Sow, grow, eat: A three-step, fail-safe guide to growing your own vegetables
Sunday 22 March 2009
Grow your own: people are doing it all over Britain. Teetering on the edge of joining in, though, there's always that moment of doubt as to whether you possess the right DNA for it. Typical symptoms include fear of weird gardening vocab such as "chitting"; and wondering whether you just inherited the genes for watching a bit too much telly.
Running a whole allotment might require organisational skills beyond a normal person's command, but growing a few veg in a garden or even a balcony could work for almost anyone. Start with one or two easy crops where there's a good chance of success: nurture them, fuss over them, eat them. It's easier than you think.
The first decision you have to make is how to grow your veg. Beds in the garden require digging and a bit of warmth – cover the soil with black plastic for a fortnight before planting. But those with small gardens may prefer to grow in dustbin-like containers, meaning your plants can bask in the sunniest spot, and can be moved out of sight when guests come over.
Next, choose your crops. Go for two, at most, to start with. You can add more as you go along, later in the growing season, but starting small means you can get the whole thing organised in a morning rather than it becoming a discouraging marathon.
Potatoes are a perfect choice at this time of year: spuds planted now will produce a crop of little new potatoes by June. Go to your local garden centre or look online for seed potatoes of any varieties labelled "first early", the group of potatoes which grow quickest. Rocket, Swift, Foremost: you get the general idea. Plan for two plants per pot at the most: that means planting just two tiny seed potatoes. Find a home for the rest of the pack with friends, and then get on with "chitting" – leaving them in the sun for a week or two to sprout before you plant them.
Another brilliant starter veg idea is salad leaves. This time of year, try soft summer lettuces such as little gem, mixing in a bit of rocket seed for a tasty tang, and some baby radishes for extra flavour. Just fill one pot and experience the weird thrill of eating something you have just grown and picked.
After planting, the most important thing is to keep the watering regime bang on track. Spring rain should do most of the work, but keep the soil moist if it's been dry for a few days. When it comes to picking, for spuds, wait for them to finishing flowering before you explore underground; for lettuce, you can pick leaves as soon as you like. Then sit down to eat your first home-grown veg – hopefully feeling that your agricultural ancestors would be proud of you.
Growth opportunity: Easy crops for beginners
A handful of carrots
Carrots grow best in a sandy soil with not too much fertiliser. Sow the seeds as far apart as you can; you may need to cull some as they grow, as each carrot will need 5cm of room to get fat and long. Try "Nantes" - sweet and quick.
A few onions
Buy heat-treated sets, not seed – tiny onions that will fatten up under your care. Plant shallow – the tip of the set should just show. Keep watered, and your onions will be ready to eat when the leaves yellow later in the year. Try "Red Baron".
A row of peas
Sow your peas now, wait till the plants are 30cm high, then pick off the top 10cm of leaves and add to salads. They will keep regrowing for the next month or so, and you can keep eating. Try "Kelvedon Wonder".
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