or lettuces and prepare the soil in the chosen spot. To do this, you will need to dig the area over and mix in some good quality compost.
Water the area well if there has been a dry spell. Next, simply plant your seeds by popping a hole into the ground with your finger and placing a couple of seeds in each one; you will need to leave around eight inches between each plant as lettuce is quite leafy and you will need each plant to have enough space to thrive.
Watch carefully for your first lettuces to begin sprouting and as they become larger, pinch out the weaker plants to give the strongest a better chance. Keep a very careful eye on your lettuce for any pests such as slugs, which unfortunately are very fond of lettuce. You can surround each plant with broken egg shells or copper pieces, as both will put slugs off. If you choose slug pellets be sure to choose “food safe” pellets and be aware that any chemical pest repellents are almost always dangerous for pets and wildlife, so natural deterrents are always best. For more tips on how to deal with slugs, see our article on the topic.
Growing your own food is surprisingly addictive and the sense of satisfaction you get from pulling up your first crops is huge! There’s nothing better than popping out to the garden for some more carrots or a fresh bunch of rhubarb, which definitely beats picking them up from the shelf at your local supermarket. Give it a go and you’ll never look back!
Want to grow something inside instead? Take a look at our epic guide to growing herbs in the kitchen.