Beginners Guide to Growing Vegetables
Growing Vegetables and Fruit on Our Allotment
We are in our 4th year of growing organic vegetables at our allotment. The first year was obviously a bit of an experiment to see what grew well. We had a glut of courgettes and had to find new ways to use the courgettes including making courgette muffins. I can't tell you how lovely courgette muffins are. The past two years our allotment has produced less vegetables due to our weather in the UK. It has been extremely wet and this has killed off a number of our vegetable plants.
The list below is what we have found to be easy to grow (apart from tomatoes which we struggle with!). Obviously it depends where you live and your weather conditions as to whether these will also grow well for you.
It is best to choose vegetables and fruit that your family enjoy eating. We have over the years increased the number of strawberry plants we have because our daughter loves strawberries. We also make strawberry jam which is just so yummy. As I have mentioned where you live will affect what you grow and what your soil is like.
If you want to test your soil here are some soil test kits that you can use.
1. Growing Strawberries
If you have never tried growing strawberries then you are missing out on a delicious experience. There is nothing as delightful as eating a warm strawberry picked from your own garden.
Buy your plants from a reputable nursery to ensure your plants don't succumb to viruses and soil-borne diseases. Strawberry plants are relatively cheap to buy. Choose good looking plants that have a firm crown (the part at the top of the roots where the leaves grow out). We have grown strawberries for the past 3 years and we use the runners to produce more strawberry plants.
They should be planted in an area that is sheltered from the wind and gets the sun most of the day. The ideal soil for strawberries is well drained and rich in humus. If you want to find out more about humus rich soil check out this article on ehow
The best time to plant strawberries is late summer.
Lettuce is an extremely easy thing to grow from seed. Our 4 year old daughter has planted some of our lettuce seeds and they’ve grown. We are based in the UK which is one of the best locations to grow lettuce as it’s suited to cooler climates.
Lettuce is very difficult to try to grow in very hot climates. Lettuce also likes rain which is usually something the UK has plenty of. They need watering regularly if it hasn’t rained.
Lettuce is best sown in humus rich soil that will hold moisture. You can plant anytime between spring and summer. You can plant every month if you wish to have a continuous supply of lettuce.
It is advised that you actually sow your seeds directly into the ground where they will be located. This is because they don’t like being moved. We have always sown the seeds in containers and transplanted them into the ground. We have never had any issues doing this. It is entirely up to you.
Make a line in the soil 1 – 2 cm deep, using the end of a cane for instance (this is known as a drill). Sow the seeds thinly. Use short rows around 30cm apart. Don’t forget to put down your slug pellets.
3. & 4. Courgettes & Summer Squash
Courgettes, also known as zucchini in the US and Italy, and Summer Squash can be grown in the same way.
Courgettes were originally marrows that were harvested early.
One plant can provide you with a plentiful supply. As I mentioned earlier we had 4 plants and it was way too much. We ended up having courgettes almost every day. We found some great courgette recipes. We also sliced it thinly using a potato peeler and put it in our salads. This was really delicious. We only have 2 plants now.
Courgettes and Summer Squash require a sunny location with moist, fertile soil. Add some well-rotted manure or compost to the soil if you need to improve the soil.
Seeds can be sown directly into the soil from late May until early summer.
Tomatoes are another of my daughter's favourite things to eat. My dad grew a yellow variety of tomatoes last year that she couldn't get enough of.
They aren't really that easy to grow but I thought I would include them as I believe everyone should try to grow tomatoes.
To grow from seed start with a small pot about 7cm. Water the soil before sowing the seeds. When you have watered put 5 seeds on the surface of the soil. Carefully cover the seeds with compost or perlite. Put them on a sunny window. They can be sown between January and April. They will be ready to transplant into a greenhouse or out in a warm area after 7 weeks.
Tomatoes can be planted out when the threat of frost is over which is usually the end of May in the UK.
You will need to tease the plants out of the pot. This just basically means separating the plants gently with a pencil or something similar. Use your pencil to make a hole in the soil of your new bigger pot or wherever you are going to transplant your tomatoes.
Tomatoes should be ready to harvest from July. You need to pick them when they are ripe in order to avoid them softening and splitting.
