Beginner’s guide to starting a vegetable garden
A lot of us turned to gardening last year. It might have started out as a distraction from the boredom of lockdown but it didn’t take long for us to get green fingered. So, here we are again, stuck at home. While you might think there’s not much happening in the garden right now, it’s actually the ideal opportunity to get the garden ready and start seeding your own fruit and veg to harvest this summer. From helping kids discover where their food comes from, to saving you money on meals and getting fresh and healthy produce into your diet – starting a vegetable garden or allotment can benefit you and your family in so many ways, and it’s loads of fun too! But where to begin? With just a few simple steps, you can turn virtually any space into a veg patch.
How to grow your own veg
What you’ll need:
- Digging fork
- Watering can
- Gardening gloves
- Veg seeds
And when you’re ready, here are our top 5 tips:
1: Get seeding early with a greenhouse
It’s important to keep seedlings out of the cold and frost so if you want to get started early with your fruit and veg seeds a greenhouse is a great idea. They let you extend the growing season and even help you grow certain veg all-year round. They’ll not only protect your plants from harsh conditions, like wind and chilly spells, ideal for the unpredictable UK weather, but also provide shelter from pests and critters trying to eat them.
2. Best veg to grow in a greenhouse
Plenty of plants will grow well in the open after spring, however, if you really want a bumper crop this summer, then find space in your greenhouse for salad veggies like tomatoes, cucumber, lettuce and peppers that will love the humidity. Strawberries also do really well in covered areas as do a number or greens, like beans and peas.
3. Start with a small area
You might not have room for a huge vegetable garden, but you don’t need loads of space to grow your own fruit and veg. It’s best to start small anyway so you can get a good feel of what you like growing without it being too tricky to keep on top of, so think about setting up a small propagator-style greenhouse. If you haven’t got room to dig a veggie patch, make best use of what you do have. Lots of veg, like runner beans, tomatoes and rocket, will all happily grow in pots. And you can easily plant your potatoes in a compact grow bag too (in fact you could use almost anything for this as long as you make some drainage holes!).
4. If you’re not opting for a greenhouse, then decide if you’re growing from the ground or a raised bed
Digging a vegetable patch straight into the ground is definitely the best option if you’re short on materials. However, if you’ve got particularly chalky or heavy clay soil, you’re going to find it way easier to grow your veg in a raised bed. And if you don’t have the space, then you could grow veg in pots too.
Top tip: To see if you have heavy clay soil, get a clump of it and roll it into a ball. If you can roll it into a sausage without it crumbling, you’ve got yourself some heavy clay!
Ground vegetable patch
To create a vegetable patch, you’ll need to first clear away any weeds (or dig up a patch of lawn). You’ll then need to get to work with your fork and loosen up the soil to at least a fork’s depth, clearing away any stones where possible (particularly important for root veg). Fork in some multi-purpose compost and you’ll give your veg the best start possible.
Top tip: If you are digging up a patch of lawn – take up the top layer of turf first and stack your pieces of turf upside down. It’ll soon turn into some homemade top soil you’ll be able to dig back into your veg patch for some extra nutrients!
Raised vegetable beds
If you decide your soil just isn’t going to work for you, then raised vegetable beds make a simple solution to growing your own. You can easily make your own too using whatever you have to hand – be it some old sleepers (we wish!), planks of wood or pallets. Still struggling? How about using a couple of old tyres, breeze blocks or maybe even make use of an old piece of furniture you’ve fallen out of love with? The options are endless. Fill with top soil and compost for a veg seed’s dream come true. Short on compost? Use garden soil to fill and then top up with compost and fork through.
5. Get planning (that’s planning not planting!)
Any good gardener will tell you the secret to a successful veg patch is all in the planning. Get stuck into the planting too quickly and you’ll struggle to know what’s what, and have a lot of wasted effort. First things first – if you’re planning on growing veg on the regular, you’re going to need a plan for crop rotation! Divide your veg patch into groups of 3 or 4 so you can do a basic crop rotation over the next few years to get the most out of your soil and avoid unnecessary pests and diseases. The basic rule of thumb is to group your veg into categories of:
- brassicas (cabbage, cauliflower, kale)
- legumes (peas, broad beans)
- onions (onions, garlic, shallots)
- potato family (potatoes, tomatoes, peppers)
- roots (carrot, beetroot, parsley)
Keep all these separate from each other and rotate every year – simple.
6. Grow vegetables you will eat
You don’t want to grow so many plants that you end up not knowing what to do with them – courgette every night for two weeks, anyone? And you also want to enjoy what you grow, otherwise what’s the point? Think about the veg your family likes to eat and have a go at growing those first. Maybe try a few different varieties to see what grows best for you. Think about what’s going to get the best use out of your patch all season through too. For instance, did you know you can sow radish and parsnip in the same row at the same time? Radish grows a lot faster than parsnip so you’ll be picking them before the parsnips need the space.
Easy veg to grow
Some vegetables are easier to grow than others. Depending on the crop, you can grow lots directly in the soil but some will need a helping hand by starting off in pots indoors. Growing kits make it even easier to get growing and come with everything you’ll need to get started – great for starting your growing journey with kids. Here are some of our favourites to try if you’re completely new to growing veg and don’t have loads of stuff to hand:
Tomatoes will thrive in greenhouses but if you don’t have one, sow some tomato seeds indoors on a sunny windowsill and move outdoors late May after the last frost in a warm and sunny spot, with cane supports to keep them from toppling over. Don’t have tomato seeds? Don’t panic! Soak some seeds from a fresh tomato in tepid water for 14 days then allow them to dry on some kitchen towel. Plant them in soil within 7 days and keep watered – it really is that simple!
Top tip: It’s better to water your potatoes heavily every now and again, rather than just giving them a little bit more frequently. This is because the water needs to go quite far down in the soil and little amounts won’t achieve this.
Perfect for planting in spring or late summer, carrots are quick-growing seeds which do best in cooler temperatures and deep, loose soil. Sow outdoors straight into soil from March right through to July.
Top tip: When the tops are about 2 inches tall, pull out a few small plants to leave enough room for bigger ones to grow.
And lastly…remember it’s all about having fun! Not everything will be a success first time around but you’ll learn as you go, and the feeling of eating veggies from your own patch…well there’s nothing else quite like it!