3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower

Allotments are daunting projects. You arrive onto a plot that’s usually filled with weeds as tall as your head. Dig a fork into the soil, and it’ll either be compact with couch grass roots or clumpy clay – or you could have beautiful, fluffy soil (grr…).

The best course of action for a really compact plot is to dig out bigger weeds, mulch with cardboard and manure and then wait until the following spring – however, if you’ve walked onto a plot in March, April or May and you want to have a go at some vegetables – here are 3 Veg For Every Beginner Allotment Grower.

Now, with very well-established weeds, you’ll need to make sure that your plots are mulched with a mix of either cardboard or newspaper, then layers of leaf mold (rotting leaves), compost or manure. Once the bulk of the plot is covered, you can use parts of the space to grow very early crops.

I should add that the harvests won’t be huge. You may have a few troubles along the way with your soil as it hasn’t had a good year of feeding and nurturing. You’ll also need to keep on top of the weeds every week as they try to come through (do 10 minutes or so – they will eventually lose their energy and die off after a few goes). However, these crops will still be tasty, and you’ll have grown your first allotment crops!

Potatoes

Whenever I’ve tried to tackle a heavy and clumpy plot, my first vegetables that I turn to are plants with strong roots. Potatoes, in particular, are a great starter vegetable – this is because they break up that solid soil as they go, and – if you go for first earlies like Maris Bard or International Kidney – you may even have time to plant a June crop of beans.

How I start my potatoes off is either at home or in the greenhouse. Potato plants grow through the chits, or sprouts (those little bits we find on their surfaces when we come to peel them). Knock off the eyes until you have around five all in the same area, face the spuds with the sprouts directed at the sun and keep them warm and dry.

Once the sprouts are the length of your finger, and the danger of frost has passed – check here for your areayou can plant them outside. Now, as the soil hasn’t been well-fed, either locate comfrey leaves and lay them along the bottom of a trench or pick up vegetable feed from any garden centre or DIY store.

When mulching your plot, make sure that you leave room for a trench a spade’s-width. Plant your spuds into the space 30cm apart and 50cm between rows if first earlies or 38cm apart and 75cm between rows if they are maincrop potatoes like Picasso and King Edward. Fill the trenches with a mix of compost and your dug earth and then water well throughout the season.

You will find that the weeds come through, but – so long as you do 10-15 minutes of uprooting every week, they shouldn’t cause too much bother.

Courgettes

Another vegetable that will work well in a mulched bed. Before you sow your seeds, grab a couple of bags of compost or a heap of manure, several sheets of cardboard and newspaper and any vegetable waste you might have. Dig over your weedy soil lightly and remove the biggest plants and roots.

Soak your sheets of cardboard or newspaper and throw down. Cut or leave a hole about 50cm wide (this will be your spot for your courgette). Now layer up the plot with your composting material and leave the worms and microbes to do their work as your courgettes grow.

Start courgettes off in a warm, well-lit house or greenhouse around mid-April/May. Sow the seeds pointy-end up and cover to the top of your pot with soil. Make sure that the pots are moist.

Once your elephant-sized plants have three or four leaves and the risk of a late frost has pased, it’s time to plant them outside.

Where you marked out your courgette spaces, dig down a spade’s depth. Fill this with vegetable scraps and comfrey leaves before topping up with manure. Now take your courgette plant and an extra plant pot. Lay the courgette over the manure and the pot beside it. Slowly fill in the roots of the courgette with the de-weeded topsoil and an extra layer of compost. Firm down and water thoroughly weekly, using the plant pot to get deeper down to the roots.

Strawberries

Get this – you can grow tasty strawberries pretty well in clay soil. As above, mulch the area you’ve set out for your strawberry plants. Again, insert plant pots next to each plant as these will make sure that water reaches the roots!

Strawberries are easiest to grow when they’re bought either online or from the garden centre. As we want delicious strawberries this year, we’ll go for the garden centre potted plants.

Taking the pots, pop them into a large tub of water and leave them to soak for around 10 minutes. Use this time to dig out the holes you’ve marked up in your beds.

Removing the plants from the pots, place each one over a layer of well-rotted manure and then fill until the roots are buried. Firm down and water well and feed with tomato feed throughout the season.

You can enjoy allotment strawberries in no time!

Taken on a plot this year? What crops have you gone for? If you’ve been growing your own for years, I want to know what edibles you started with. Let me know in the comments below.

