Grow your own!
It's easy to grow your own fresh vegetables at home. We choose our three favourite crops for first time growers
In a few weeks time the 'grow your own' season will be in full swing, and kitchen gardeners will be sowing, planting and preparing their plots for spring.
At Little Green Space we're often asked for advice on growing fruit and vegetables – and many people are particularly interested in choosing varieties that are easy to grow.
With so many of us leading busy lives, taking on an extra burden in the form of a vegetable garden can seem daunting.
But some vegetables are easier to grow than others – and even just a few crops in patio pots can reduce food miles, save money and provide fresh, tasty produce.
So, if you're considering giving 'grow your own' a go this spring, here's a simple growing guide to three easy-to-grow vegetables to get you started.
Some gardeners don't bother to grow potatoes – they're one of the cheapest and easiest vegetables to buy, after all. But there's nothing quite like digging up a pile of home grown spuds – and I reckon they taste better, too. They're also very easy to grow.
Potatoes need to be 'chitted' for about six weeks before planting out – and this is one of the first vegetable gardening jobs of the year, ideally done in late February or early March.
To chit, put each seed potato into a hole in an egg box. Look for the 'eyes' on the potato – little bumps where the shoots will emerge – and make sure these are facing up. Leave the egg boxes in a bright, cool, frost-free place such as a windowsill. Sturdy shoots should emerge after a few weeks – be careful not to remove these or accidentally knock them off!
At the beginning of April, the potatoes can be planted out. Dig holes 30cm apart, and put a potato into each hole, making sure the shoots are facing up. The holes should be about 15cm deep. Cover the potatoes with soil.
Or you can plant into large patio pots (one tuber per pot) or potato growing bags (three tubers per bag).
As the shoots emerge, cover the entire plant with soil – or you can use straw or grass cuttings. This is called 'earthing up' and prevents light reaching the potatoes and turning them green.
The potatoes should be ready to harvest towards the end of June. A good sign that they are ready is that the flowers have opened – when you notice this has happened, scrape a little soil away from one of the plants and have a poke around to see if you can find any spuds. They're ready to eat as soon as they're about the size of a hen's egg. Take them straight up to the kitchen, wash off any soil, boil and serve with melted butter and chopped mint. Delicious!
There are dozens of potato varieties to choose from, but the easiest to grow are the 'earlies' – they are quicker to crop and less susceptible to blight. If I had to choose just one variety, I'd plump for Charlotte, a waxy second early that's perfect in potato salad – it works in our garden every time.
There are all sorts of salad seed mixes available – and for a couple of quid you can buy enough seed to give you platefuls of salad all summer.
Salad can be grown in rows, in blocks or in circles. To make circles of salad, take a large plant pot and press the rim into finely raked soil to form a circle. Sprinkle seeds into the circle, and cover with compost. This can be done as soon as the soil is warm enough – late March or early April. If you don't have much space, salad seeds are also brilliant for growing in containers.
Once the seedlings have emerged, water during dry spells – and watch out for slugs. Beer traps are useful, or try scattering crushed eggshells, bran or oats around your salad.
Salad leaves grow quickly – some varieties can be ready in just a few weeks – and can be harvested as 'baby leaves' as soon as they're big enough to eat. It's best to sow a small quantity of seeds every fortnight or so, to ensure a continual supply of leaves and avoid gluts.
Courgettes are 'tender' vegetables, so need a little more care and attention – but they're still pretty easy to grow.
The great thing about courgettes is that they're prolific croppers – so you only need two or three plants to provide enough vegetables to feed a family. In fact, in a good year, you may struggle to keep up with harvesting and find you have to give your courgettes away to (hopefully) grateful friends and neighbours.
To grow courgettes, start by sowing seeds into small pots of compost – one seed per pot. This should be done in early May. Keep inside on a sunny windowsill, and water regularly.
At the end of May, when all risk of frost has passed, begin to 'harden off' the plants in preparation for planting out. To do this, take them outside during the day, bringing them back into a porch, greenhouse or garage at night. Repeat for about five days. Then leave them outside, in pots, for 48 hours before planting out. (If the weather is fairly warm and no frost is forecast you can just stand the plants outside, in their pots, for a week before transplanting).
Plant out 90cm apart and keep well watered. If growing on the patio, use a large container and choose a compact variety, such as Venus. The first courgettes should be ready to harvest in July, and can be picked as soon as they are as long as your index finger.
And if you fancy growing pumpkins, they're grown in exactly the same way but, being bigger, take a little longer to mature – harvest in october, ready for Hallowe'en!
There are, of course, many other vegetables that are easy to grow – but these are our three favourites! For a few more ideas of easy vegetables for first-time kitchen gardeners, check out our !
Little Green Space March 2016