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Beginner's Guide to Starting a Vegetable Patch

Whether you want to save money or get the kids to eat vegetables the creative way, edible gardening is becoming the thing to do. Only grow what you like to eat, don’t plant tons at once, and think about the cost effectiveness of what you plan to plant: onions are so cheap you might as well continue buying. Leeks are quite expensive and are easy, so a good choice. Aubergines, red peppers and sprouts for example, are for the dedicated growers.

Position

Sunny and sheltered is best – you may well have to give up a favoured sunbathing spot for your best plot – as sunshine ripens and sweetens all produce. If you need shade (for cut & grow salad leaves and strawberries for example), just cover with netting – this will stop birds getting to the strawberries before you too! Think about your water source, you don’t want to lug around watering cans too far. The plot doesn’t need to be enormous, start small, and you can always add another bed next year. Or go for an allotment.

Clear the ground

If you need to lift turf, cut sods and leave them somewhere upside down where they’ll compost and you can dig it back into your patch later. Hire a rotavator if you must get or roll up your sleeves and dig it over and remove stones. Most garden soil is fine for veggies, but if it’s thin – less than a spit (the length of your spade blade) – then build raised beds. You might want to build raised beds anyway – especially if your ground is too stony to clear. It might take some initial prep, but raised beds provide extra drainage, lift crops from shady areas, and are a good no-go line if you have dogs and/or kids. Use old scaffolding planks for raised beds, and don’t make them too wide: make sure you can reach the middle easily. If you’ve got lots of weeds or deep-rooted couch grass, then cover the ground black plastic or wet cardboard for a couple of weeks: the lack of light will do them in!

Soil improvement

Cultivate your soil before planting – you’ll need grit for clay soils, or if it’s chalky or sandy, you’ll need good organic matter. Buy top soil if necessary, because bagged compost won’t hold your veggies well enough. For future soil improvements, nail together scrap wood or buy a compost bin for all your grass cuttings, vegetable peelings, prunings etc. Remember, you need to access your compost from the bottom! Come autumn, stuff fallen leaves in old compost bags for more homegrown soil improver. And don’t plant the same crops on the same patch year on year, it’s best to rotate your patch.

What to grow

Once your ground is weed and stone free, well improved and watered, you’re ready to plant. Draw a plan for veg placings, and check the suitability of crop neighbours. Some pair well, others less so! Follow the seed packet timings exactly. Early seeding should be done in a greenhouse/sunny windowsill, but later you can seed directly into the ground. Stagger seeding and planting so you don’t plant (and harvest) too much of one crop at a time. Grow what you eat in the proportion you eat it in. Don’t try and grow everything! Here’s a tip, just plant one or two courgette plants – they are the gift that keeps on giving!

Salad for leaves and hearts. Go for a variety so you have a splash of colour in your bowl! And rocket too.

Kale, spinach and chard. Delicious and tender. Be careful of too much sun and beware of slugs!

Peas & beans. Use bamboo tripods for peas and climbing beans. Broad beans are an excellent early crop.

Carrots, parsnips, beetroots & radishes. Delicious and beets & radishes especially are fast growing. Parsnips are a great late crop!

Potatoes. Although these are well grown in containers.

Tomatoes. Again, these are well grown against a sunny wall in grow bags.

Herbs. If you don’t have a herb spiral or separate spot for them.

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