Growing your own edibles used to be the sole preserve of the ‘old boys’ down at the allotment but that all changed in the ‘noughties’ with the rise of celebrity chefs on TV. A grow-your-own boom followed, with sales of vegetable seeds outstripping those of ornamental flowers for the first time.
In the past few months there’s been a huge surge of interest in growing edibles, as keen gardeners try to save money on fresh produce or cut down on trips to the shops. Even complete rookies are snapping up seeds and plants, as they take up a new hobby to occupy time during lockdown.
Grow your own advice
In my new weekly series, I’ll be sharing with you some of my top tips and canny tricks, to help you grow the best fruit, vegetables and herbs. For me, growing something from seed to plate is one of the great joys of gardening, and something that anyone can do, whether you’ve got a large garden or simply room for a few pots.
Apart from providing a sense of satisfaction, growing your own crops will help you save a bit of money and ensures you know exactly where your food has come from. And in my opinion, the flavour of something you have grown yourself beats anything you can buy in shops. Right. Let’s dig in!
Start courgettes from seed
Courgettes are one of the most productive vegetables you can grow from seeds – a single plant is capable of providing twenty or so fruit, more than enough for even the most diehard fan. Fill a small pot with multi purpose compost. Make two holes 2.5cm (1in) deep and simply place two seeds on their sides into these holes. Cover over with a little fresh compost and water gently. Place in a propagator or cover with a small freezer bag until they have germinated. After a few days, remove the weakest seedling. Once well-rooted, repot into a 12cm (5in) container. Plant outdoors in early summer, making sure branches have space to spread 45cm (18in) in all directions. Another option is to grow plants in 30cm (12in) pots filled with multi-purpose compost. For more advice on growing courgettes click here.
Grow mixed salad leaves
Forget those puffed up bags of limp salad leaves sold in shops; it’s super easy to pick your own within 21 days by sowing seeds in pots. There’s a large variety of mixed salad leaf seed packets available, from fiery blends to milder mixes. Or choose seed packets of your favourite leaves like mustard, coriander and basil. Sow seeds in pots, window boxes and trays filled with multi-purpose compost. Cover with a 1cm (½in) layer of finely sieved compost, water and put in a sunny spot.
Thin out seedlings when they are about 2.5cm (1in) tall, following the spacing guidelines on the back of the packet. Pick the leaves regularly and for a constant supply of leaves and for a continuous crop sow a new pot every three weeks. For more advice on growing salads click here.
Earth up potatoes
As the weather warms up, potatoes grow like the clappers, producing loads of stems and green foliage (known as haulm to old hands) above the ground. To prevent the developing tubers becoming green and inedible, it’s important to ‘earth’ up or cover the leafy growth with soil. If you’re growing potatoes in the ground, draw loose soil around the stems with a rake to leave a mounded ridge. It’s a similar process if growing spuds in pots. When plants are about 20cm (8in) tall, cover up to half their height with compost and repeat when necessary, stopping when you are about 10cm (4in) from the top of the stems.
Control rosemary beetles
They might look pretty but rosemary beetles will quickly strip leaves from several herbs that originate from the Mediterranean region, including sage, thyme, lavender and of course, rosemary. Fortunately, these small oval beetles stand out like a sore thumb, making them easy to spot and remove – measuring about 1cm (½in) in length, the oval critter is embellished with metallic green and purple stripes. Pick them off by hand or if the plant is large enough, place a sheet underneath and give it a good shake to dislodge the adult beetles, along with any of their grey larvae.
Nothing beats picking your own tomatoes that have ripened to perfection in the sun. However, forget to feed your plants and the crop is likely to be disappointing. The best way to ensure tomatoes are sweet, juicy and full of flavour is to feed plants regularly, from the moment the first flowers open until the last of fruit have been harvested from the vine. Give them a boost every 7 days with a liquid or soluble fertiliser that’s high in potash, such as Flower Power. The nutrients will stimulate the plant into developing more flowers and encourage fruit to swell and ripen. If you want to use an organic product there is a new Flower Power Organic Liquid Plant Food that you can use.