5 easy-to-grow vegetables
You don't need lots of space to grow your own vegetables at home. We suggest five easy crops to try – you could save money and cut your carbon footprint!
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With shortages of some fresh produce in the news, and food prices rising generally, it might be a good time to consider growing your own vegetables at home.
Growing your own food can save you money. It can also cut your carbon footprint, as less energy, fuel and packaging are used to get the food to your plate.
You don't need masses of space to grow your own. If you have a garden, you could try the , and grow 16 different crops in a 1.2 metre square.
And many crops can be grown in containers on a patio or balcony, or in a window box. You can even grow some food in hanging baskets or on a sunny windowsill.
In the UK, there are more than 90,000 people on waiting lists for one of the 300,000 council-owned allotments. Now, more than ever, councils need to provide more spaces to allow everyone the opportunity to grow their own produce.
If allotment waiting lists are an issue in your area, you can petition your local council. There is a statutory duty for local authorities to provide allotments if there is sufficient local demand – i.e. six or more people.
If you're new to kitchen gardening, it's best to start off with some crops that are easy to grow. Here are five suggestions.
Tomatoes are cheap and easy to grow, and you don't need any specialist equipment or a lot of space.
There are two types of tomato plants: cordon (indeterminate) and bush (determinate).
Beginners should look out for bush tomato seeds. These grow well in containers and, unlike cordon varieties, don't need to be tied onto supports or have side-shoots removed – just sow, water and grow!
Bush tomato varieties include Lizzano, Red Alert and Tumbling Tom. These are all small, cherry-type tomatoes, which ripen sooner than larger varieties. If you're short on space, the tumbling varieties grow well in hanging baskets.
Sow tomato seeds in March or April, putting two or three seeds into a small pot of compost. They like warmth, so keep the pots on a sunny windowsill and water little and often. As they grow, pull out the weaker seedlings to leave one strong plant in each pot.
As the plants get bigger, pot them up into slightly larger containers. You can move them into a frost-free greenhouse, if you have one.
Once all risk of frost has passed (usually around the end of May), tomatoes can be planted into their final positions, in growbags, large containers, or in the ground. If growing tomatoes outside, get them acclimatised to colder conditions by sitting them outside during the day and bringing them in at night. Do this for about a week before planting into their final positions.
Watch out for aphids and whitefly. These sap-sucking pests can damage your plants. To deter them, grow some mint or coriander nearby. Also try to attract ladybirds to your plot by growing nectar-rich flowers such as fennel, dill and calendula. A single ladybird can munch its way through around 5,000 aphids in its lifetime – so they're useful to have around.
Ladybirds also need places to shelter during cold weather, and will hunker down in cracks and crevices, leaf litter and hollow stems. For this reason, it's best to wait until they emerge from hibernation – usually in April – before you tidy up the garden by raking leaves and cutting down dead plants.
Fresh salad is one of the biggest wins when it comes to saving money by growing your own. For the price of just one bag of supermarket salad leaves, you can buy a pack of seeds that should give you platefuls of salad all summer.
There are all sorts of salad seed mixes available. Salad can be grown in the ground or in containers. Sprinkle seeds into compost or finely raked soil. This can be done as soon as the soil is warm enough, in late March or early April.
Once the seedlings have emerged, water during dry spells.
Salad leaves grow quickly – some varieties can be ready in just a few weeks – and can be harvested 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.
Watch out for slugs and snails – they love munching salads. To deter them, try scattering crushed eggshells, bran or oats around your plants – these form a physical barrier that slugs find hard to cross. Don't use toxic slug pellets, as these can cause harmful chemicals to get into the food chain, affecting the mammals and birds that feed on slugs and snails.
Broad beans are a good source of protein, fibre, vitamins and minerals. Fresh broad beans are hard to find in supermarkets, but growing your own is easy. You don't need lots of space, either – Sutton is a dwarf variety that's ideal for growing in pots.
Sow the large bean seeds in March, pushing each individual seed into a small pot or module filled with compost.
No plant pots? You can also arrange cardboard loo roll tubes in a seed tray, and fill these with compost. Or, if the soil isn't too cold or waterlogged, broad beans can be sown directly into the ground.
Broad beans are quite hardy and can be planted out as soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle. The pods begin to form in May, and you can start to harvest the beans in June.
Watch out for blackfly. These small black aphids gather in clusters at the tips of the plants. Starting the plants off under cover can help prevent an attack, as can pinching off the tips of the plants before blackfly appear – this doesn't harm the plants, and you can eat the tips! Like other aphids, blackflies are eaten by ladybirds.
Potatoes can be grown in the ground or in containers. Buy seed potatoes in early spring.
Ideally seed potatoes should be chitted for a few weeks before planting. To do this, arrange the seed potatoes in egg cartons, with the 'eyes'– little bumps where the shoots will emerge – 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!
Plant out seed potatoes in early April. 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). Third-fill each container with compost. Push the seed potatoes gently into the compost with the shoots facing upwards. Put in a little more compost to completely cover the seed potato.
As the shoots emerge, cover the entire plant with soil – draw it up and over the plants using a hoe, to form a ridge. This is called 'earthing up' and prevents light reaching the potatoes and turning them green. If growing in containers, cover the emerging plants with compost until all the leaves are hidden. Keep doing this until the pots are full.
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, 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.
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 we had to choose just one variety, it would be Charlotte – it's reliable, and produces versatile, delicious potatoes that are particularly good for making potato salad.
Watch out for blight. This fungal disease can attack during warm, humid weather, and causes the leaves of the plants to shrivel, turn brown and die. To avoid blight, grow first and second early varieties, such as Charlotte – these are usually harvested before blight becomes a problem later in the summer.
Pea seeds are cheap to buy – about a pound a packet – and they grow very quickly, producing plants that are ready to eat in around three weeks.
To grow pea shoots, fill pots or trays with compost. You can reuse the plastic punnets that strawberries and raspberries come in – these are ideal as they have holes in the base that will prevent your seeds from becoming waterlogged.
Use your finger to poke holes, about 2cm apart, in the compost, and pop a seed into each hole. Cover the seeds with more compost, water well, and place on a sunny windowsill.
When the plants are about 10cm tall they are ready to eat. Snip off the shoots just above the bottom set of leaves, and another shoot should grow.
Pea shoots are packed with vitamin C – essential for a healthy immune system. They have a delicate, pea-like flavour and a crisp, juicy texture – and are delicious in salads.
Watch out for – nothing! Pea shoots are very easy to grow, and rarely have any problems.
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Little Green Space March 2023