A Beginner's Guide To Growing Vegetables
Growing your own vegetables has a wealth of benefits. Not only is it kind to your wallet and the environment but it also allows us to be more self-sufficient. Filling your dinner plate with vegetables grown in your own back garden gives you a real sense of achievement – plus they are free from harmful chemicals and pesticides! Fancy giving it a go? Here is a green-fingered guide to growing your own.
Failure to prepare
It doesn’t take much to get cracking but unfortunately it isn’t as simple as placing seeds in the ground and hoping that they spring in to gloriously delicious vegetables Even if it doesn’t go perfectly first time, the more you keep at it the better they will get.
To give your new vegetable plot the best chance of getting off to the perfect start there are a few tasks that can get you going.
Firstly, size up the plot of land you want to use. This could be a purpose built plot, an allotment, or a small corner of your garden that is available to you. Vegetables will require roughly six hours of direct sunlight each day so you need to make sure your plot is in the right place; the more sunlight, the better the taste your vegetables will have!
The quality of the soil is also very important. Using a compost to enrich your soil will provide much-needed nutrients and you will need to make sure there is not a weed in sight. You can use a chemical weed killer if you are short on time however it is recommended to remove the weeds by hand for the best results.
If you have time it is also helpful to create a raised bed. This makes the plot more controllable, improves drainage with heavy soils and is also easier on your back. If you do go down this route make sure the plot is wide enough so you can comfortably reach into the middle without treading on the soil.
You cannot rely on the rainfall to provide all of the water that your new vegetables will need to become the delicious specimens you want – even in the UK. If you are setting about undertaking a sizeable amount of vegetable seeding you should think about the irrigation and creating a system that can provide your vegetables with water when required. Water butts can be very helpful in this instance as they can capture the rainfall, which can be used later, meaning you won’t have to tap into your home supply and is better for the environment. Using a water butt also helps reduce the amount of water that your home drainage system has to deal with which can reduce the risk of flooding during heavy rainfall.
Vegetable plots can often benefit from leaf mould as it can improve the soil structure and water retention. This can help your plot stay healthy for longer especially if you are using a raised bed. Strengthening your soil with leaf mould can ensure that the valuable nutrients and moisture can be retained for longer.
Reaping what you sow
Once you have your location sorted you need to make sure you have the best possible seeds. Always make sure you buy fresh, high quality seeds. Older seeds are likely to be less effective and if the seeds do not germinate then all of your efforts will go out of the window. It is important that the seeds are planted according to the instructions on the packet. Remember that the growing time is a guide. Cooler areas of the country may have to wait several weeks before it is warm enough for the seeds to germinate.
When you are ready to start sowing your seeds you should use a rake to level the soil surface. The soil should be fairly crumbly so it can be easily manipulated. This is also the best time to remove any remaining weeds or debris. You will now need to create a shallow depression or small trench in the bed for the seeds to sit in, the exact depth should be as instructed by the seed packet. Before sowing you should add water to the row, as this is usually better than watering over the top of the seeds after sowing.
The seed packet will give you a good idea as to the spacing of the seeds when placed in the soil but usually a finger width apart will be correct for smaller seeds. Once the seeds are in place, cover them, filling in the trench then place a mark at the edge of the plot so you know where the seeds are. This way you know were you need to be watering when it is necessary.
Easiest Vegetables To Grow
Tomatoes are very easy to grow from seed, and only one or two plants can reward you with plenty of tasty tomatoes throughout the summer if grown correctly. Tomatoes come in all shapes and sizes from cherry tomatoes through to beefsteak tomatoes.
There are two different types of tomato plant. You can get Cordon (or indeterminate) tomatoes, which grow tall and may require staking to keep upright, or bush tomatoes (or determinate tomatoes) which are a much more bushy plant. It is recommended to start the plants off indoors by the windowsill or in a propagator from late march or early April. If you are using a greenhouse you can start earlier from late February in warmer areas of the country.
Homegrown cucumbers can taste amazing and can be grown in a number of different ways. They can either be grown in the ground, pots or in growing bags. The instructions differ if they are going to be grown in a greenhouse or outside. You may find it easier with a greenhouse, however you can sow outdoors in late May or early June.
