Growing your own vegetables is a fun, rewarding and free way to get your five a day, and now is the perfect time to get started.
Are you full of envy when you see your neighbour’s vegetable garden? Do you secretly hanker for an allotment bursting with home-grown produce, but don’t have a clue where to start? Vegetable gardening is like cooking – anyone can do it as long as you have the right recipe to follow. Winter’s chill won’t last for much longer, so now is the time to plan what you’ll be growing (and eating) this year.
February is the ideal time to sow seeds in a greenhouse or indoors. Tomato, cucumber, aubergine and peppers are good plants to cut your gardening teeth on. Using the correct potting mix for your seed type (the seed packet will specify what to use), plant a few seeds in each pot and cover with a plastic bag or half a clear plastic bottle.
You can save money and the environment by recycling egg cartons, and putting clean egg shells with a small hole poked into the bottom for drainage, into seedling pots. The latter makes planting out particularly easy as the entire plant can go into the ground, shell and all. When the seeds finally germinate and sprout, thin them out by removing the weaker seedlings.
Hardening Off and Planting Out
Your seedlings will struggle to flourish if they go straight from their cosy, warm environment into the cold spring earth. When they are nearly ready to plant, put the pot or propagator outside during the day for five days, bringing it in at night. After this, leave them outdoors for two days and two nights, by which time they will have acclimatised enough to be planted in the ground.
Prepare the ground by removing all weeds and other plant roots, breaking up clods of earth, and supplementing poor quality soil with some compost. If possible, do your planting on a cloudy day so your delicate seedlings are not scorched by the sun, nor damaged by a cold night. Gently water newly planted crops with a watering can to avoid the ground around their roots from getting too wet.
Harvest your vegetables in the early morning or evening, as the cooler temperature will help keep them fresher for longer. Be gentle so you don’t bruise or damage your produce. Remove any vegetables which have started to rot and put them on your compost heap. Knowing when to harvest is partially trial and error, but it will become clearer as you get more familiar with your crop.
Easy vegetables for a beginner to grow include lettuces, tomatoes, cucumbers, carrots, potatoes, radishes, peppers, courgettes and strawberries. All of these grow well in containers, so you don’t have to give up your home-grown dreams just because you don’t have a garden or an allotment.
So, just imagine how satisfying, healthy and delicious your summer meals will be, then get planting!