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Reap What You Sow

Looking at ways we could save money on our daily essentials has never been more important, from heating bills to the food shop, and the green-fingered among us even taking to growing their own produce at home to help reduce costs.

The trend for growing your own produce either at home or on an allotment has seen a resurgence like no other. Families have thrived on the health and financial benefits that come with planting, nurturing and harvesting their own mini-crops. Not only is growing your own food more nutritious and organic, as long as you avoid the use of man-made fertilisers, pesticides, growth regulators and livestock feed additives, but it is also great for the environment and entirely satisfying.

Growing your own food means you can have complete control over how it’s done and because you pick and eat it almost straight away, it has a much more nutritional value.

Not sure it is for you? We asked the gardening experts at The Greenhouse People (greenhousepeople.co.uk) to shed some light
on common concerns related to growing your own produce, so there is no excuse for not getting involved!

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CAN’T GROW, WON’T GROW

1. “I don’t have space”
“It’s a common misconception you need acres of land to grow your own fruit and veg. However, it’s remarkable how many delicious plants you can grow in small spaces – you just need to choose wisely and get creative. Decide what to grow based on what you like eating, what’s expensive to buy in supermarkets and what doesn’t need a large amount of space.

“Legumes (runner beans, broad beans, French beans and peas), squashes and pumpkins are perfect for smaller areas, as they make use of vertical space. Salad leaves, herbs and tomatoes grow well on balconies, and windowsills, and cost a fraction of the supermarket price. But don’t get too carried away – plants don’t like being over-crowded!”

2. “I’m horticulturally hopeless”
“If you’re not lucky enough to have inherited any gardening wisdom, don’t fret. Try starting with fool-proof fruits such as strawberries, raspberries and blackberries. Just make sure to water them during any dry spells and cut them back to ground level before winter. Most seed companies also sell packets of mixed salad leaves in a variety of shapes and colours to wow your dinner guests.

“The internet is a great resource for gardening newbies, but being faced with millions of pages can be overwhelming. To narrow it down, prioritise UK-based sites as they will have the most relevant information about seasonal weather, native pests and locally available products.”

3. “I’m too time-poor”
“Contrary to popular belief, growing your own can actually save you time, as when you need spring onions to top off a salad or thyme for your Sunday roast, you won’t need to pop out to the shops.

“If you have a suitable outside area, consider growing squashes, courgettes and cucumbers. These super-performers will keep yours and even your friends’ kitchens stocked with minimal time investment.”

4. “I can’t because I rent”
“Whilst a landlord might be opposed to you taking a shovel and digging up the garden, don’t rule out growing your own. Non-permanent container gardens – tubs, pots and barrels – offer the perfect compromise, as well as window boxes or hanging baskets. Why not mix in edible flowers to brighten up your outside space which can also be used as pretty garnishes.

“If you’re keen to make the most of your rental property’s garden by creating a vegetable patch or installing a greenhouse, speak to your landlord and explain your plans. Often a well looked after and functional garden can add value to a property and appeal to future tenants.”

5. “My garden doesn’t get enough sun”
“Most plants need a high input of sun which can be a struggle for urban dwellers.

However, varieties of fruit that are naturally tart do not need great exposure to sunlight to develop their sweetness. Try currants, gooseberries, blackberries and sour cherries.
“There are some simple things you can do to encourage more light into your outside space. Cut back any overgrown bushes, use reflective mulch to bounce light onto plant leaves, or move your containers morning and early evening to chase the sun.”

Ready to get started? Here are our top tips for growing your own.

GROWING YOUR OWN: THE BASICS

Where to grow
The easiest way to grow herbs, fruit and vegetables is in a garden, greenhouse or in an allotment, it really depends on what and how much you want to grow. You just need soil – whether in the ground or in a bed – in which to plant the seeds. But don’t be put off if you don’t have this space, you can grow vegetables in window boxes, pots and grow bags too.

You ideally want to position vegetables in an area that has a lot of sunshine. But be prepared to create some shade for other types of produce like salad and strawberries for example.

If you would prefer to find space on a local allotment, make sure it is easily accessible for you and that it is family-friendly if you decide to bring along children. Check to see if the plot you are choosing has a water supply nearby and that it is not overly shaded as this will all affect the success of your growing adventure.

The health of your soil is going to make a huge difference to the outcome of your crops. You can add compost to help to make your soil fertile enough for good growth. But be careful what compost you choose – there are organic composts, which are made without nasty fertilisers, available at most garden centres.

What to grow
While you may have wild ideas about the different types of vegetables you want to grow in your new plot, there are things
to consider before jumping right in with the seeds for a Balsam Pair or Chinese Artichoke crop!

Think about the space that you have as this will ultimately dictate your decision. As will the length of time it takes to grow and the amount you wish to produce.

The simplest things to grow as a beginner would be: salad leaves, courgettes, potatoes, tomatoes and beans. Make garden centres your best friend; you’ll find inspiration, expert advice and all the products you need to get going and maintain your new patch.

Beating the nasties
Weeds and bugs will hinder your growing process, but there are a few things you can do to combat this. Make sure the soil you are working with is completely clear of weeds before you start, and keep on top of maintenance in the area to ensure new weeds do not encroach on your patch. You can actually cultivate your soil now and cover it over so that you can sow a little earlier, but make sure you get rid of any weeds that have germinated during this time before you go!

Clearing plots and beds of weeds also helps in beating bugs like slugs and snails, where they tend to cling. Be aware of what is in close proximity to your growing area – if the surrounding flower beds or grass attract slugs and snails, it is likely they will make it to your produce at some point too.

If you can, covering young plants is a good way to ward off bugs and pests. Consider using a cold frame; some plants like tomatoes will benefit from being grown in a greenhouse. You don’t need a huge glass building in your garden, though – there are also smaller, mini-greenhouses that are suitable and don’t take up much floor space at all.

When to grow
Easy growing veggies like salad leaves, spring onions and radishes all do best when planted in summer, as do more challenging crops like butternut squash and cabbages, but there are plenty of seeds to sow in spring too!

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