The Good Life
It can be fun to grow your own fruit and veg – whatever outside space you have
Whether it’s to have fun with the kids, to save money, or just for the hell of it, a new survey by Appliances Direct reveals that more than half of us Brits have grown our own fruit and veg at some point.
If you fancy giving it a go but are worried you don’t have enough space, or don’t know where to start, here’s our beginner’s guide to turning (some of) your outside space into a food patch.
If you really are limited for space, don’t despair – you can still have a go at growing something!
Choose a nice bright, sunny windowsill with at least five hours of sun a day. Next, choose the biggest pots you can fit on there – any container will do as long as it’s big enough; try wooden boxes or metal tins.
For salad leaves, such as rocket or baby spinach, your pot will need to be at least 20cm deep and 15cm across. Carrots and beans need at least 30cm depth. Beans will also need a cane to grow up.
Pack the bottom of the pot with stones and pebbles for drainage, then add compost. Plant your seeds and then water at least every couple of days, feed every couple of weeks, and wait!
If you have a small outside area, such as a balcony or a roof terrace, you’ll still need to grow your fruit and veg in pots, but you’ll have a bit more space and therefore choice. Follow the same instructions as above.
Alternatively, you can buy some growing bags. You can grow carrots, courgettes or green beans in a bag in the same way as pots, and keep well watered.
For small gardens, again either stick to pots and bags or choose a section to plant in. Choose the sunniest spot, then dig it over, removing weeds and as many stones as you can. Make sure you dig at least one spade-depth down, then add compost and dig it through.
Plants need enough space to grow, so don’t be tempted to overplant or nothing will grow. For example, a row of salad leaves needs at least 20cm around it and be spaced at least 10cm apart, carrots need 35cm between rows, while courgettes will need up to a metre around each plant – they’ll soon fill the space!
If you fancy growing beans then plant near a wall or fence, so you can train them up using canes or a trellis which should be at least 2m high. Most varieties don’t need feeding if you’ve used compost.
What should I grow?
This is partly down to personal taste, of course, but some vegetables and fruits are easier to grow than others. Try these to start with:
Salad leaves, such as spinach, grow easily. Sow them in the summer and harvest them a few weeks later. Loose leaf varieties grow quicker than hearted lettuces.
Radishes are really simple. Plant at least four weeks after the last frost and harvest a month later.
Potatoes will grow anywhere – you can even grow them in a bag or bucket. Simply half-fill the bag or pot then plant the potatoes with eyes. When they start to shoot, cover the shoots with more compost and keep watering them. Repeat while the foliage grows, and once the foliage dies back – usually about a month after planting – they’re ready to eat.
Sow between March and April and harvest them two to three months later. They’ll need to be supported by canes, but they do grow easily and taste delicious!
These are harvested eight weeks or so after sowing and can be grown in the ground or in pots.
These need to be sown early, ideally between December and March, and are picked from June onwards. Sow them into pots until they turn to seedlings which can take around two to three weeks, or plant them straight out. When they’re about 3” tall, pinch off the top leaves to encourage more growth.
If you have enough space, runner beans will give you a good crop. Sow them between April and July, and pick two months later. They’ll need to be trained up a cane or a wall, and make sure you pick them when they’re ready as they’ll keep coming!
Onions and garlic
Super-easy, even if you’re really short of space! Plant these in the spring to harvest in late autumn. They’re ready to pick when the foliage dies back and will keep for months, dried out and stored in a cupboard.
These are great to grow with kids, as they love picking the super-sweet tomatoes from the vine. Plant between February and April, either in pots, bags or even hanging baskets if you have a small variety. Just keep them regularly watered for a bumper crop.
Sow seeds indoors from the end of April, ideally under glass or plastic. Plant seedlings outside from late May in pots or the garden but leave them plenty of space – around a metre all round or one seedling per pot. Plant into holes filled with compost and sprinkled with fertiliser. Water regularly, feed every 10-14 days once the fruits start to develop and pick regularly to ensure a regular crop – when they’re around 10cm long. You should get courgettes every week from July.
These can be planted in pots, the ground or hanging baskets. Line a 35cm basket with polythene and add some drainage holes, then add compost. Plant in four strawberry plants and water well. Hang in a warm, sunny spot, and feed once the flowers start to appear. Strawberries should begin to grow after around six weeks.
Top three rules
- Pick a sunny spot – at least five hours of sun a day
- Make sure you give the plants enough space to grow
- Water, water, water!