Alice, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Vegetables

Growing your own vegetables can be a highly rewarding pastime. Not only does it produce a fresh supply of delicious, ripe vegetables, but it also reduces the need for plastic-wrapped supermarket produce, protecting the environment, and can be highly beneficial for your mental health. Some may be put off growing their own produce, thinking it’s difficult, expensive, or you need a large garden. However, virtually anyone can grow their own with the right tools, so here’s our guide on how to start a vegetable garden.

how to start a vegetable garden

Location

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t need a huge plot of land to grow your own food. If you live in a flat and don’t have your own garden, you can grow herbs or kale in pots on your windowsill, or small vegetable plants in window boxes. For smaller gardens or limited outdoor space, most vegetables can be grown in pots and containers. But if you’re yearning for extra growing space, an allotment could be a great solution, and you’d also get to meet other keen gardeners!

If you are starting your own vegetable plot, the best thing to do is start small so you are not overwhelmed; the maximum size should be 5×3 metres (16×10 feet). Choose a sunny location in a stable environment that isn’t prone to flooding, strong winds, or drying out. It’s also a good idea to plant in an area with soft, loamy soil if you can. A raised bed could be a good option if you have poor soil or difficulty bending down.

However, you don’t have to restrict yourself to planting in a designated vegetable plot. Edibles can look great when combined with ornamental flowers, so if you don’t have the additional space, try adding some brightly coloured lettuces, kale, or berries to your flowerbeds or borders. 

What To Grow

Once you’ve marked out where you are going to plant your vegetables, the next step is to decide what to grow. There are tonnes of possibilities so it can be hard to know where to start. A good place to begin is to think about what you would like to eat. Vegetable gardening is meant to be enjoyable, so grow produce you will enjoy eating and use a lot in your cooking. 

However, some vegetables are easier to grow than others, so if you’re still struggling on where to begin, here are some suggestions for beginners:

  • Tomatoes– quick to grow and their fruits can be used in a range of dishes. Bush varieties such as Red Cherry and Tumbling Tom are particularly versatile and don’t require training or side-shooting
  • Lettuce– grows quickly and can be harvested easily. The plants also take up little space, making them a great choice for smaller gardens. Our Salad Bowl Red & Green Lettuce seeds produce a mix of colours
  • Green beans– simple to grow and provide a tasty harvest. Choose from broad beans such as Masterpiece Green Longpod or french beans- the dwarf Tendergreen are a low-maintenance 
  • Radishes– a delicious addition to salads or stir-fries, and provide a continuous harvest all summer. French Breakfast are a tried and tested popular variety
  • Carrots– simple and fun to grow, and make a useful addition to your kitchen. The short roots of the Nantes variety make them easy to grow and quick to crop, and the Flyaway has been bred for carrot fly resistance
  • Courgettes– these plants are prolific and easy to grow from seeds. The All Green Bush variety produce crops all summer long that can be used as both marrows or baby courgettes

Getting started

Now you’ve got your vegetable patch sorted and chosen your seeds, it’s time for the fun part: growing. Here is how to get started.

Plant and harvest at the right time

Vegetables are typically planted in early spring and harvested in the summer, however each variety is different, so make sure to check the packets and plant at the correct times. If the weather is particularly cold for the season, you may need to keep plants indoors for longer or use a fleece or cloche.

Prepare the soil

Get the soil in tip-top condition before planting anything by removing weeds and large stones and digging in some fertiliser, compost, or well-rotted manure to provide a fertile growing space.

Space your crops properly

Plants spaced too closely together end up competing for sunlight, water, and nutrition and end up failing to grow. Make sure to follow the spacing recommendations on the packet to prevent this from happening.

Water

Growing plants will need regular watering, particularly during warm, dry weather. However, make sure the soil does not become waterlogged.

Pest control

Make sure to protect your plants from being destroyed by unwanted pests. If you do not wish to use a chemical pesticide, there are plenty of alternative methods available, including companion planting, using netting or fleece, or natural sprays

You can find out more in our full guide to how to grow crops.

What are you growing in your vegetable garden? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram.

Alice, Garden Design, Gardening, Gardens, Grow Your Own, How To, Planting

Fed up of bending over while you weed, or struggling to grow in poor-quality, claylike soil? A simple raised bed can offer an array of benefits to your garden, and thankfully, they’re not difficult or costly to build. Read on and discover how to build a simple raised bed, and you’ll be reaping the benefits in no time. 

how to build a raised bed

What is a Raised Bed?

