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Grow your own food from seeds

Updated on June 24, 2010

Growing Your Own Carrots

Carrot varieties are described as early or maincrop varieties, but also either short-root or long-root varieties. These names give you an idea of when they will crop and the type of soil they're suitable for. Carrots and parsnips grow best in light, sandy soil so if your soil is heavy clay, stony, chalky or doesn't drain particularly well, concentrate on the maincrop, short-root types which cope better with these conditions.

Early carrot varieties take around 12 weeks to mature and maincrop carrot varieties are ready in around 16 weeks. Maincrops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.

  • Carrot seeds are small, but it's wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This reduces the amount of thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
  • Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around 2-3cm (1in) deep, covering the seeds once in place. Early sowings in March and April may need to be protected with fleece or a cloche in some parts of the country. If you have difficulty sowing thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing the seeds and sand together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow thinner sowing.
  • Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to 5cm (2 in) between plants.
  • Parsnips can be grown in a similar way, but as they're larger they should be thinned to 15cm (6 in)
  • The plants need little other attention during their growth period, although the plants should be kept well watered - too little water results in coarse, woody roots.

One week before sowing your seeds, rake in a light dressing of general fertiliser.


Where to grow your Potatoes
Seed Potatoes grow well in most soil types but ideally they should be grown in well-drained, loamy soil that is not too heavy.  The soil needs to be deep, well dug and with plenty of well-rotted organic matter incorporated.  The plot should be cleared and dug over in late autumn/early winter so that the frost can break down the soil structure, which will make for easy planting in the spring.

Potatoes are susceptible to a fairly wide range of minor pests, and one or two major pests.  However, pests specific to potatoes have only a limited survival time if they do not have access to potatoes so it is important not to grow potatoes in the same part of the garden every year.  Ideally, potatoes should only be planted in the same part of the garden once every 7 years but, given that this is not practical for the vast majority of gardeners we recommend a minimum of 3 or 4 years.  Aim to develop the longest rotational system you can accommodate in your garden.

As soon as shoots start to appear above the soil, it's time to start ‘earthing up' the rows.  This means pulling soil over the shoots from either side of the row to form a ridge.  This protects the plants from late frosts and prevents the tubers from becoming green and inedible.  Repeat this regularly until the ridges are about 8in/20cm high.

Feeding and watering
An application of a high potash fertiliser at the rate suggested on the pack will increase yields.  Avoid fertilisers high in nitrogen as these will delay maturity of the crop.

Potatoes need plenty of moisture, particularly round about flowering time which is when the tubers start to form.  In dry spells it is recommended that the crop is watered every 10 days or so.  N.B. Check for any current local watering restrictions before doing this.  An occasional heavy watering is better than little and often as this does not get down far enough and encourages shallow rooting.


Brassicas enjoy a well-cultivated soil that’s rich in organic matter, such as homemade compost or well-rotted manure. If your soil is slightly acidic, a sprinkling of lime will help them grow better and help prevent the onset of the fungal disease club root.

For best results start them off in a seed bed and then transplant them into their final growing positions to help them form a healthy root system. When you transplant them, firm the soil around the stems, using your feet. The firmer the soil the better, as this helps the plants support themselves in windy areas and also helps cabbages form tight, compact heads.

There are three types of broccoli: white and purple sprouting, and calabrese. The sprouting types are hardy and can be left in the soil throughout the winter months; calabrese is less hardy and is harvested in autumn.

Sow seeds in April to May, 13mm deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm apart. Thin seedlings to 7.5cm apart. Transplant young plants into their final growing positions at 45cm stations for white and purple sprouting varieties and 30cm for calabrese.

Water plants well in dry weather and mulch the soil to preserve moisture. Net the plants when the heads are forming to protect them from birds. Harvest the spears when they are well formed but before they begin to flower. Cut the central spear first, to allow side shoots to develop, which will be ready to harvest as a cut-and-come-again crop for up to six


Growing Cabbage

Depending on which variety you grow, you can harvest cabbages in spring, summer or winter. Sow seeds thinly 13mm deep in a seed bed in rows 15cm apart. Thin seedlings to 7.5cm stations.

Spring cabbage is sown from July to August and transplanted in September and October. Summer cabbage is sown from late February to March under cover and transplanted in May and June. Winter cabbages are sown in April and May and transplanted in late June to July.

Transplant young plants deeply into their final growing positions when they have five or six leaves, ensuring the lowest leaves are at ground level. Puddle them in by filling the planting hole with water several times until the roots are covered. Firm the soil around the stems, using your feet.

Fit brassica collars made from cardboard around the stems to prevent cabbage root fly laying eggs in the roots. Use netting or fleece to protect plants against birds, caterpillars and white fly.

Harvest cabbages as and when you need them, by cutting through the stem at ground level. Cut a cross in the stump of spring and summer varieties to promote fresh growth of a second, much smaller crop of baby cabbages.

Brussel Sprouts

In early spring rake over and level the area you have chosen as a seed bed - frosts will have done a lot of the work of breaking down the larger clods of earth for you by then... hopefully. If you only require a few plants then this need not be too big an area.

How to Grow Brussel Sprouts - Making A Seed Bed

Cover the bed with sifted mature compost - the bed may be small enough to purchase a bag or two from your garden centre, especially if you`re only just getting to know how to grow brussel sprouts you might not have the organic matter to compost.

Tamp this down with the back of your rake to make it firm... but only when the soil is dry enough i.e. not sticking to your boots. Then lightly rake it over to produce a fine tilth.

Mark out the rows using string stretched between two stakes for a straight line and make shallow drills along the length of the string with a trowel or the edge of a hoe 13mm(1/2") deep and rows 15cm(6") apart. Sow the seed thinly into the drills and cover them over with soil, lightly firming with the head of the rake.
The seedlings are ready to plant out when they are about 10cm(4") to 15cm(6") tall. Water the bed the previous day before removing them to their permanent position.

When your learning how to grow brussel sprouts there is no need to remember which varietiesto grow: early or late etc. Part of the enjoyment of growing vegetables is to get hold of some of those amazing seed catalogues (they`re sent out free) and get to know what is available

Runner Beans

If the soil is prepared well with lots of compost, runner beans are very forgiving vegetables. The foliage is attractive, and the red or white flowers making this a beautiful garden feature.

Many varieties grow to about 2m (6ft) tall and therefore need support. Some of the more recent varieties are dwarfs and need no support making them particularly easy to grow. By growing Green Beans or Runner Beans as they are also called, you will have an abundance of fresh nutritious vegetables. They arrived from South America not long after the French Bean and were initially grown for their looks - what a waste. We now enjoy growing Green Beans for looks and healthy eating.

Frost is the first thought when considering where to grow strawberry plants in your garden. They are very hardy plants during the winter but are not so hardy when they burst into life in spring. Strawberries produces flowers early in the Spring and because they are close to the ground, it is important to position strawberries where they have least risk of frost. The highest ground is always the best. Frost damage when they start into growth will occur if the temperature drops below -2°C or -4°C with cloche or poly-tunnel protection.

Strawberries are ideal fruit for benefiting from the use of cloches to produce earlier and better fruit.

Strawberries do not produce deep roots, but they very much appreciate their soil being well-dug to a spades depth. Prepare the soil at least one month before planting. Incorporate as much organic matter as possible and include two handfuls of bonemeal per square metre (yard). A few days before planting apply the recommended dose of general fertiliser such as Growmore. Strawberries are greedy feeders over a relatively short period of time.

Runner Bean Care


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