With the current pandemic forcing many of us to stay at home, there has been a surge in interest in growing your own food. Panic buying gave way to a certain type of dread over food stability and a concern about the quality of fresh food in the near future. Of course with many of our nearest and dearest coccooning for the foreseeable future, access to fresh fruit and vegetables has become limited. Growing your own vegetable garden is a solution that many arrived at in tandem and put pressure on gardening supply companies worldwide (us included).
The weather has typically been outstanding, creating the ideal circumstances for growing your own. Vegetable gardening is an inclusive endeavour and can be enjoyed by anyone with a bit of garden or a pot to grow in. There are many reasons to start gardening aside from creating a quick source of food, everyone I talk to finds their garden a most relaxing place and use it as much for recreation and exercise as for some meditative time. I myself really enjoy the fresh air and do not consider anything I have to do outside as work, I use the time for a little workout and to focus my thoughts and come up with super exciting article ideas for this blog.
Gardening for food can be as easy or as intensive as you make it and there are easier vegetables to grow with very little maintenance for those as yet unsure of their thumb's colour. Fortunately the very same principles apply to growing your own food during a pandemic as outside of one so we have put our heads together and come up with our list of tips to get you started.
1 - Think about your garden's location Plants are like people; they enjoy the sun and like to soak it up, and just like people some vegetables like more sun than others. You can check out our free plant database with all the relevant growing information for each type. Avoid areas of heavy foot traffic and make sure you have a water source as near as possible to your fruit and veg as carrying water can quickly become tiresome. This is something I tell everyone that rings up asking how to begin as I completely overlooked it when starting my own garden. Of course it doesn't have to be all about convenience, if one of the main reasons for setting up a garden is to get some fresh air and exercise then plant away from the house so you can get a walk in too.
2 - Make a list of your favourite vegetables This is a great idea if you want to get the most use out of your produce, make a quick list of your favourite fruits and vegetables. Add to that some staples that you find yourself using often (herbs, potatoes, etc.). After doing that make a short list of some that you want to try and grow or maybe have never heard of before. I am always trying to grow new and exciting varieties, as much for research for this incredible blog as for something new to try. This helps us to keep on top of our customer's queries and also be able to offer advice with some degree of knowledgeability.
3 - Start with a salad crop Like a good meal we always recommend starting with a salad. Salad crops are quite easy to grow compared to other vegetables. Starting with simple crops that don't suffer from many pests or diseases like salads, spring onions and beetroot will help ensure you can get a win under your belt the first time around. Salad crops have a great chance of first time success and will give you the skills and confidence you need to expand your gardening prowess. Most salads are relatively trouble free to grow and tend to perform well in our changeable climate
4 - Try growing in containers You don’t need a massive garden to grow delicious vegetables. Many fruit and vegetables can be grown in pots, planters, buckets or bags with great results. The smaller the container; the more likely it is to dry out, so use a good multi purpose compost if starting small, larger pots and planters should be filled with a soil and compost mix (about 60/40). Using the correct type of soil/compost with plant feed will yield as much as a traditional vegetable garden. Containers are readily available in any shape and colour imagineable, you can even very easily make your own out of almost anything that will hold soil.
5 - Try using raised beds If you have the space outside then raised beds are great if you want to start growing your own vegetables. They are far easier to look after than plants growing directly in the ground. They provide an easy height to work on, keep your vegetables away from foot traffic and pets, and also have improved drainage which is perfect for our wet summers. Raised beds have the versatility to be positioned on grass or on a hard surface and also look neater in the garden or in a polytunnel or greenhouse. These are also available in a wide variety of sizes and shapes to suit any growing needs.
6 - Start a herb garden Herbs are very easy to grow with most varieties being perfectly suited to growing in pots and containers. Some herb plants like Basil and Coriander need to be grown indoors or under cover in our climate but most will do just fine outside. Parsley, basil, tarragon, rosemary and thyme are all easy to grow with very little problems. Try keeping your herb garden close to the kitchen, this will produce a fresh fragrance that demands more cooking from scratch in the kitchen. I like to keep a small herb garden on the kitchen windowsill with some herbs that we cook with the most often. The flavour offered by such a small amount of these home grown plants makes them more than worth it.
7 - Grow Microgreens You can extend the season by growing your own microgreens indoors, they are very easy to grow and are extremely nutritious and healthy. Microgreens are young, tender, green vegetables that are harvested at the first or second leaf stage and used as a culinary ingredient. Because they are still quite young when harvested, microgreens contain very high reserves of energy and nutrients. They have up to 40 times the nutrient content and 6 times the vitamins of their fully grown counterparts. Most vegetables can be grown as microgreens but the brassica family are the most popular. These include cress, mustard, daikon radish, broccoli, cabbage, and any of the oriental salads like pak choi and tatsoi. Basil, dill, beetroot, peas, cilantro, rocket and mizuna can all be grown also. Microgreens are ideal for inclusion in soups, salads, and sandwiches, or for use as a garnish.
8 - Make your own compost Growing your own food will leave you with plenty of garden waste that can be re-used to feed your plants. Making your own compost is a practical, organic, and environmentally friendly way of both disposing of garden and kitchen waste and providing food for your plants. The nutritional requirements of fruit and vegetables are very high meaning you must constantly add new nutrient rich material to your soil. Making compost works by allowing the parts of the plants you don’t use to rot down naturally to produce a dark, crumbly material which can be added back to your garden to provide nourishment for new plants. Composting can be done in a simple compost heap or in a compost bin. The bin is a more effective method as it retains heat and speeds up the process.
9 - Start a wildlife garden I know, this isn't about growing food but I think it is just as important. A wildlife garden is for attracting and sustaining local wildlife and plants. The good news is this requires very little maintenance and provides huge rewards. Making your garden more nature friendly will create a safe space for wildlife such as; insects, frogs, butterflies, bees, birds, hedgehogs and more. Our modern, urban landscapes have been designed by and large to be less hospitable to all the animals and insects we rarely see. As our towns and cities expand and our roads widen, our gardens become increasingly important areas for wild animals to use either as a refuge or a thoroughfare. I have really enjoyed seeing images of foxes and rabbits returning to our streets over this past month of staying at home but I also can not wait until it is you and I out there.
10 - Have fun Vegetable gardening does not have to be a chore; it is a social activity that encourages gentle exercise and healthy eating. Harvesting beautiful crops that are the end result of all your efforts will easily bring a smile to your face and make the food so much more delicious. Failures in the vegetable garden can be disheartening and we all experience them, sometimes the conditions just work against you. Whatever happens don't be disheartened, just learn from what happened and use it to increase your chances next time.
Over the last few weeks of lockdown and worry, I have spent more time than usual out in the garden. I had to train myself to turn away from the news and stop looking for updates on my phone. Having quite a lot of plants and beds outside gave me the out I was looking for. I still check the news but have limited it to once in the morning and again briefly at night. Every minute I spend soaking up quarantine and virus related information I counter with about twice as much content that I personally enjoy (music, podcasts, and gardening). One surprising benefit of the last few weeks that leaves me with a smile on my face is the continued phone and message contact with friends and family that we never seemed to get right before. That coupled with my now immaculate garden leaves me feeling less helpless and more determined to come out the other side with an updated purpose. As always thanks for reading and let us know what you think in the comments.