With food prices going up all the time, growing your own vegetables is a cost-effective and rewarding hobby. If you’re new to growing your own food, our guide will help you get started.
Choosing A Site
Firstly, you need to decide where you’re going to put your vegetable plot. The size of the plot is entirely up to you – it depends on the size of your garden and how much of it you’re prepared to give over to growing vegetables. Even if you have a small garden, you can still grow your own food, by setting up a container garden.
You need your vegetable plot to be mostly in the sun. There are a few crops that will tolerate a bit of shade, but for the most part vegetables need plenty of sun in order to grow well. A south-facing patch is perfect.
Although you need sun, you don’t want your patch to be too exposed. Some shelter from harsh winds will help your crops. If your garden is subject to a lot of wind, particularly if you live on the coast, then you might want to put up some sort of screens to offer your precious vegetables some shelter.
You need the ground to be well-drained, but not dry. Don’t pick a spot too close to a hedge or tree, as they will take all the water and your crops won’t be left with any. If your soil is poor, for example heavy clay or full of stones, then the answer is to build raised beds. You might want to do this anyway, as it makes life much easier, and looks neater.
If you live in the countryside, you might need to consider setting up some rabbit or deer-proof fencing. If you’ve seen rabbits in your garden before, rest assured that they will find your tasty crops and before you know it you’ll be left with crumbs!
Bear in mind that you’ll need to water your veg patch in dry weather, so if you can locate it near a tap or water butt this will be much easier for you!
Most crops are much more successful if grown in rotation, so you don’t have the same crop in the same patch year after year. This helps to combat pests and diseases, and different crops need different nutrients so a good crop plan will make life easier for you. If you can divide your plot into four sections, planning and rotating your crops will be much easier.
As we’ve already mentioned, building raised beds will make your gardening life much easier. You can read more about the advantages to raised beds and how to make one in our Building a Raised Bed project. You don’t really want to make the beds any wider than about 5ft, as you want to be able to weed and water without trampling all over the bed.
Make sure you make sensible paths between your beds. Grass paths need much more upkeep - mowing, strimming and edging, plus they can encourage weeds, so paving slabs, large shingle or bark are much better materials to use. It is a good idea to make sure your paths are wide enough to get a wheelbarrow down, as it will make life much easier when it comes to moving compost or manure around. Of course, this depends on the size of your veg patch – a wheelbarrow might not be needed if you only have a small patch.
Preparing the Soil
Once you’ve laid out your areas, whether you have raised beds or not, you’ll need to make sure your soil is in good condition. This will be easy if you’ve made a raised bed and put fresh topsoil in it. All that remains is to dig in some organic matter – compost or well-rotted manure.
It’s a good idea to test the pH of your soil, as most crops grow better in slightly acid soil. If you need to raise the acidity of your soil, you can add sulphur, sawdust or leafmold. Brassicas like a more alkaline soil, so add lime if needed when preparing a brassica patch.
What to Grow
It may sound obvious, but you should only grow vegetables that you like. Giant marrows might look impressive, but if you don’t want to eat it then it’s a waste of resources. Easy crops to grow for the novice vegetable gardener are things like spinach, runner beans, radishes and potatoes. If you have space, pumpkins are good fun for hallowe’en and courgettes are a top value grow-at-home vegetable.
It may take a bit of trial and error before you learn what does well in your garden and what doesn’t, but hopefully you will enjoy the learning process. The next step is to get creative when you have a glut of something, or set up a bartering system with your neighbours!
All project content written and produced by Mike Edwards