My family are from Northern Ireland and their staple food is potatoes. So we were brought up on potatoes as it was a cheap feed for 4 very hungry children. I still very much enjoy eating potatoes.
There are a large number of varieties of potatoes you can grow. There are other factors that affect the taste of the potatoes including the type of soil and growing conditions.
There are 3 main categories of potatoes First Earlies, Second Earlies, and Main Crop.
First Earlies are usually planted around St Paddy's day the 17th March although it does depend on the weather conditions. In some areas it will be towards the end of March/start of April.
Second Earlies can also be planted around the same time as First Earlies, again depending on the weather conditions.
If you are short on space you should concentrate on the earlies as they are less likely to have pest problems as they are lifted earlier in the year.
Usually 1st early plants are ready in June, 2nd early July and main crops August to September.
7. Growing Onions
Growing Onions is extremely easy to do. We tend to use onions all year around so it's great when we have our very own to use. We most probably could do with growing more but we have found it difficult storing onions.
If you've never grown onions before then I recommend you grow from onion sets (small onions). There will be instructions on your onion sets but generally they should NOT be planted in soil that has been manured in the past year. You should also avoid planting onions in the same site every year as pests and disease can build up in the soil.
Using onion sets is more expensive than using seeds but once you become more confident you can plant from seed. Onion sets are usually planted from early to mid-spring and are cropped from mid to late summer.
Onions and shallots are shallow rooted and should be regularly weeded so there isn't any competition for the food or water. The ideal tool to use is an onion hoe which gives you good control.
You can also buy sets of winter onions in early autumn that will give you a crop in early summer.
8. Growing Peas
Peas eaten straight from the pod are beautiful. This is also another great vegetable to grow if you have children. They love picking them and eating them straight from the pod. We are lucky to get a meal out of them!
Note: Image is actually of a broad bean plant!
Peas should be planted in rich soil that has additions of compost or well-rotted manure. Peas grow best when they are planted in dry, warm soil. The sowing time can vary according to location and weather. Usually it is between early and mid-spring.
Top Recycling Tip: Use cardboard toilet roll holders to plant your peas in. The peas can then be planted out straight into the ground in the holders.
It is possible to have a steady supply of peas throughout the season. You can sow an early variety every 4 weeks until midsummer.
Or you can sow earlies, second earlies and main crop. The earlies take around 12 weeks to mature, the second earlies about 13-14 weeks and the main crop 15-16 weeks.
We really need to do this so we can actually have a few dinners worth out of them!
We really only grow these for our daughter. We aim to have 4 or 5 pumpkins just for Halloween. My hubby is still perfecting his pumpkin soup.
Plant your pumpkin seeds early in April into 3” pots of multi-purpose compost. Plant one seed on its side so that water doesn’t sit on top of it as this could cause it to rot. Keep it warm in a greenhouse or cold frame. If roots are coming out of the bottom of the pots then move it to a bigger pot.
Start hardening the fruit by opening the cold frame/greenhouse during the day.
Pumpkins should be planted out in a sunny, well sheltered place. Improve the soil before planting by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost.
They can be planted when the risk of frost has passed.
I’ve recently learnt that pumpkins can be stored for between 4-6 months. We only grow them to carve out for Halloween and then make pumpkin soup with the fruit.
To be honest with you I'm not that keen on raspberries but this is a fruit that we grow purely for our daughter. She quite often gobbles down a full punnet of raspberries.
The most difficult part to growing summer fruiting raspberries is that they need to be supported. Luckily my husband is extremely good at DIY and knocked together a fruit cage. If you unable to build a support system yourself or you are not able to buy a support device then I would go for autumn fruiting raspberries that just need canes for support.
It is important that you remove all weeds before planting raspberries as they are shallow rooting. Also you need to dig in some well-rotted manure about two weeks before you plant. They should be planted in the autumn.
Raspberries like a well-drained, slightly acidic soil and thrive in a sunny spot. Raspberries are a hungry and thirsty plant.
When you have planted the raspberries water them in and then place mulch of rotted manure on the soil but keep it away from the main stem.
When you are harvesting raspberries pull them away from leave behind the plug that held it in place.