The first rule of growing your own is to grow things you will actually eat! Write a list of your favourite fruit, veg and herbs.
It’s probably a long list. So cut it down to something manageable by crossing off:
Anything that doesn’t suit your soil type
Anything that needs lots of space if you have a small plot
Anything too tender to grow in your region
Anything you can buy really cheaply – no sense in using valuable space to grow staples
For example, carrots need deep, rich soil to grow well. So if you have shallow sandy soil, cross them off your list and look to surface crops like beetroot instead.
Not sure where to get started? Here’s my top picks for beginners
Sowing seeds – hardy
The cheapest way to grow vegetables is to sow them from seed. Hardy plants, meaning those that can withstand frost and snow, should be sown directly in the ground where they are to grow. Most vegetables fall under this category.
Leave the sowing until the soil has warmed up in spring. As a general indicator, wait until your grass is growing well again.
Follow the sowing instructions on the packet to the letter, especially the spacing information. If you put plants too close together, they will produce smaller crops.
Sowing seeds – tender
Tender plants can be damaged by frost, so these are sown indoors first and then planted out into the garden once they are established. Follow the instructions on the seed packet and wait until late spring or early summer before moving them out into the garden. Tender plants include tomatoes, aubergines and peppers.
Make sure to harden off any plants that are sown indoors! This means acclimatising them to the outside conditions before you plant them out into the garden.
Once the seedlings are ready to go into the garden, start moving the pots outside during the day and bringing them back in at night for a week or two. Then you can plant them outside.
Many gardeners don’t want the hassle of germinating seeds and buy plug plants instead. These are very young plants that are ready to go straight into the garden. They are more expensive to buy than seeds but the hard part is done for you. Be aware that plug plants are available in less varieties than seeds too.
You can always use a mixture of seed-sown and plug plants to keep costs down.
Buying fruit plants
Soft fruit bushes like raspberries are generally sold as canes, which need planting during the dormant season between autumn and spring.
Digging in plenty of organic matter will improve the structure of your soil and add nutrients for the plants. Some veg growers add well-rotted manure in the autumn – ask a local farmer to deliver some for you.
Most veg gardeners simply add compost or leaf mould. These are common soil improvers available from garden centres – though you should start making your own compost if you don’t already! It’s so easy and keeps a constant (and free) supply of extra nutrients to boost your plants.
You can dig some compost or leaf mould into the top few inches of the soil a couple of weeks before planting most vegetables. Or scatter some general-purpose compost over the surface and rake it in.
You can also apply the organic matter over the surface of the soil around established plants as a mulch. This allows the nutrients to feed down into the soil, as well as helping to retain moisture and stop weeds growing.
Vegetables belong to groups or ‘families’ of plants that are similar to each other. But this means they are susceptible to the same pests and diseases.
This is because those plants add nutrients like nitrogen to the soil as they grow, making it the ideal spot for growing hungry crops.
Note that crop rotation doesn’t apply to perennial plants that stay in one place year after year like rhubarb and artichokes.