Spring is here, the sun is shining and the ground is thawing. Let’s talk about how to grow your own vegetables. The world has literally come to a standstill. Covid19 has halted life, as we know it. So if you have ever thought about growing your own vegetables, then now is the right time.
Can I Grow Vegetables without a Garden?
My first experience of growing vegetables was an attempt to grow a tomato plant and herbs on my kitchen window cill in a flat with no balcony. The herbs grew well, but the tomatoes did not. So I stuck to growing herbs until I managed to acquire an allotment plot from the Local Council. Alternatively, if you have a balcony, grow them in pots. You can start out with 3 or 4 easy growing vegetables such as potatoes, spinach, lettuce and peas.
If you live in a flat with no outside space, do not despair, you can rent an allotment plot from your Local Council. There will be a waiting list because vegetable growing has become a popular activity. I would suggest you contact your Local Council and ask to visit an allotment before you place your name on the waiting list. If you are happy with it, then put your name down and wait. Until then, think about growing herbs such as coriander and basil on a window.
As we lived in a flat, the allotment space also served as a garden for my kids. I had the plot for 2 years and spent most weekends at the allotment. We converted some of it into a garden area, a place where the kids could play, while I tended to the vegetables. It truly was a blissful environment for us as a family.
Make it a Family Affair
As I previously mentioned, when I had an allotment, I turned some of it into a garden. Many people frowned but it did not matter to me. I wanted my allotment to be about my family and me. I wanted my kids (and husband) to get involved and be outdoors with me. Not surprisingly, when my neighbours saw how my kids loved the great outdoor allotment experience, they finally understood why I chose to have a grassed patch with my vegetable patch in an allotment setting. Growing vegetables are great way to get the kids involved and playing outside. Make them responsible for weeding and watering the plants. As the vegetable starts to sprout, so will their excitement.
We now live in a house with a garden. Therefore my love for vegetable growing is happening right in my backyard. Because of the memories we made, I must admit, I am glad I took on the allotment plot and did not wait until we had a garden.
I do not have a dedicated vegetable garden plot, instead, I grow them wherever I think the right conditions exist for each of the plants. I call it, sporadic and surprise growing. Last year, I had some successes and some failures, which you will read about as you continue reading. So this year, I have chosen to continue with sporadic growing, as well as, growing them in pots and compost bags.
Now to the Growing Bit
Positioning Your Vegetables
Before you go out and buy the seeds, think about the position of the sun. How much sun or shade does your garden receive every day? Vegetables, like people, have a preference. As I mentioned earlier, I had some successes and some failures. Most vegetables love sunny positions, but others prefer shade and some love to grow in the cold. For a successful harvest, find the most suitable place for your vegetables. Then, when you are shopping for seeds, have a look at the back of your seed packet to identify which vegetable likes full sun and which one likes the shade.
In addition to sun and shade, pay attention to the type of soil you have and what else is growing in your garden. For example, last year I grew vegetables such as radishes and beetroot between trees, but they did not do well at all. They ended up competing for water and nutrients with the trees. So in the end, I did not have any rooted salads to enjoy. Therefore, this year, I am going to avoid planting between trees.
Pick your compost
One of the reasons why some vegetables grow well and others do not is because of the type of soil you have in the garden or allotment. The soil in my area is clay based, therefore it was very difficult for me to grow last year. Clay can either become very water logged or then baked dry. If you have such soil, it is a good idea to mix manure to the several months earlier to enable it to break down and mix into the soil.
I sowed potatoes, spinach, tomatoes, garlic, beetroot, radish, courgettes, coriander, chillies, peppers and onions. My success rate was very low. So this year I will be making use of the natural garden soil for vegetables that grew well, as well as use compost bags for vegetables that struggled to grow in the ground.
There are a variety of compost types in the market. Some will be suitable for vegetables and others are good for flowers. I will use peat free compost that is good to grow vegetables. Furthermore, last year I invested in a compost bin, but the compost is not yet ready from the scraps of fruit and veg that I placed in it.
What Vegetables Should I Grow?
Where can I buy the seeds?
Most supermarkets and home based stores sell a variety of seeds. If you are just starting to grow your own vegetables stick to easy growth vegetables, herbs and fruits.
You can also buy seeds online. If you are staying home due to the current government restrictions, have a look online. Online stores such as the Eden Brother Seeds Company and Amazon have a good variety of seeds you can buy.
Pick veggies that you are comfortable growing. Below is a list of vegetables that I have successfully and easily grown in the past, especially as I am still an amateur gardener. All of the vegetables below can be grown in compost filled plant pots, compost bags or directly in the garden. It just depends on how much you will eat and how much space you have to grow them.
