Growing your own food is not as difficult as you might think. Firstly, you don’t have to be an expert gardener (or have any gardening experience), secondly you don’t need to have a big garden or a greenhouse, and thirdly, if you’re using grow bags, pots, or raised beds of a suitable depth (i.e. deep enough for the crops you have chosen) it doesn’t matter if your natural garden soil is poor quality or difficult to work with.
Ben and I recently bought our first house. Having rented flats for many years, one of the things I was most excited about was having my own garden for the first time ever! As a vegetable lover, with a love for the outdoors, it had always been my dream to grow my own food. With no prior experience of gardening, and only an averaged-sized plot, I jumped straight in with both feet, and resolved to grow all my crops from seed. I picked up most of my seeds in discount shops such as Pound shops and Aldi, and had a spending splurge in the Wilkinsons gardening department – picking up a range of seed trays, pots, gloves, and compost.
As a complete beginner, I wasn’t expecting to get much back. I’d read a few gardening magazines, flicked through a few books, and had become convinced that either my seeds wouldn’t germinate, that the seedlings would die or that the plants would die before yielidng anything – having become infested by pests or over-run with disease (especially since I didn’t want to use any pesticides or fungicides). However, I knew that the only way I could learn would be by doing, and I thought the quicker I got started, the quicker I could learn and improve. I therefore set to work on the garden right away, so I could make of use the first growing season in my new house. It transpired to be a great way to escape all the renovations that were taking place indoors!
Since my soil is pretty much solid clay I bought put two 4 ft x 6 ft x 12″ raised beds and positioned them in the middle of the lawn. These were then filled with a mix of top soil, compost and special Zoo Poo compost produced by Paignton Zoo and available from my local city council. My seeds were either germinated directly in the raised bed, or in unheated propogators on my windowsills. Since I don’t have a green house, eventually every windowsill in the upstairs of my house was fully occupied by seedlings and young plants. As they grew bigger and needed repotting, the volume of plants just increased and increased! Watering became a big part of my daily routine – and continued to be so for the next few months! All my mature plants were grown either in the raised beds, in pots, in grow bags, or in compost bags.
The results eventually paid off, and I ended up with masses of produce, including homegrown cherry tomatoes, runner beans, chard, cauliflower, garlic, little gem lettuces, round lettuces, spring onions, carrots, climbing beans, beetroot, potatoes and mini peppers. In fact I barely had to purchase any vegetables during the summer. Not everything was a success – my brocolli and chard flowered prematurely (bolted), and my strawberries all got eaten by slugs. But overall, it was a great experience, and it really made me feel like I had achieved something!
The biggest success was the runner beans, and I’d definitely recommend these as a good crop for a gardening beginner and/or someone with limited growing space. The harvest per square metre for these was amazing – I grew 14 plants and we were eating large portions of runner beans 3 or 4 times a week (and giving lots away) for about 4 months! Fortunately runner beans are one of my favourite vegetables, so I didn’t get sick of them – although saying that, I haven’t even considered buying runner beans since my plants died back at the end of October!
Is there anything I’d do differently if I were to grow my own again? Definitely! I plan to scale back a bit this year and try not to keep hold of every surviving seedling. Last year I ended up with more than ten mature cherry tomato plants (even having given some away) which was far too many considering that Ben won’t eat tomatoes! I’d also like to plan ahead more carefully next time, to make sure I fully optimise the use my available space, and perhaps stagger the sowing of things like lettuces a bit more, so that they don’t all mature at the same time.
If you don’t grow your own already – I’m hoping that this will show you that it’s worth a try! The great thing about the internet-age, is that if you have any questions – there’s sure to be a website or online expert that can give you the answer! I found the Gardener’s World website and forum to be a particularly good source of expert advice. Otherwise I just followed instructions on seed packets – they usually tell you most of what you need to know. It’s really not as difficult as most people assume it to be. Give a try – it’s great fun, healthy, rewarding, and should save you a bit of money in the long run!