How To: Get Started On Growing Your Own Food
I got my allotment after being on a long waiting list for nine months and have had it for two years this June. Making the decision to grow my own vegetables has been one of the best choices I have made and I really love spending time there. The first year was focussed on clearing the ground of weeds and debris, then preparing the soil, and as it turned out - this was the hardest part of growing your own food, the rest is pretty easy!
Once the initial work was done and I’d spent time replenishing the soil with good compost and creating raised beds, I made sure to check the PH of the soil before coming up with a plan of what I would plant. It’s a good idea to plan what you’re planting in advance as certain groups of vegetables like to grow together or won't grow in certain types of soil. Even in a garden or a balcony it's worth making sure you have a plan in place to remind you of when you need to plant your produce. For example, some plants like full sunshine, or may be climbers that need stakes to help them along, so it is useful to plan this all ahead, especially if you may need extra equipment. I also researched common pests and how to get rid of them without using chemicals, which is also important to consider at the planning stage.
Next stage is deciding what you’d like to grow. Perhaps the easiest way of going about this is deciding what your favourite vegetables are and starting from there. Below are the types of veg I had success with in my allotment:
Most people are fond of potatoes in whatever form, plus they are great to have as an initial crop since they break up the soil for you and will grow almost anywhere. You can grow potatoes straight into rows in the ground, into a box if you’re handy with DIY, or even a grow bag. All you need is enough soil to cover the tubers of the potatoes as they grow, so they don’t get exposed to the sun. After buying around twenty seed potatoes last year we ended up with three massive sacks of them which lasted us all the way to spring!
Onion and Garlic
These two are staples for most meals and are really simple to get on with and cheap to plant. Just make sure your onions aren’t in acidic soil (under 6.5PH) and buy a cheap set of around ten seed onions which you can easily plant out straight into the ground or pots. Garlic is really easy too; I use three garlic bulbs, separate the cloves and each clove grows into a whole garlic bulb! Again, these have lasted me almost nine months and it's really satisfying to see how easily these grow, even in a small space like pots or bags, as long as they are relatively deep.
Tomatoes are another easy to grow option and if you are short on space, you can just use a grow bag for this in a sunny spot. They grow fast and climb up well, plus there are several different varieties to play with. For a bit of extra fun I like to grow heritage tomatoes which are different colours and this might make more exciting for kids too.
All you need to grow herbs is a little bit of light and a container. Containers are easily found and you can repurpose things such as old milk and butter cartons, egg boxes or water bottles cut in half. Sometimes garden centres offer plant pots to be recycled too so do check if they have any spare at your local centre. If you can start them off inside in the warmth of your home on the windowsill then they will get a good chance at germinating. Remember to start small and grow a few seeds, and then when big enough you can move the herbs on to bigger pots if you wish. Favourites of mine include basil, mint, parsley and chives.
Finally, other vegetables which I found easy to grow and are common for everyday cooking are: beans, carrots, parsnips, radish, lettuce, kale and salad leaves and if you have space; broccoli, cauliflower and cabbage.
Remember to water regularly, apply some feed every couple of weeks to growing plants and see your home grown food thrive!
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