Never miss out on vegetables again: grow your own
Even if you have no garden and very little space, you can grow your own vegetables
I love red peppers. Beautiful deep red peppers. I have them in stir fry, on pizza, in pasta, in curry... they're my favourite vegetable and form the backbone of most of my diet. How many red peppers do I have in my kitchen currently? None. Not one.
There are none in any of my local supermarkets, and it's not just peppers. If you want courgette, or sweet potato or broccoli, it's slim pickings, at best. I'm very glad to see that panic buyers have graduated from pasta and loo roll to fresh vegetables, very healthy - well done, but leave some for this hungry vegetarian, please!
I've never considered growing my own as I am not currently blessed with a garden, but given my current predicament, I've been looking into it and it turns out, you really don't need one. The smallest of indoor spaces with a bit of light and air will allow you to grow your own veg and avoid the DANK disappointment of the fresh produce aisle!
If you can keep a house plant alive, you can grow your own food! So, here's how you do it!
No space is too small!
There are so many things you can grow in little tubs on your windowsill that take no time at all to start sprouting. MICROGREENS, aka. vegetable confetti, are about the easiest things you can grow and if you have kids looking for a project to get involved in, this is it. You can even improvise with what you use to plant them.
They sound pretty insignificant, but don't let the name fool you, their nutritional value is greater than some of their more mature veggie relatives and they are a great way to bulk out a bog standard salad or side. They're also easy to grow all year round so if you are looking for low maintenance, high yield, veg, you've found it!
If you've never heard of microgreens, we are talking about anything that you can eat at the early stage of growth. Things like broccoli, beetroot, spinach, and fennel. They can grow in shallow soil, of around an inch in depth, so if you don't have a pot, Tupperware, or clean take-away trays will do!
Pour about an inch of soil and pat it so its level but still loose, then press your seeds gently into the soil before sprinkling a little more soil on top. Keep the soil moist but not soaked and you should start to see shoots in 7-10 days. These are usually picked after the first set of true leaves form, these are basically the second set of leaves and are more vascular looking than the first set - they'll appear between 2-3 weeks after planting.
You know those cookery shows where the chef reaches to the windowsill and snips off some home grown parsley, or coriander? You can be that person! Do exactly what you would do with the microgreens and you'll have fresh herbs ready to go in no time!
Lemongrass is particularly easy to grow indoors and, top tip, it looks as decorative as any houseplant too.
Window boxes or balconies
You don't need a lot of outdoor space to grow outdoor plants, so even if you just have a little pot outside your window or a Juliette balcony, you can graduate to growing outdoor veg.
These are most peoples' first thought when it comes to growing veg. They are relatively fast growing and easy to keep so you get big rewards for very little effort. There are two types of tomato plant you can grow, bush or cordon. I'd recommend starting with bush tomatoes as they are lower maintenance and can be left to do their own thing. Cordon tomatoes require regular pruning and they tend to grow skyward so will need a lot of vertical support.
Timing is worth noting here. If you're planting them outside, you'll need to have them established and ready to go by around the end of May. You can get tomato food which they will be grateful for receiving once per week and just make sure they are moist but not soaked, between times. When the plant starts to get bigger, you should support them by using soft string to tie them up or makeshift shelves to allow the fruit to sit steady.
When it comes to harvesting, you should try to leave them in place till they are fully ripe, cutting away any leaves that might be blocking out the sun. You'll get the best flavour that way.
PEPPERS are grown in a similar fashion and, although you absolutely can grow them indoors, they are known to do better, and need less attention, outside. Peppers do need a lot of sun to if you are using a window box, make sure it's in the sunniest spot, I promise it will pay off.
KALE is another great, simple grower, as are other members of the cabbage family, and they are very robust in the cold so, if you've got your timing a little off for the fruitier veg, this will sprout and keep you going throughout winter. They are not lovers of heat so if you live in a particularly sunny part of the world, you should find somewhere partially shaded for them. I live in Scotland so this will grow just about anywhere I put it! A word of warning, though - birds love the stuff!
GREEN BEANS and other types of beans are also well suited to growing in pots outside and, if you support them with stakes (they are tall and slender), you should get a nice harvest around 80-100 days after planting.
If you are fortunate enough to have a garden, the vegetable world is your proverbial oyster!
POTATOES are about the most versatile of vegetables and, if you plant them strategically, you can eek the harvest our for many many weeks. You'll need seed potatoes to get you started which you should allow to sit in a warm dry place for some weeks before planting. The end with the most eyes (little dark dimples that the growth originates from) should be positioned upward, so you can steady them in egg pots, or something similar.
