If someone had told the former me that I would be a bit of a ‘green-fingered’ grow your own-er, I would have laughed in their face. I’ve always loved being in the garden but being in someone else’s perfectly preened outdoor space on a lounger with a Mojito.
I certainly couldn’t have given a rats arse about a veggie patch! I remember walking past the allotment after school (many moons ago) and thinking why do you old folk stand out here and grow carrots when you can go to the supermarket and pick up a bag for 60p!!!??!! I always figured they had nothing better to do.
Same goes for Vegans. Anyone who was Vegan at school, I assumed they were being mistreated by their parents. Now it’s trendy.
I started growing our fruit and veg in pots, which works perfectly fine, but when Beard landscaped our garden, I begged and pleaded for a little spot for the family patch. Reluctantly he agreed. If you are thinking of starting one? Here is how…
1. You’ll want to choose a particularly sunny spot for your crops so choose wisely.
Next, create your plot. Our veggie patch is made from railway sleepers in a square. We used 8 sleepers, 2 high for our vegetable patch but you can choose what works for you as there are alternative options.
2. Next, layer your veggie patch. To do this moisten the grass or soil. Then layer newspaper or cardboard around 3-5 sheets thick. This will act as a natural weed barrier, but be sure not to use the glossy magazine style sheets as they will not break down.
3. The following layer is straw – approximately 20cm deep. However, be sure NOT to use hay, because the seeds will germinate and you’ll be growing grass amongst your vegetables, which will eventually take over the plot.
4. Over the top of the straw add 20cm of compost. A suitable vegetable nutrient-rich soil is preferred.
5. Now scatter organic chicken manure to ensure your soil is rich in nitrogen. Nitrogen is vital for yielding a good crop, so ensure it is organic. Refer to the instructions for how much to use as they can vary slightly depending on which brand you purchase.
6. Add another thinner layer of straw over the compost and Chicken Manure.
7. Again, another 20cm of compost
8. I like to save up grass cuttings – you’ll need quite a few bags, and it can get a bit smelly, but this really does make a great substance for top quality soil as it breaks down, so add a good thick layer.
9. On top of the compost and/or grass cuttings, sprinkle a mixture of Fish Blood and Bone meal fertiliser. This fertiliser is a good source of nutrients providing your crops with a healthy root structure.
10. Finally, top up with more Vegetable Compost and voila, the scene is set!
I like to grow my crops from seeds because I find it really important for children to see where food comes from. Moreover, the stages of growth and how you need to nurture it for it to become edible is pretty crazy to witness. Sorry, the geek in me is coming out there…
The critical thing to remember when planting in your veggie patch is less is more. The first time I sowed my seeds, the vegetable patch looked like Day Of The Triffids! Remember to space out your seedlings and allow them space to grow. They may look small but everything is going to grow and if there isn’t enough space, it will be a wasted exercise as the crops will fight for water and space and yield NOTHING except the perfect haven for pests.
The main things I would recommend to initially grow would be tomatoes, strawberries, salad/rocket, herbs, chilli and potatoes as these are the hardiest, and easiest to grow.
The one thing I would avoid? Baby Corn. I have NEVER been successful with it. It always grows really well but when harvested, is rock hard! Maybe you’ll have more luck – and if you do PLEASE message me and give me some tips as I’d love to yield my own baby corn…
Courgettes are equally a nightmare – they taste great but they grow HUGE and their leaves are really quite spiny, so not pleasant to work around when your tending to the weeds. If you decide to grow potatoes, the best way to do this is to purchase potato sacks as they are easier to harvest when they are contained in one area.
Remember to water regularly, especially in the height of summer. Never allow the soil to become too waterlogged – although, with all the layers, this shouldn’t be a problem, but equally do not let it dry out. Especially in the first few seasons of the layers mulching down.
But the MAIN thing to remember? Get the kids involved! Every year we have a pumpkin competition to see who can grow the biggest and best pumpkins. Although we grow these in grow bags as the foliage can take over the main vegetable patch otherwise! It’s a great addition to your Halloween planning and a lovely thing for the kids to be involved in.
The geek in me likes to keep a diary of when I sowed the seeds, when they were planted and when they should be ready for harvesting – that’s if they aren’t a pick as you go type of crop such as rocket. Using this system gives you a way you can stay on top of everything and know your way around the seedlings you’ve planted. It’s also beneficial to add in reminders of when you should be doing things, like thinning out the carrots etc. You can also make notes of things you’ve cocked up on; like planting the chilli beneath the foliage of the grapes, as I did. That way, you won’t make the same mistake twice.
The best thing about having a vegetable patch is when you’re in the kitchen, and a recipe says, a red onion, chilli and garlic, you know you can just wander out and pluck them from your homegrown plot of goodness.
I think anyone with kids should do this, so go on, go and get your wellies!!