A guide to growing your own vegetables

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If you’ve never tried growing your own vegetables before, now is the perfect time of year to start.

There are lots of benefits: not only will you save money, but home-grown vegetables taste infinitely better than those from the supermarket and nothing beats the satisfaction of picking your own produce metres from the kitchen. You don’t need a lot of space, either – a windowsill is perfect for herbs, and a small patch of earth in a sunny spot of the garden will be sufficient for lots of small growing projects. Consider setting up a raised bed in a patch of the garden – this allows for easy access to plants, helps retain warmth in the soil and separates your grow-your-own veg from the rest of the garden. April and May are the perfect time to start sowing seeds, either in containers or in the soil. If you have a greenhouse, you can also try your hand at growing tomatoes. Here are some easy plants to start off with, which have a high success rate and require very little maintenance.

Herbs

Now is the time to sow basil, parsley, thyme, rosemary and sage in small pots in the greenhouse or on a sunny windowsill. Water with a misting bottle at first, then progress to watering properly once the seedlings are a couple of centimetres high. Robust herbs like parsley, sage, rosemary and thyme can be moved outdoors into the ground once they’re a few inches high; basil is best grown indoors or under glass, as it needs lots of sun and warmth. Try experimenting with unusual varieties of basil, which you won’t be able to find in the shops: lemon basil, Thai basil and purple basil are beautiful and have a variety of culinary uses. Lemon thyme is another lovely variety, good with fish and chicken.

Tomatoes

Small tomato plants can be bought from garden centres at this time of year, and grow quickly in a greenhouse. Give them large pots, plenty of water, and pinch out the growing side shoots when they are a centimetre long. You will need to support the growing plants with canes. Feed with a tomato fertilizer once the plants have started flowering. You will need to pollinate the flowers yourself using a paintbrush or cotton bud if you keep the greenhouse door closed often. Home-grown tomatoes are far superior to bought varieties, with a much more concentrated, sweet flavour. Enjoy them in simple summer salads. There are lots of interesting varieties available: try black opal cherry tomatoes, which have a pearly purple colouration, or big beef heart tomatoes, which are excellent for slicing or stuffing.

Courgettes

These can be sown under cover now, or bought as small plants. They grow very well in a sunny spot in the garden – one plant will produce more courgettes than you would ever think possible! Try growing the yellow variety, which are very pretty and hard to find in the shops. Use up a glut in courgette and chocolate cakes, courgette fritters, soups or pasta dishes.

Leafy greens

Swiss or rainbow chard and salad leaves can be sown directly into the ground or into pots. Salad leaves grow very quickly and should be harvested regularly (snip leaves off with scissors) to prevent them going to seed – you can have an almost endless supply of fresh salad leaves during the summer, which will save you a fortune on pre-packaged leaves. Swiss chard grows gorgeously big and leafy, and is an excellent alternative to spinach. Try it in a Greek-style filo pie with feta cheese, or stirred into stews and curries.

Radishes

These can be sown directly into the soil, where they will produce leafy green tops and crunchy roots. These are great in homemade slaw or added to summer salads. There are a number of varieties, from the round pink breakfast radishes to long, twisted white roots, and if you can find the beautiful watermelon radishes these are a gorgeous addition to salads.

Potatoes

Potatoes are one of the easiest crops to grow. Certain varieties can be ‘chitted’ (allowed to grow shoots) now and planted in deep grow bags to be harvested at the end of the summer – simply dig them up with a fork or spade. Try unusual purple potatoes for a dramatic addition to salads, fish dishes and barbecues!

Elly McCausland is a food writer and blogger at Nutmegs, Seven. She has a passion for all things gastronomic, with a particular emphasis on fruit, breakfast and proper British puddings. When not concocting recipes, she is studying for a PhD on children’s literature and the Arthurian legend at the University of York.

 

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