When they are ready to plant, you can do it in a grow bag or directly into well turned soil. They sprout quickly but to encourage the best growth, when they get to around 6 inches tall, make a mount of soil around it so that only the top is poking out. Repeat this till flowers start to appear, at which point you're ready to dig those spuds out! You can expect multiple potatoes per plant so the rewards can be found in your wallet as well!
LETTUCE can be grown in containers but they look great in patches and, because they grow ridiculously quickly, if you stagger the planting of many of them, you will have veggies of different stages and a continuous harvest. Lettuce does not compete well with weeds so prepare the soil in advance and leave about 15 inches between each seed. When it appears, keep an eye on it, if your leaves are looking a bit floppy and sad, it needs a water. Other than this, it will do it's own thing and you have weeks worth of salad to enjoy!
COURGETTES are also easy enough to grow and have the benefit of producing beautiful yellow flowers which attract insects to your patch, encouraging pollination and brightening the place up! You can sow the seeds indoors if you want to ensure the best start in life, but if you are looking for a lower maintenance, all in one approach, you can plant them directly outside. If you are starting them off indoors, before transferring them into the garden, it's best to sit them outside through the day and bring them in at night. Doing this for around a week will help them acclimatise to outside life.
CUCUMBERS are great to have growing around the edges as they do more upward growing than outward growing so will need vertical support. For this reason, they also make great potted plants. Don't expect them to look like the smooth, lengthy, fellas you get in the shop though, those are the greenhouse variety and, if you have a greenhouse, then go for it, but they do require a bit more upkeep.
If you are growing them outdoors, they have a form only a mother could love - but you're going to be their mother, so thats ok! These tend to do better of you get them started indoors and transition them to outside life but, once they are out there, you can expect your first harvest in about 12 weeks!
I told you they were ugly
Additionally, anything you can keep in a pot on the windowsill or window box, will grow in the garden too, so for a beautiful splash of colour, get some peppers and tomatoes in there.
Please leave space in your garden for at least one pumpkin plant. Particularly if you have kids because they only thing better than carving out a pumpkin at halloween, is carving out one you grew yourself and they will be proud as punch! They only way these differ to planting things like courgettes is that you should place the seeds or the shoots (if you've started them indoors) under a couple of inches of soil on top of a large mound. It helps with drainage but it also allows plenty of space for the mass of roots they lay down. The mounds also warm more quickly in the sun which is good as pumpkins are not big fans of the cold.
Drainage is really important as they will rot if they are left in standing water but this makes them really easy to care for and their array of roots means they tend to find all the water they need themselves. You only need water them in particularly dry spells. They do, however, ask that you give them plenty of nitrogenous fertiliser to keep them happy so make sure you have properly prepared their home before you plant them and fertilise them again after about a foot of growth.
You can leave them to it, but pruning the vines after the first flowers appear will encourage the plant to divert more energy to giving you plump pumpkins. It also helps with space as, if you don't train the vines up a trellis or fence, they can splay out and occupy a good corner of the garden! They should be left on the vine till they are fully ripe so the skin should be taught, to the point it resists puncture with a nail, and it should have reached a really deep colour. Don't be tempted to pick them as soon as they are as big as you want them as they will start to go off far quicker if they haven't reached full maturity. If you want small pumpkins, select a small type!
We all heard the stories when we were little about how eating the seeds you find in your veg would make a veg plant grow inside us. Happily, that's not true, but there are loads of vegetables that will regrow from the bits of it you have leftover.
You can grow garlic from cloves, spring onion from the ends that you would throw away, lettuce from the head of a lettuce, onion, sweet potato, the list is endless and, for most of these, you just put them in water and watch for root growth before planting in soil. A doddle!
Your vegetable patch can be your absolute pride and joy and you may want to keep it a utilitarian haven of rows of nutritious, beautiful, sustenance. That's all well and good, but they will actually do better with some flowers in the vicinity. Your plants will probably give off some flowers themselves, so don't fret if you've run out of space for the more exclusively aesthetic variants, but pollination of a lot of these vegetables is really important for keeping the generations coming and some flowers can help attract the insects that will make this happen.
There are some types of flowers that will help to deter pests too, if you're finding that a problem so, you can choose them purely for the way they look, or you can be more strategic about it and make them earn their keep, too. This works particularly well if you select a flower that attracts your pest, specifically, and plant it as far away from your crop as you can. We will not be outfoxed by some bugs!
Cosmos, marigolds, lavender, borage, and nasturtiums are beautiful and useful choices and some are edible too so make really pretty, impressive, garnishes when you're serving your wears to guests!
Have you been growing your own veg? Let us know and share your tips