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Building Your Small Space Garden and Other Things to Consider

Raised beds and pots are great for growing your own food without a lot of time. If you’ve only got a couple of hours spare a week, planting strawberries, kale and other plants into containers means no risk of unwanted weeds, slugs are easily kept at bay and pots can be moved into the shade or into warmer areas if the weather changes.

Renting? Just because you can’t dig up your garden or you can’t guarantee that you’ll be living somewhere for a long time doesn’t mean that you can’t have a go at growing your own food. By choosing smaller vegetables and planting them in pots, you’ve made your garden portable – meaning that it’s super easy to transfer from home to home.

When choosing pots and containers, a general rule of thumb is to establish your small space garden in pots between 30cm and 60cm deep. You also want to be careful of overcrowding, keeping only two medium-sized plants per pot at a maximum. It might seem like a lot of fuss, but you only really need a couple of kale or tomato plants to enjoy the benefits of homegrown food. Unless you want to build your own small-holding on a terrace (which you may be tempted to do once you get the bug) you shouldn’t have a problem.

Here’s the balcony garden I had last year. I enjoyed some tasty tomatoes and potatoes from this little space:

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Looking to go a bit bigger? The best way to approach growing food on an allotment or in a garden is to set up cheap and easy raised beds. I’ve done a little video to show you how you can achieve this in half an hour, which you can find here. Wooden pallets are readily available and make sturdy sides for a raised bed. However, corrugated metal, bricks, tiles or anything solid that you have to hand can also create a perfect raised growing space.

Soil-wise, getting your hands on manure and leaf mold is essential for strong, healthy soil. If your raised beds are on top of existing soil, layer manure, rotting leaves, food scraps and newspaper over the surface to encourage composting. If you’re building raised beds on a patio or concrete, ensure that the boxes are deep enough (between 60cm and a metre is perfect) and fill them with a mix of manure, top soil and easily degradable things such as coffee grounds and banana peel.

Once this is done, you’re ready to go.

Plants For Small Space Gardens?

Strawberries

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Care-free plants. They keep on giving too. Plant a handful of these into a raised bed and, so long as you feed and water deeply one day a week, they should produce a bounty of delicious fruits. The plants also produce runners (little clones of themselves) which you can peg down into the ground and develop into new plants in the next year. Strawberries are popping up online and in garden centres for fruiting next year right now, so get them quick.

Blueberries

Blueberries are expensive in the supermarket, so why not grow these delicious berries at home? The only thing the plants need is acidic soil – so use Ericaceous or rhododendron compost for these. The first year might not give you much, but the following years will bring you a bounty.

Dwarf Fruit Trees

Get a slightly larger pot and you can enjoy fruits straight from your terrace. When you’re looking for the fruit trees you want to include in your plan, make sure you’re selecting dwarf rootstocks. I’ll be covering this topic in the next few weeks so stay tuned for more information.

Kale

Kale is super. It’s also a pretty care-free vegetable. When you plant your kale, make sure the soil around the bases is pressed down firmly. Give them a good dose of chicken manure or coffee grounds to boost the nitrogen at the beginning. Net against birds and set up beer traps in the garden (pouring beer into containers) to stop the slugs from feasting on the leaves. Take a pair of scissors and give the newer leaves in the middle a snip to harvest. Make sure that you leave the larger, older leaves to keep the plant producing new foliage ready for your meals.

Salad Leaves

Create little dips in the soil with a fork or spade and scatter the seeds lightly over the top. Cover gently with a light sprinkling of soil. Remove every other plant (in the case of large-leafed spinach) when they’ve grown their second set of leaves. Leaves such as lettuce and rocket can continue to grow. Same as above for harvesting.

Beetroot

Sow the seeds thinly in drills and cover lightly. Prick out every other plant when they’ve developed their second set of leaves. Harvest once the bulbous roots have swelled to the size of a small fist. Grab the leaves and stalk and gently tug the beetroot up.

Tomatoes

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Plant two plants per pot for cherry tomatoes and one per pot for larger varieties. Remove the clusters of leaves which develop in the angles between the main stem and the leaves to stop the plant from vining. Tie to a stake to stop the plant from falling over. Feed once a week with tomato feed.

Peppers

Same as above for planting. Water regularly and feed once a week with tomato feed to encourage more fruits to ripen.

Potatoes

Plant two or three potatoes at the bottom of each potato bag. Cover them entirely with earth each step of the way as the plants begin to appear until you reach the top of the pot. Harvest the potatoes once the plants have flowered and have begun to die back.

