The growing popularity of sustainable living is inspiring more and more of us each day to begin growing our own crops. However, often due to space constraints, limited disposable income, or simply inexperience, many of us are hesitant about entering the seemingly complex world of grow your own.
Within this post, we will detail the necessary steps for successfully growing your own crops, applicable to every outdoor space, budget, and primed with beginners in mind.
Seeds and Planting
The most suitable seeds to sow will vary in accordance with the differing times of the year. If you wish to begin growing your own during January (indoors), early potatoes and broad beans will prove reliable options. With the assistance of a heated propagator, celery and rhubarb will additionally be worthwhile choices.
Similar to selecting the most appropriate seeds, the best method of their planting will depend on where you are within the year. We therefore encourage you to continue reading for some helpful advice.
Can I begin growing crops outside in January?
For planting this early in the year, initially ‘starting off’ your crops indoors is recommended. For this temporary period, your seeds are best planted into a mix of sieved compost from your garden, and peat-free compost. If you are unable to obtain the former ingredient, simply using peat-free compost will be sufficient.
When sowing your seeds into their containers, it is advised that you use 7.5 centimetre pots that are equipped with drainage holes. Please note, if you are planting broad beans, it is best to use a single container for each seed, and to make sure that the container is reasonably deep.
Each of your seeds should ideally be sown in rows that are well-distributed; this will enable each seedling to be easily watered, and transported when necessary.
It is no longer frosty outside, can I now begin planting?
A guide to adopt is if the soil in your garden is loose, fluffy, and relatively warm to the touch, you can now commence your planting. Ideal crops to plant at this time include parsnips, broad beans, onions, beetroot, carrots, peas, spinach, and turnips.
It is best to ensure that your seeds are planted in free-draining soil that is rich in organic matter, and experiences direct sun exposure for a minimum of half the day. Traditionally, March will consist of the first month of the year regarded appropriate for sowing seeds straight into your garden.
What is the easiest and most effective way to sow outside?
When sowing, there are various techniques that you can adopt; these include direct sowing, station sowing, and thinning.
The easiest method of growing your own crops is in the form of direct sowing, where your seeds will be planted directly into your garden, without necessitating an initial growing period in a greenhouse.
To enhance the outcome of your sowing activities, it is beneficial to sow two or three seeds together, and to space them a few centimetres away from another two or three seeds that have been collectively planted. Once the seeds have developed their first leaves, you can then select the most healthy appearing plant, and thin out the other saplings accordingly. From this approach, which is also referred to as ‘thinning’, you are maximising the chances of growing a hardy, fruitful crop, that will neither have to compete for light, water, or nutrients.
I don’t have a proper garden, can I still grow crops?
If your outdoor space is restricted, you can instead use a few containers, or a raised bed or two. It is preferred that you use the native soil from your garden to fill your beds or containers, however, if you are unable to do so, you can purchase nutrient-rich soil from your local garden center.
We sell a broad selection of affordable raised beds, available in a myriad of colours and sizes, available here:
Caring for your Crops
Once your seeds have been planted, it is important for their soil to be consistently moist. It is therefore recommended that you use a hose or watering can that releases a gentle stream of water. This will be achievable through an extremely fine nozzle.
Once your seedlings have become established and are exhibiting steady growth, your watering activities can be reduced. Although precise watering needs will vary for each crop, a general rule to abide by is to water them every ten to fourteen days, that is, if there has been no rainfall.
If your crops have initially been started off in a greenhouse, once each seedling has grown into a reasonable size, they should be placed outside in their containers for one to two weeks to harden off. When the soil is warm to the touch, your seedlings can then be planted into your garden, spaced six to nine inches apart.
Protect your Crops
Although we must value slugs and snails for providing food for our wildlife and recycling vegetative matter, your seedlings can be extremely vulnerable to these creatures. To mitigate this, it is advised that you resist planting your crops too early in the year, and to not over-water.
Assessing when your beloved crops are ready to be harvested can be rather puzzling. Size is never indicative of maturity, and whilst some plants can cope with their produce being partially harvested, others cannot.
A valuable guide to follow is if the ripest vegetables cannot be easily removed, they should be cut carefully with a knife.
Please read below for information surrounding the harvesting of all of the vegetables that have been detailed within this post.
Broad beans; These can be harvested when the beans become visible through their pod.
Peas; A good indicator of ripeness is when each pod appears well-filled.
Celery; Generally, your celery can be harvested between August and October. To mitigate the risk of disease, each stalk should be rescinded from its base with a sharp knife.
Rhubarb; The optimum time to harvest your rhubarb is when the stalks of their leaves are, or have, exceeded ten inches. Similar to celery, the stalks can again be rescinded from their base by a sharp knife.
Early potatoes; It is advised that you wait for their flowers to open, and their buds to drop. Once the tubers themselves have become the size of an egg, it is a positive sign that they can be harvested.
Parsnips; These crops can usually be harvested from the end of August until the end of January. A good indication of ripeness is once their foliage has begun to reduce.
Onions; Your onions can be harvested when the bulbs have achieved a large size and their apex has yellowed.
Beetroot; This crop can be harvested once the roots have exceeded the size of a golf ball. Your beetroot can be lifted from the ground by gently holding the foliage and simultaneously levering beneath the root with a fork.
Carrots; Although this is subject to variation depending on the type of carrot, if their shoulder ranges from half to three quarters of an inch in thickness, they can be harvested.
Turnips; A degree of subjectivity surrounds the harvesting of turnips. Whilst some prefer younger roots, others relish larger bulbs. A general guide to use is if the turnip has had its greens removed, if it has reached three inches in width, it is ready. For a turnip that still has its greens intact, if it has reached two inches, it can be harvested.
Spinach; Upon being sown, your spinach will typically be ready for harvest in 37 to 45 days, once a rosette of several leaves becomes apparent.