A raised bed is a flowerbed or planting space that has been raised above ground level. It functions similarly to a large planter, however, it has no bottom or top; it simply consists of additional soil held in place by wooden plants, concrete blocks, or similar.

Which Plants Can You Grow in Raised Beds?

You can grow almost any type of plant in a raised bed, however, they are particularly useful for vegetables; soft fruits such as strawberries and raspberries; small trees and shrubs; herbaceous perennial cuttings; and ericaceous or lime-hating plants such as heather or rhododendrons. 

Benefits of Raised Beds

  • Reduces the need to bend; great if you have limited mobility
  • Great solution for gardens with limited space
  • Best solution for poor-quality or claylike soil
  • Improves soil drainage which increases soil temperature
  • Longer growing season
  • Option of matching soil to the plant type
  • Deeper soil enhances root health
  • Fewer weeds
  • Keeps plants out of the reach of pets and small children

How to Build a Raised Bed

how to build a raised bed

You will need:

  • Edging material. You can purchase a ready-made raised bed from our range, which will save you time and hassle. If you would rather make your own, material you can use for the edges includes wooden planks, concrete blocks, wattle, or logs
  • Soil, plus organic matter such as compost or manure
  • A garden spade
  • Wooden stakes, nails or screws, and a hammer, if you are using wooden planks or similar for the edging
  • Newspaper or cardboard, if you are setting your raised bed on grass
  • String (optional)
  • Bark chippings, paving, or grass, if you wish to create a path around or between beds
  • A tamper tool, if you are using concrete edging (optional)

Step 1: Mark your edges

The first thing to do is to plan where you are going to place your raised bed (or beds). Raised beds are usually rectangular or square, however feel free to experiment with different shapes as you see fit. Choose a sunny area and mark the edges of where each bed will be using string. Alternatively, if you are using wooden planks, you can use the boards to mark out the edges of the bed. 

Keep your beds below 1.5m (5ft) wide; it is not advisable to stand on the beds so keep the width to something you can reach across. It is also best to keep them less than 4.5m (15ft) long. If you are creating multiple beds, allow at least 60-90cm (2-3ft) for wheelbarrow access. In regards to height, allow at least 25-35cm (10-14in) to accommodate strong roots, although they can be up to waist height to allow maintenance without bending over.

Step 2: Build the sides

Next, you need to fix the sides of your raised bed into place. If you are using a ready-made raised bed, this is pretty straightforward as all you need to do is follow the instructions for easy installation. If you are making one yourself using wood, insert stakes 30-45cm (12-18in) into the ground at the corners, then at least every 1.5m (5ft). Nail the planks to the stakes using nails or screws and a hammer; set the lowest board 5cm (2in) below ground level. 

If you are using concrete blocks, make sure to level the ground beforehand by removing the grass if it is uneven and using a tamper tool if desired. Make sure to place cardboard over any remaining grass under the blocks to prevent it growing into the beds.

Step 3: Prepare the ground

The next stage is to prepare the ground ready to create a raised bed. If you are building your bed over grass, line the bottom with sheets of cardboard or newspaper and wet it thoroughly. Ensure any staples are removed from the cardboard. If you are building the bed directly onto soil, dig the ground deeply, adding as much manure or compost as you can. If your soil is poorly draining, add a layer of course gravel, hardcore, or stones. If your bed is deeper than 50cm (20in) remove the top layer of soil and replace with subsoil, rubble or old inverted turves. 

Step 4: Fill in the soil

The final step to creating your raised bed is to fill your newly-created space with soil. Fill with a mixture of topsoil, compost, and organic matter such as manure, to create a nutrient-rich environment for your plants to grow in. You can adapt the soil to the types of plants you wish to grow, for example filling the beds with acid soil to grow ericaceous (lime-hating) plants. 

Once filled, allow the soil to settle for two weeks before planting. Soil in raised beds can dry out more quickly, so make sure to water frequently. 

Step 5 (optional): Build a garden path

A garden path can improve access and create a tidy look, particularly if you have more than one raised bed in succession. If you desire, you can use bark chippings, paving, or grass to create a path around or in between your raised beds. You can keep the edges tidy using flexible edging if necessary. 

 

Raised beds take a bit of setting up, however they can be done so inexpensively and without a huge amount of time and hassle. Before you know it, your plants will have a great home with improved drainage and quality soil, and you’ll have less bending down to do to reach them!

Looking to use your raised bed to grow vegetables? make sure to check out our guide to how to grow crops.