Carrots are a very resilient root vegetable that are easy to grow in sandy soil. Most varieties of carrots are resistant to most pests and diseases. Ideally you should try to grow them in open ground and will only need a decent amount of water every 10-14 days. It is of paramount importance to keep the weeds down between the rows of carrots. If you allow the weeds to grow too much they may crowd out the carrots, which may mean they can’t get the nutrients they need. Common pests include carrot fly, which are attracted to the carrots scent when they are pulled from the ground. To reduce the risk of attracting carrot fly, sow carrots thinly to reduce the need to thin them.
Potatoes are possibly the most versatile food and are a staple of most meals in one form or another. As a result, getting a steady crop each year can save you a lot of time and money. You will need to buy special ‘seed’ potatoes which are similar to those you would buy at your local supermarket, but will be virus-free. Ideally you should purchase the seed potatoes from late winter onwards.
Once the seeds have been planted, you will need to wait until the stems are roughly 9 inches high. You must then start carefully drawing up the soil to the stems and covering to create a flat-topped ridge roughly 6 inches high. This protects the newly emerging vegetation from the frost and allows the new potatoes to develop away from the light. Too much light and the potatoes will turn green which make them poisonous.
It is very important to keep the crops sufficiently watered during dry spells. To increase the overall return you can add a general fertiliser every couple of weeks should you desire.
Potential issues that you may face
There will be problems that will be unique to the type of plant so, before you start sowing, make sure you have done your research and are fully able to spot the signs of any issues. The seed packet should also provide information where applicable.
Seeds do not emerge after sowing
This can be very demoralising after all of your hard work to plant the seeds in the first place. Often it isn’t a critical failure on your part and is easily fixable. It could often be simply a case that not enough time has passed so you may need to wait a bit longer.
The temperature of the soil is important to some seeds so you need to make sure it isn’t too cold, this may mean you need to wait until the soil is warmer. You can use a sheet or a cloche to warm the soil in the short term if needed. Make sure you are planting your seeds at the right time.
There is a delicate balance to be made when it comes to the soil, as it can be too dry or too wet. Too dry and the seeds won’t have enough nourishment to germinate; luckily there is a simple fix here. If the soil is too wet the seeds can rot which can mean you will have to replant the seeds.
Slugs, snails and other pests
Your vegetables can quite easily come under attack. It isn’t just humans that will find homegrown vegetable absolutely delicious. This is why it is very important to be aware of the pests that can pose a threat to your harvest.
To protect from birds and larger animals you should place a wire netting around the plot. This won’t affect the amount of sunlight or rainwater but will keep the bigger pests away from your prized vegetables. Warm and wet weather can also become a playground for slugs and snails, which could quite easily circumvent the wire netting. It is easy to identify if your plants are under attack from slugs or snails as the telltale trail will be present on the soil.
Feathered friends such as thrushes will be quite glad for the slugs and snails, as they will be a tasty source of food themselves. Salt is the perfect remedy to remove these pests however what you absolutely must not do is pour the salt over the your plants. This will ruin all of your plants and make the ground infertile. Using eggshells to prevent these molluscs is an old favourite. The jagged edges can be enough to deter any would-be predator. Steel wool can also be helpful, as slugs will not enjoy climbing over it. Copper barriers can also have the same effect.
There are chemical slug repellents that are available. You should take care, however, to scatter thinly as some chemical products can be harmful to other wildlife, pets or children if eaten in large quantity.
If your plants start to wilt while they are growing this can become a serious problem. It doesn’t have to be critical as this can just be a case of a lack of moisture from the soil. In this case wilting is simply a case of the plants starving for water. If the water isn’t the problem then the most likely cause of a wilting plant is due to some type of disease. Diseases can vary depending on the type of plant so before you start planting your new vegetables be sure that you are aware of what each disease can look like so you can spot problems early.
This can be quite disheartening if this happens as it can mean all of your hard work has been for fruitless. Don’t let this get you down! There are reasons for poor yields, you just need to identify the problem, which will mean next time you can be more prepared. If the weather is too hot or too cold this can affect the overall harvest so make sure you are planting at the correct time. The instructions on the seed packet will help.
Issues with the soil can also cause a poor yield. If your soil moisture is uneven you can use a mulch to retain the moisture. It is then important to make sure you are watering evenly and regularly during the dry spells. Your soil fertility can also be quite poor so add compost or aged manure to your vegetable plots.
Once you know what to look out for there is nothing stopping you from creating incredibly tasty vegetables. Happy planting!