After the success of our last gardening related post, A Foolproof Guide to Growing an Absolutely Glorious Container Garden, many of you wrote to us to ask about a companion guide which focused more on growing fruits and vegetables, in containers and out of them. What a great idea, we thought! So we asked our friend and fellow blogger Atia Azmi – whose gorgeous container herbs and allotment garden have captivated us since we first began seeing her images in our fb feed – to share her hard-learned wisdom with us. Here she writes about how she went from growing simple sunflowers to a scrumptious edible garden and shares a step by step on how we can do the same!
An Easy Guide To Growing Your Own Fruits & Vegetables
A few years ago I started growing my own vegetables. I was interested in growing organic produce and the unusual varieties which can’t easily be found in the shops: beautiful purple and yellow-streaked tomatoes, rainbow chard and bizarre shaped squashes provided all the inspiration I needed to give my green thumbs a go.
I began by growing radishes and sunflowers in our small shady back garden and then expanded to courgettes, tomatoes and herbs in containers and pots. Encouraged by the success of growing plants from seeds, I felt ready to grow bigger and decided to rent an allotment nearby. Almost instantly, I went from having about 12 square metres of growing real estate to nearly 10 times that amount at 100 square metres (that’s nearly 1076 square feet)!
I’m pleased to say that my foray into growing fruit and vegetables has become a thriving and satisfying enterprise and that with a little effort and some patience, you too can grow your own beautiful and tasty edible garden. Here are some good tips I picked up along the way to help you get started – you can do it!
The Easiest Way
The easiest, and arguably fastest, method to getting started with any garden is to buy plants from your local garden centre or large DIY centres such as Homebase, B&Q or Home Depot . You can either plant into pots of compost (peat free is better for the environment as it doesn’t use up precious reserves of peat) or directly into the soil. You can also buy tiny plants, called plug plants which have been started off from seed but are too small to go outside yet. These can be bought much more cheaply than larger plants from online shops but need some extra looking after before they can be planted (see Potting on). Truth is, the cheapest and, in my opinion, most satisfying way of growing is to grow from seed but you are not any less of a gardener if “from seed” is not for you, the most important thing is to nurture healthy plants and enjoy doing so.
Preparing Your Planting Space
If you are planting in your garden, use a spade to dig over the soil and remove any weeds or unwanted plants with a fork, using gloves. Once the soil is weed-free and crumbly, you can make a hole for your plant and pop it in, replacing the soil around it. You can buy Grow bags or raised bed kits to fill with soil also, as well as almost any pot or container. I have seen people using baths and old tyres to plant in! As long as water can drain through easily and the material is safe for food, you can use it, so be creative.
It is important to plant at the correct time. Check whether your plants are hardy (able to tolerate frost) or tender. You need to wait until the last frosts are over (usually mid April in London) before planting out tender plants, otherwise they will die and your hard work will be ruined. Tomatoes, beans and courgettes all need to be planted after the last frosts. If you are growing from seed, you will need to plan your growing so your plants are ready in time to go outside at the correct time.
Growing From Seed
Growing from seed (or propagation) can be very exciting! It’s always amazing to see the fresh green seedlings emerging out of the soil. Growing from seed allows you to grow more interesting varieties of plants than those available ready to plant from the shops. You can buy rare heritage varieties from companies such as The Real Seed company as well as different coloured vegetables, and varieties bred for the best flavour rather than just for reliability or disease resistance (which is what matters to commercial growers) . It is also much cheaper than buying seedlings as you can grow many new plants from each packet of seed.
I have a set of windowsill propagation trays and a couple of larger plug plant trays which hold up to 90 seedlings each. You can also make your own pots with newspaper using a potting tool. Fill each hole up with seedling compost (this is finer than normal compost) and then put a seed into each hole (called a cell) and cover with a thin layer of compost. For larger seeds, such as pumpkins, squash or courgettes, I use 9cm pots or larger trays as they outgrow the tiny cells too quickly. Make sure you water regularly so the soil is moist but not soaking wet.
Once the roots are coming through the bottom of each cell or pot, it’s time to move the plant into a bigger pot (if it’s not ready to go into the garden yet). Simply fill up a larger pot with compost, leaving space for your plant to go in, gently remove the plant from its cell and place it into the pot, covering up any gaps around the edges with more compost until the pot is filled. Remember to keep watering your plants!
If your plants have been grown indoors, they will need to get used to being outside before finally being planted in their final spots in the garden. This process takes a week or so and is called hardening off. It simply involves taking your plants outside during the day and bringing them back in at night time so they learn to adapt to the windier and cooler conditions outside.
Growing and Harvesting
Once your plants are out in their final positions, you just need to water, weed and harvest when the time comes. You can feed your plants to give them extra nutrients using chicken manure pellets or organic fertilisers. It may seem that the growing part of gardening should be more detailed but as long as their needs are met, plants really do it all themselves – it really is this simple.
Tomato Tigerella – This is a beautiful red tomato with yellow stripes.
French Bean Cosse Violette – A lovely dark purple climbing bean which turns green when cooked.
Courgette Sunstripe – A bright yellow and delicious courgette variety.
Patty Pan Sunbeam – Flying saucer shaped vegetable similar to courgette but sweeter.
Rainbow Chard – Easy to grow spinach like vegetable which comes in beautiful jewel like colours.
Sweetcorn Incredible – Growing sweetcorn is a special kind of magic! Delicious sweet cobs of corn.
The Edible Garden by Alys Fowler – This is a book which accompanied the TV series (highly recommended, it can be found online)
Veg Patch by Lucy Halsall – A great step by step guide for growing with little space
Allotment Month by Month by Alan Buckingham – Provides instructions on what to grow each month
Sarah Raven – Inspirational photos and planting guides for each month, she sells seeds, seedlings and all the kit needed (although more expensive than others)
MoreVeg – Cheap seeds sold in small quantities so you can try lots of different plants
The Real Seed Co. – Heritage and rare varieties to grow from seed, with worldwide shipping
Organic Plants – Organic plug plants sold in collections or ‘pick’n’mix’ your own
Rocket Gardens – Ready to plant gardens
Thank you Atia, for inspiring us to get started with our own edible gardens – your tips make us realise just how straightforward it can be! Have any questions on getting started with growing your own? Leave it in the comments, where we will ask Atia to answer them.
Atia Azmi is a physician and mother of three living in London and enjoys gardening, sewing and other creative crafts. Read more from Atia on her blog and make sure to follow her gorgeous instagram.
Image Credits: All images courtesy of Atia Azmi