I have put together a very basic vegetable growing planner to help you start the growing season. The success of your harvest will depend on how much time you spend looking after the plants, for example, weeding and watering, the weather and also the types of vegetables you choose to grow. Use the planner as a suggestion for now. If you use it, I would love to hear from you if it helped or not. Before you go buy the materials you need, have a look in the kitchen to see if you could substitute some equipment, such as using old plastic containers to grow the seedlings.
Herbs and Leafy Vegetables
Nowadays, you can grow hundreds of different fruits and vegetables. I always stick to what I know the family will eat on a regular basis. Herbs and leafy vegetables such as coriander, spinach, dill, parsley and lettuce are very easy to grow. Grow them in a sunny spot, water them regularly and you will have them ready to eat within weeks. I must warn you, lettuce attracts slugs and I have not yet found an easy solution to deterring the slugs.
Peas and Beans
My kids absolutely love to grow peas and this is because you can eat the pea pods as soon as you see them grow. I found growing the peas directly into the ground much easier than growing them in a small pot and transferring them later on. I grew them in mid May last year when the temperature was warm and stable. You will need bamboo sticks to help the peas grow upright. This year will be my first year growing beans; however, I have read that they are also easy to grow, so I am going to give them a go.
Courgettes, also known as Zucchini is one of my favourite vegetables to eat. You only need a couple of plants. The plants are easy to grow and they provide you with a courgette every 2 or 3 days. In the summer, sliced courgettes once barbecued with a bit of salt, pepper and olive oil are a great side dish. They need plenty of sunshine and water. When the flower starts to turn into a baby courgette, trim some of the low lying leaves so that the plant can concentrate on producing the vegetable.
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Everyone loves to grow tomatoes, but I have found them to be a pretty difficult fruit to grow unless you have a greenhouse or grow them indoors. Tomatoes that grow outside greenhouses do not ripen very quickly and they are often exposed to diseases. This year I will try my luck again as every vegetable garden feels incomplete unless there is a tomato plant in there. I am planning to keep the plant in a sunny spot, such as, the front porch. Keeping my fingers crossed for a decent harvest this year.
Towards the beginning of spring, keep a few potatoes aside from your regular shopping. Allow them to sprout. Once you see them sprouting place them directly in the ground and cover them. A sunny spot is good for them. When you see the leaves starting to grow, cover them with more soil or compost. Do this a couple of times, so you have small potato mounds. By doing so, you are allowing the plant to produce several potatoes in one go.
Potatoes are good at loosening the soil. Therefore, if you have clay like soil, grow the potatoes and this will help loosen the soil for other vegetables.
You can also grow carrots and radishes in the same manner. Get the kids to grow the carrots as they will get very excited when it’s time to pull out the bright coloured vegetable.
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I found growing garlic relatively easy. You just have to separate the garlic bulb into its individual pods. At the end of September last year, I grew some pods and completely forgot about them. This year while I was weeding, I came across the pods and was completely delighted to see that from 1 bulb, I will have about 8 new garlic bulbs. The garlic will take some time to grow so I will leave it in the ground until early summer. From my experience, garlic grows very slowly, so if you grow the garlic now, it will be ready by the end of the Summer, beginning of Autumn. You just have to be patient. Garlic seems to like a cooler temperature to grow in.
I have set up a vegetable planner that you can download for free. The planner is just a general starting point. Use it to get started on your journey to growing your own vegetables. Good luck and I hope we all experience a great summer for a great harvest.
Don’t overthink it, Just do it! Grow Your Own Vegetables
Do not bog yourself down by reading and thinking too much about having all of the right conditions to grow vegetables at home. Just go for it and learn from having successes and failures.
That is how I learnt to grow my own vegetables. If you are not the type to learn by trial and error, then pick up a book on vegetable growing. However, refrain from using too many sources, because this will only confuse you. You will end up spending most of the summer planning and miss out on the joy of growing your own vegetables.
Tip: Think about growing vegetables side by side to benefit each other. This method of planting a vegetable garden is known as companion planting.
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Is it cheap to grow vegetables at home?
How much you spend on growing your own vegetables will depend on what you are growing and what you will use. For example, sprouting potatoes at home instead of buying from the shop will be cheaper. At the same time, reusing existing pots and old containers will save you money.
Which vegetables grow easily?
Peas, spinach, salads, potatoes and herbs are the easiest to grow. Garlic is also easy to grow, but it takes months to be ready. You can also try growing beetroot and radishes if you have the space.
Can I grow vegetables in my balcony?
Absolutely. If you have a balcony that receives plenty of sunlight, you can grow virtually anything in plant pots. Just keep the pots moist.