Raised vegetable

Whether you made a New Year’s resolution to cut your carbon footprint, or the credit crunch is putting pressure on your food budget, now is the perfect time to try growing some of your own vegetables. You don’t need a lot of space, or expensive kit, to get started – and it doesn’t need to take up a lot of your time.

Finding a space
First of all you’ll need to find some space for your vegetable patch. Most vegetables and fruits need a sunny spot, so think about which areas of your garden get the most light during the spring and summer (the peak growing times). Perhaps there’s a section of lawn that you could dig over, or room on the patio for a raised bed or some containers. Maybe you could grow some vegetables in your flower beds instead of splashing out on bedding plants – there are some varieties that look very ornamental. And don’t forget to look at your vertical spaces. Runner beans would look lovely clambering up a pergola, and you can train fruit bushes against walls and fences.

Try starting off with a small space, and think about expansion plans next year once you’ve got the hang of it.

Choosing crops
There are two golden rules when you’re starting a new kitchen garden. The first is that you should only grow things that you’re going to eat. It doesn’t matter what the latest trend in vegetables is, or what exciting new varieties are listed in the seed catalogues – if no one in your family likes turnips, or sprouts, or even carrots, then you’re wasting valuable space by growing them.

The second rule is not to try to grow everything at once. You need to be realistic about how much space you have. Being self-sufficient in potatoes is a pipe dream unless you have an allotment, but it’s easy to grow enough herbs and salads to last you all summer. A handful of home grown strawberries will be a treat on summer days, cherry tomatoes do well in containers and hanging baskets and if you’ve got a sunny spot or a greenhouse then red hot chilli peppers are fun and very attractive.

Courgettes are easy to grow and can provide huge harvests even when grown in a container. Don’t grow more than one or two plants unless you’re planning on feeding the whole street!

Water and compost
The last couple of years have been very wet, but the weather is unpredictable and it’s always worth being prepared for a hosepipe ban by installing a water butt or two in the garden. Fixed to the down pipe on the guttering, they collect water when it rains that is great for watering thirsty plants and washing cars. It’s something to think about now, before the weather really warms up.

When you start your new vegetable patch you might need to buy in some top soil or some potting compost, but if you start a compost heap at the same time then next year you will have your own compost – completely free. You could buy a plastic compost bin from your local council (prices generally rise in April, so order early) or from the garden centre, but if you’re handy then you can build your own out of wood.

Add garden waste, vegetable kitchen waste, cardboard and newspaper as and when you have them – and they’ll turn into compost over several months. If you only have a patio then investigate wormeries, which turn kitchen waste into compost and don’t take up much space.

This article first appeared in Country Gardener in March 2009.