This week our friend Andrew, from the team at Landlord News is sharing his tips on starting a vegetable patch in your garden, what to watch out for and how to get tasty homegrown veg at the end of it. Here’s what he has to say on the subject:
I’ve never liked gardening. Being of a practical mindset, I could never see the point in carefully arranged flower beds and neatly trimmed hedges simply for the purpose of looking nice. If I’m going to put work into a project, I want something to show for it at the end.
That’s not to say vegetable patches can’t be pretty; there are actually few things more impressive than rows and rows of lush green potato vines topped with little pale blue flowers. Like a proud parent, knowing that you raised those little darlings from seed, seeing them flourish brings a huge sense of achievement.
But to get to that final stage, there are a few things that I’d recommend. I’m by no means an expert, but through trial and error, I’ve come up with these pointers:
1. Start small
Don’t dig up your entire garden with delusions of feeding your family for the rest of the year. I hate to say it but lower your expectations a little. You can always increase next year.
Start with something no bigger than a 4x4m patch. Even that is going to take a full week out of your schedule just to prepare for planting by removing weeds, turning over the soil and mixing in compost.
If turning over the soil sounds too much, then go even smaller-scale: set up a few deep tubs or grow bags. These low maintenance alternatives can be placed on any patio or balcony and will still yield a great amount of produce.
2. Work little and often
Harold Wilson once said that a week is a long time in politics. If he’d had a vegetable patch, I imagine he’d say the same thing about that. A veg patch isn’t something that can be tended to on Sundays then ignored until the following weekend. You could find yourself with dead crops and a patch full of weeds if you aren’t careful.
Every job from turning over, to planting, to watering, weeding and feeding can be done on different days. Don’t tire yourself out doing it all in one day then forget about it whilst you rest for the next few days. Spread out the jobs. 20-30 minutes every morning or evening will be more than enough for a manageable sized patch.
3. Start with familiar basics
I originally planned to grow courgettes and lettuce, both of which were very easy to grow, but it wasn’t until I walked up to the till, seed packets in hand, that I remembered I don’t like lettuce and I ate courgettes about once a month if that.
Grow something you’ll actually make use of. Potatoes and onions are a great first venture into the world of growing veg. They’re both relatively low maintenance and produce satisfying results. Plus, they’re both very versatile in the kitchen, so you’ll actually use them.
I also tried growing broccoli, as it’s something I eat a lot of, but the slugs had other ideas. My entire crop was obliterated before it had managed to even produce its first head of the green stuff. From what I understand, broccoli and cabbages are prime targets for pests, which leads me onto my next point…
4. Accept the pests
I’m not saying roll out the welcome mat to slugs and carrot flies, but just bear in mind that you are not a commercial grower with gallons of pesticide and other defences. You’re probably going to lose a small percentage of your crops to the bugs and birds.
Unless you want to go down the chemical-heavy route, which really defeats the point of growing your own, my advice is to protect seedlings with nets and wire mesh, check for slugs and snails after rainfall, and just accept that pests are a part of farming.
If you’re really having a particularly bad time with pests, like I did with my broccoli, I recommend making your own natural pesticide.
5. Don’t grow too much
I’m not saying don’t grow loads full stop. Instead, stagger your planting times, so that only one row of each type of vegetable is ready at a time. Otherwise, you’ll end up with 400 carrots and half a tonne of potatoes ready at the same time. You could give some away if you’re that way inclined, but growing in stages and properly storing your produce will leave you with homegrown food for months.
In the same vein of not growing too much, read the packaging for the seeds. I conveniently ignored the part that told me to plant carrot seeds 4cm apart and scattered the entire pack into one row the first time I tried growing them. Save yourself the work of having to repeatedly thin out the rows by only planting what you need, and what will comfortably grow, in the first place.