Starting out with Grow Your Own

If you want to have a go at growing your own food this season, Jean Vernon offers some timely advice.

Broad beans growing in small raised bed

Growing a few fresh ingredients for your meals is not just fun and easy, but it’s a great way to add extra vitamins and flavour to your food. Plus, having your own living larder can be very handy.

Starting out

It can be a bit daunting if you’ve never grown your own food before, so the first thing to do is start small.

Herbs are a great place to start because most of them are hardy (which means they won’t keel over in a frost), many can be grown from seed and others are shrubs you can buy and plant or perennials (which means they thrive from year to year). Herbs are the bridge between houseplants and gardening, because many of them can be grown on a windowsill or in a window box outside. So you can have a dabble even if you’ve only got a balcony. What’s really great is that a little goes a long way, in other words leaves are so packed with flavour that you only need a few to add the wow factor to your menus. You can buy potted herbs from the supermarket and that’s a great way to start growing herbs, but once you get your green fingers, there will be no stopping you. You can really cheat with supermarket herbs by giving them the turbo treatment. These potted herbs are designed to last a week or two. But if you pot them up into a larger pot, with a quality compost and feed them, then you give them a new lease of life and they will last a lot longer. It’s a simple technique that anyone can use, but it especially useful for basil. See our post on how to cheat with Basil.

Topping up pot with compost.
Re-pot your supermarket basil into a larger pot with good quality compost and give it a feed. Image: Martin Mulchinock

Easy from seed

You don’t need a big budget to grow your own vegetables. That’s because some of the best crops are sown and grown from seed. Even if you are new to growing from seed, have a go, but be selective with what you choose. Some plants are easier than others.

Compost matters

Don’t try and grow your precious seeds in any old compost or soil. They might grow, but you can give them a much better start by using a quality compost. Richard has formulated two high quality multi-purpose composts. The more recent blend is peat-free and ideal for starting seeds. Richard’s compost is freshly made so you won’t get lumbered with last year’s old compost. 

A few tips

First grow things you like to eat. There’s little point in growing beetroot if you don’t like it, so choose things that you love. But with one caveat, homegrown veg tastes completely different to what you buy in the shops. Take broadbeans for example. If you’ve only ever had woolly dry broad beans then grow your own because they are extremely delicious picked young and tender and you can even eat the leaves and shoots of the plants as they develop.

Grow things that are expensive to buy in the shops. So if you love chillies or rocket or anything that’s pricey, then have a go at growing it from seed. The great thing about growing from seed is that there is a greater choice of varieties available, so once you are hooked, and you will be, you can choose to grow new or heritage varieties of your favourite plants, or ring the changes and grow something different each year.

Salads and cut and come again leafy plants are a great way to start. Especially if you usually buy bags of salad from the supermarket. Lettuce germinates very quickly and is very easy to grow. If you grow Lettuce Lollo Rossa, you can let the plants heart up or cut the outer leaves regularly to fill your salad bowl. But remember that the leaves of other veg plants you might be growing can be added to the salad, things like peas, pea shoots, and pea tendrils (of edible peas only), leaves and shoots of broadbeans, beetroot leaves and of course spinach, chard and even kale leaves can be torn up and tossed with salad dressing. And all of these veg are easy to grow from seed and will produce a generous harvest. 

Swiss chard growing in small raised bed
Swiss chard is easy to grow and the leaves can be torn up and added to salads. Image: Adobe Stock

For easy results and big generous crops grow peas and beans.

Some of the easiest types of plants to grow for a bountiful harvest are the peas and beans. And the great thing about these podded pals is that you can sow peas and broadbeans right now (runner beans and French beans from April). The large seeds are easy to handle and fairly quick to germinate. For the best results, sow a dozen seeds at a time and every 2 weeks so that you stagger their development and your harvest.


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