What are you growing in your raised bed? Let us know on Twitter, Facebook, or Instagram!

Dakota Murphey, Gardening Year, How To

self sufficient gardening

Homesteading is a growing trend in the UK, as rising energy prices and a changing climate encourage families to rethink their way of life.

For some, becoming more self-sufficient is about saving money and living within their means. Others relish the opportunity to get back in touch with nature, and transform practical skills and hobbies into a sustainable lifestyle. Self-reliance can also help environmentally-conscious families to reduce their carbon footprint, and provide endless hands-on lessons for children of all ages.

Whatever your reasons for becoming more self-sufficient, and regardless of how much space or experience you have, these six steps will help you on your way.

1. Preparing your Home

Before embarking on your journey to self-sufficiency, make sure that your home is fit for the ride. Getting a professional EPC (Energy Performance Certificate) for your home will give you an indication of how well-insulated it is, and whether there are any immediate steps you can take to improve its condition. Double or triple glazing will prevent substantial heat loss, and upgrading the insulation in your walls, floors and roofs will go a long way to maximising the efficiency of your home.

Use technology to your advantage. Replace traditional bulbs with LEDs throughout your home, and invest in smart plugs and timers so you can easily control your electronics when they’re not in use.

2. Generating Energy

The biggest leap to becoming self-sufficient is managing your own energy supply. The up-front costs of off-grid equipment are usually quite significant, but considering you can recoup your costs within around 8 years, it can be worthwhile if you’re in it for the long run.

Solar panels and wind turbines both offer clean and inexpensive energy, with start-up costs setting you back between £3,000 to £8,000. While both systems will work fine in the UK, you will need to make a much larger investment before you can rely on them as your sole energy generator. Instead, consider them a boost to your mains supply, helping to lower your costs and reduce your strain on the system.

solar panels

Complement your electricity supply with a heating fuel you can control, like wood or oil. Growing trees for biofuel will provide you for a self-sustaining energy source for life, but isn’t practical for every homestead. Oil does leave you dependent on a supplier, but you will have a reliable fuel to fall back on throughout the year, and can easily monitor and control your consumption. The safest way to install an oil tank is to speak to a professional installer, like SG Tanks, who can help you choose the best storage options for your needs.

3. Reduce, Reuse and Recycle

It’s a familiar adage, and for good reason. Habitually reducing, reusing and recycling the things you use will reap benefits for your home, wallets and the planet.

When you’re shopping, try to be more conscious of buying products with less packaging, resisting the urge to over-purchase and limiting the amount of disposable goods you choose. Before you throw something in the bin, consider whether it could be donated or sold instead. Or perhaps it could simply be washed and reused for something else? Worn out garments make great cleaning rags, and most non-recyclable food packaging can be used as storage containers. All biodegradable waste should go into a compost bin or heap, ready to use for fertiliser on your plants. The goal is to let as little go to landfill as possible, and make the items you buy (new or second-hand) work harder for your home.

recycle symbol

4. Growing Your Own

The easiest step in the direction of self-sufficiency is to start growing your own produce. You don’t need a lot of space or skill to get started, and the British climate is perfect for cultivating a multitude of fruits and veggies to supplement your shop-bought food.

Tomatoes, peas and strawberries are the perfect place to start, and as your thumbs get greener you can move on to more challenging crops. Brush up on your veggie seasons to make sure your supplies are steady all year round, and calculate how much room each plant will need. Herbs can be kept on a windowsill and strawberries in pots on the balcony, but you’ll need a sizeable patch of gardens to grow potatoes.

When your harvest gets larger than you can eat, start preserving them into jams and chutneys, selling them or trading them with friends and neighbours.

home grown vegetables

5. Talk to the Animals

Just like flora, choosing which fauna to cultivate will depend on your existing skills and how much space you have to rear and graze them. The key to successfully keeping animals is to start small, and build up the variety as your mastery develops.

Chickens are a good place to start, and can provide both eggs and meat with relatively little maintenance. If you don’t have quite enough room for a brood, quails are a smaller alternative. Similarly, a few cows can keep you stocked with milk and cheese, but so will goats if your garden is small.

Whichever animals you choose, make sure they are kept safe from free-roaming predators. Coops, fencing and a guard dog will be a worthwhile investment.

6. Helping Yourself

The last step is perhaps the most important, which is learning the practical skills to keep your home ticking over. Most people can manage a bit of flatpack furniture and turning the oven on, but for a truly self-sufficient lifestyle, you’ll need to learn a lot more.

