During National Gardening Week I’ve been asking for, and sharing, hints and tips with experienced and new gardeners. Cultivating your own produce to eat is definitely a draw for amateur gardeners and I’m often asked what to plant. Here are my tips for growing your own fruit and veg:
Grow what you like to eat
This seems so obvious but sometimes we are tempted into copying what others grow or what we think we should be growing. We grow salad bits at home as there isn’t a lot of space and we love fresh salad in the summer. I’ve given up on growing broad beans as I’m the only one that likes them, and I can’t eat them all when they’re ready! I focus instead on tomatoes, beetroot, lettuce, rocket, baby carrots, radish, raspberries and strawberries.
Grow what’s tasty
Be prepared for a taste sensation when you grow your own! Nothing can beat a warm tomato plucked from your garden or a bowl of cereal with freshly picked raspberries on the top! It may be this that turns you on to growing your own even more: there is no comparison and I dare you to let carrots grow any thicker than your finger when they taste so sweet that small.
Grow what’s good value for money
I try to buy things in season or grown in Britain, avoiding costly strawberries in the winter or asparagus from Peru. But some fresh produce is expensive and if you’re short of space you could focus on growing those things. For me, purple sprouting broccoli, broad beans, asparagus, raspberries and pak choi come into this category, whereas onions, potatoes and cabbages don’t (and these also take up a lot of room for a long period of time).
Grow what’s fun
It could be that you want to grow things with your children or grandchildren. Quick growing produce keeps them interested and there’s nothing quicker than cress. Sow it on damp kitchen roll in a hard boiled eggshell and you have an ideal vessel to make the kids laugh as the hair of the egg grows. Or try peas or broad beans as there is nothing nicer than popping them out of their sleeping bags! Pumpkins and squash come into this category for me, too, with their long vines that creep and creep and their huge gourds that can be tenderly cared for and then picked in the autumn to be eaten, carved or entered into a competition!
Grow where you can
Our veg patch is a dry, sandy, shady spot under a holly tree. I’ve got nowhere else to grow apart from some pots in my front garden where tomatoes thrive, as it’s really sunny there. Folk worry about growing conditions, and my advice is to just try it!. Unless you get really serious and want to be self-sufficient, or are determined to enter veg growing competitions, go with the flow and experiment to see what works. Runner beans can be grown up a bamboo stick obelisk in between your roses. Any salad stuff can be grown in pots or troughs and you can save space by training and supporting courgettes up an obelisk or along a fence. Give it a go!
Water, water, water
Fruit and veg are one of only three things you should be watering in the garden (newly planted plants and pots are the other two!). Ensure you’ve got a water source close by to make life as easy as possible. Install water butts on any building to collect water and leave watering cans and buckets out amongst your beds to collect any rainfall. Water early in the morning or in the evening to use water most efficiently and remember to water the soil and not the leaves!
Share and share alike
I’ve given up growing runner beans, mainly as I don’t have a lot of space but also as my dad grows them, and we always get given a handful of them when we go and visit him at harvesting time!! Gardeners are generally very generous and love to share what they’ve grown, be that a handful of lettuce or parsley or a posy of sweet peas. But it doesn’t stop at produce: gardeners are always happy to share their experience and their know-how. The best conversations happen over a back garden fence or front garden wall. Always ask, I’m 99% sure you will come away with a nugget of advice and a couple of dahlias or carrots!
Enjoy your gardening this growing year… there are still some cold nights forecast, so keep an eye on the temperatures before planting anything tender out. And please, if we still haven’t had any by now, do a rain dance for us gardeners!