Before you start, it’s important to make a plan. Decide which areas of the garden you’d like to set aside for growing produce and which spaces you’d like to keep for other more ornamental or lower maintenance plants. One critical consideration is how much time you can devote to tending an edible garden. If your time is limited, then start with a small productive area while you become accustomed to the challenges involved. As your experience grows you can allocate more space to edible crops.
Choose a very sunny spot. Apart from a few crops like strawberries or salads, most will grow healthier, stronger and more productively if they’re exposed to sun for most of the day.
The soil is very important and it will determine the types of crops you choose –and, more importantly, their vigour! Before you plant anything, remove any weeds and add organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure to your soil. This improves your soil’s texture and ability to retain water, as well as making it easier for your plants’ roots to access the nutrients in the soil.
If your soil is very stony, shallow or heavy don’t be put off. You can grow most types of vegetable or fruit in pots, which is especially useful when you’re choosing a sunny spot or if your ground soil is poor. You could make a raised bed from non-creosote sleepers or install a readymade version and fill it with part topsoil, part compost. Alternatively, try a patio pot with a nectarine, apple, cherry, peach, pear or plum tree.
Consider vertical growing too. Some vegetables like runner beans and climbing French beans will need to climb with supports. You can position a fig or grape trellis against a south-facing wall. Herbs like oregano, sage or chives and salad leaves will grow brilliantly in a living wall structure fixed to a wall, fence or shed, as long as they have enough light and water.
Decide whether you’ll have time to water by hand or if you’ll need to install an irrigation system. If your budget can stretch to it, a timed irrigation system is ideal. It will deliver water just where and when it’s needed while you get on with other jobs - or sit back and relax!
Sit down with your family and choose which fruit and veg you’d like to eat. Also consider what’s expensive to buy in the shops – if you could grow it yourself you could make healthy savings.
Aim for a crop to harvest every season, to make the most of your productive areas. When you start out, choose varieties which either grow quickly or have a high yield, so you feel rewarded and motivated. You could try courgettes, curly kale or butternut squash. Or use the same space in succession – plant early peas, then when they’re harvested plant leeks; or Red Karmen onions then Perpetual spinach; or broad beans then spring cabbage. If your space is limited, you could try some of the many dwarf varieties available now, like dwarf French Beans or dwarf peas.
1. Choose a Tumbling Tom
A tomato is a great starter crop – it forms a trailing, low maintenance plant that doesn’t need any training or staking. Instead it literally ‘tumbles’ out of hanging baskets or tall pots laden with tasty, little cherry tomatoes. Make sure you put it where it will get the most sun and water it daily to make sure the soil never dries out. Plant it with French marigolds to deter whitefly or with herbs basil, chives or mint to deter aphids and other pests.
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2. Utilise your windowsill
Even if the only space you have available is a small windowsill, you can still grow something edible. Try a selection of fresh herbs for picking and cooking like the Herb Pack Kitchen Favourites. It includes an interesting, colourful and great-tasting collection with Purple Sage, Lemon Thyme, Oregano Gold, Variegated Mint, Bronze Fennel and Silver Thyme. Or you could try the Windowsill Salad trough planter with salad leaves including Lollo Ross, Lollo Bionde and Red Salad Leaf.
3. Create a microclimate
If your soil is quite heavy or doesn’t warm up quickly in the spring you can extend your growing season by investing in a cold frame. Made of timber and glass it creates a microclimate by sheltering plants from wind, while letting the sun warm the air temperature within the cold frame. They’re especially good for sowing seeds earlier than you could outdoors and giving you an earlier crop. If you have a warm wall you could try a wall greenhouse to give you more space for seed trays - or go for a freestanding greenhouse if you have the space.
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4. Consider companion planting
Companion planting is all about putting plants together in a community to benefit each other. It can be used as an organic way to deter pests, attract pollinating insects to improve the yield, or provide the right conditions for shade loving crops. It also looks very beautiful because it mixes fruit and veg with ornamental flowers. Plant nasturtiums beside cauliflower, curly kale or cabbage – the pests will eat the nasturtiums and leave you to enjoy the harvest! Sow spring onions beside your carrots – the strong smells deter carrot root fly from carrots and onion fly from the onions – win-win!
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5. Keep pests under control
Pests like slugs, snails and aphids may wreak havoc in your veg patch overnight. It can be demoralising, but don’t give up. Deal with them by using the companion planting method, removing them manually or trying some organic deterrents or pesticides. Start straight away – slugs and snails particularly like the young, tender shoots and your plants won’t stand a chance! You could also try beer traps sunk into the soil or copper tape around the rim of raised beds.
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6. Save yourself some time
Don’t feel you must start from scratch by sowing seeds every time – instead try planting young plants to give you a head start. If you’re short of time they’re a great way to avoid the stage of sowing, weeding, watering and thinning out before you get to the young plant stage. You could try cauliflower, leeks or Little Gem lettuce. They come in a little tray of six baby plants ready to be replanted. Find your local store to discover our full range of plants.
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7. Encourage helpful visitors
Try to attract beneficial wildlife into your garden and it will kill the pests for you. If you’re lucky enough to have a hedgehog visit your garden it will eat the slugs and snails. Try to encourage one with a hedgehog house and access in and out of your garden. If there’s water nearby it will attract frogs, toads and newts that will feast on slugs, snails and weevils too. Attract birds with nesting boxes and bird food to pick off aphids and caterpillars. Our native ladybird will eat greenfly and blackfly from your crops. Take a look at our wildlife advice for more on how to welcome nature into your garden.
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8. Make the most of your space
Traditionally crops were grown in rows, ideally north to south, but now you can grow crops any way you like. In fact, the old style is very labour intensive in that there’s a gap between rows that you need to keep clear of weeds. Instead try sectioning your area into squares and grow one variety in each square. If you only have a small space here and there, just plant your produce in containers and put them where you can. When you buy your seeds, store them in a box divided into months. When a space comes up, choose seeds from the correct month and sow them in pots to fill the gaps.
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9. Inspire the kids
Try to get the whole family involved in your edible project. Children love watching the magic of growing plants and are more likely to enjoy eating fresh fruit and vegetables they’ve grown themselves. To get them started and keep them interested try some quick and reliable crops from the Kids EasyGrow Range. It includes beans, pumpkins and carrots. Or try growing irresistible strawberries in a patio planter. If you have the space give your children their own patch to tend, or just to play in while you’re tending to the more tender crops.
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10. Keep your crops hydrated
You’ll need to water your fruit and vegetables regularly to sustain their growth – and feed them too if they’re in containers. Rainwater is best for plants, so try to find a place for a water butt in your garden. It should be near a roof (either house or shed) with guttering to collect the watering and a pipe leading to the water butt. Ideally this could be rigged to your automatic water system but if not, choose one with an easily accessible tap that you can easily fit your watering can underneath. You may have to raise it off the ground. When watering, ‘little and often’ is a good mantra.
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