First and foremost, is understanding how to look after your crops and animals, if you choose to farm any. Next, you should be able to manage your energy supply and make any basic repairs that the system requires – you don’t want to be learning this last minute when your boiler breaks or fireplace clogs up. Other incredibly useful skills include first aid, sewing techniques, and learning to cook nutritious meals using your own harvests. Any practical hobbies you already have can certainly be used to your advantage in sustainable living, and what better way to enjoy them?

There is no quick and easy route to self-sufficiency. It takes a lot of patience, and practice, and you will question your decisions more than once along the way! Just remember your reasons for doing it, and how satisfying it will be when you finally reap the rewards for your efforts.

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.

Allotment, Dakota Murphey, Gardening, Grow Your Own, Planting

Growing your own food is not only the obvious answer to lowering food miles and a cheap way to produce tasty fruit and vegetables for your own kitchen, it’s also a growing (!) hobby for many people. In fact, having raised beds in your garden or taking on an allotment on the edge of town can be one of the most rewarding things you will ever do.

Vegetable gardening
We’ve come up with 7 compelling benefit of growing your own – and no doubt you can probably add a few more of your own.

1. Improve your mental and physical health

According to the National Allotment Society (NAS), ½ hour’s allotment gardening burns around 150 calories. That’s about the same as low impact aerobics, but with the added benefits of fresh air and working with the land.

What’s more, a vegetable patch or allotment can be your haven, somewhere to escape to from the hassles of everyday life. Just spending a few hours pottering around in the garden is a great natural stress reliever.

2. Discover the community spirit

Whether you have an allotment or a few vegetable beds at home, you’re not alone! There’s a whole movement of people discovering the joys of Grow Your Own. Why not get to know your fellow gardeners, meet up at Seed and Plant Swaps, share your interests and trade handy tips and tricks – and make new friends.

Vegetable gardeners are a friendly folk, always willing to give advice to newcomers, which is invaluable for learning the ropes.

Vegetables from the garden

3. Learn something new

Learning about the different varieties of fruit and veg and how to grow them in your soil is a process that never ceases to be exciting. Read around the subject, share any problems with the rest of the gardening fraternity and ask the old guard for gardening advice, then use trial and error to see what you can achieve.

If you can involve your children or grandchildren and pass on your skills and enthusiasm for allotment gardening to them, so much the better. It’s a great way to help children understand where food comes from.

4. Reap bountiful rewards

There’s a huge sense of personal achievement in growing a fruit or vegetable from seed in your garden or allotment, knowing exactly where it’s come from, how it’s grown and what it’s been treated with.

But surely the real beauty of growing your own is that the fruits of your labour are tangible – and you can eat them! There can’t be many more directly rewarding activities than harvesting your home grown veg, then create and serve up delicious dishes in your kitchen.

Home growing

5. Wow your taste buds

It is a (sadly surprising) fact that most of us only come to realise how delicious fresh fruit and veg can taste when we compare our home grown produce with mass produced supermarket foods. Once you’ve tasted the difference, there’s no going back.

Harvested fresh from the ground, potatoes and carrots taste more earthy, tomatoes plucked straight from the vine have a richer flavour, while sweetcorn cooked straight after picking tastes incredibly sweet.

6. Save money

Not only are home grown fruit and veg much tastier than their shop bought equivalents, they’re better quality and cheaper too. With some careful planning and regular gardening exercise (which will make your gym membership redundant), you can feed the whole family with fresh produce for most of the year.

Also, rather than hunting down unusual ingredients in the supermarkets and pay through the nose for them, why not grow new and different varieties yourself? For the price of a packet of seeds (try Seed Parade), you can try delicious Japanese radishes or Chinese artichokes, Red Russian Kale or Purple French Beans or any of thousands of other fabulous varieties out there.

Home grown produce

7. Help the environment

According to the NAS, even 1 square metre of land is enough to support hundreds of different wildlife species. Your ‘grow your own’ efforts will help to create the right habitat for bees and other wildlife to thrive, without which our ecosystem will deteriorate, crop yields will decrease and our planet will suffer as a result.

If you have the space, why not incorporate a wildflower meadow into your garden, add a pond, a beehive or a chicken coop?

Dakota Murphey

Dakota Murphey is an independent content writer who regularly contributes to the horticulture industry. She enjoys nothing more than pottering around her gardening in the sunshine. Find out what else Dakota has been up to on Twitter, @Dakota_Murphey.