Peas and Beans

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Plant a seed next to each stick or, in the case of peas, obelisk or frame. Tie the plants up as they grow. Nip out the growing tips for broad beans. Harvest peas when the pods begin to swell. Broad beans can be harvested once the pods have begun to droop and appear glossy.

How to Start Growing Your Own Food

Last week I talked about the ideas surrounding growing your own food and attempted to throw out some of stereotypes we often have with gardening. The image of a retired person tending to their flowers is hard to shake, but growing plants for food is a highly practical and sensible thing to do and it doesn’t matter if you’re young or old, busy or not, there are so many ways that you can grow your own food.

So, you have your terrace or balcony ready or you’ve bought a spade ready for turning your garden into a productive space – what next?

Before you start carving up large areas of your garden, building beds or buying pots – grab a cup of something hot, settle down and spend a few minutes writing down what you want to grow/achieve with your new growing space. It’s so tempting to jump into the thick of it, but spending a little time drawing up these ideas will aid you a great deal later on and organisation, as we all know, is essential if you don’t have a lot of time spare.

Things to consider when you’re drawing up your plans:

What Do I Enjoy Eating?

Sounds obvious, but myself and my fellow garden bloggers have grown a variety of veg that we don’t like eating. Vegetables such as radish and Brussels Sprouts might fill traditional vegetable patches, but that doesn’t mean that they have to fill your space. If you want to turn your garden into a pumpkin farm, go for it. If you want to grow several types of tomatoes, you don’t have to diversify. By choosing a couple of vegetables that you enjoy for next year or by choosing some fast-growing salads that you really want in your meals to grow this year, you’ll find it easier to keep motivated.

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Do I Want To Be Self-Sufficient?

Traditional food growers can be split into two categories; there are those who grow a couple of squash plants for the fun of it and there are those who turn every inch of their garden into a foodie feast. One of the main reasons I got into growing my own food in the first place was because I couldn’t stand rising food prices and poorer quality any longer. This spurred me onto my journey, starting with tomatoes and taking me right up to pumpkins and other delicious crops.

Being self-sufficient – growing food for your table all year-round and not having to rely on supermarkets – is very hard. However, don’t let that put you off. Whilst I’m not self-sufficient yet, I have a couple of months where I can rely on my own fruit, a couple of months of pumpkins for soups and throughout the winter, I harvest tasty salads to cut out the regular food shops. I find it better to see the idea of “living off of the land” as a goal and not necessarily as an end destination. The point is that by adding more and more of your own harvests to your plate, you’ll be helping the planet and your wallet out too.

If you’re going to grow a variety of different vegetables, check out their planting and harvesting times. Organise it so that your pumpkin, with its longer season is allocated that space, but that it is intercropped with lettuce and radish which only take a couple of months to mature, if that. The other fantastic way that you can get the most out of your vegetable patch is by using the growing habits of plants to their advantage.

By taking a pumpkin, with its low-growing habit, and marrying it up with tall vine beans, you can get twice as much food out of one space. We’ll be looking at this in more detail later on. Yet, good pairings to consider are: pumpkins and beans, peas and lettuce, fruit trees and strawberries, leafy greens and tomatoes. The list goes on and you can find more information on intercropping here.

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Should I Add Fruit Into the Mix?

It might seem like a huge effort to grow your own food. Yet, the only thing that you need is patience. Fruit trees are brilliant when they really start to produce fruit. However, this can take them a couple of years or potentially more depending on the fruit. By planting your fruit trees in pots, though, you can create portable plants that can travel with you should you move home. Putting your trees and other vegetables into pots makes everything so much easier later.

I often leave my fruit trees alone now, and they thrive. Aside from the odd prune and feed, these plants are better built than shorter-rooted vegetables and there are a lot of advantages to this.

How Can I Make Things Simple and Easy?

Raised beds bring the height of your plants up, making it easy to de-weed. Potted plants are great for gardens where you need to move things around a lot. And, by sinking plastic bottles cut in half or old plant pots into the soil around your plants, you can save on watering. Slugs and snails find it harder to eat plants grown in raised beds, yet coffee grounds around the bases of your plants and beer traps (make by pouring beer into plastic containers and sinking them into the ground at the lip) will ward off most of these slimy fiends.

Now that you’ve made a note of the things that you want to achieve and how you’ll achieve them, you can start building your productive patch. Late summer is the perfect time to get things together for the next year, so knock together wooden pallets for raised beds, invest in some hangers to grow small veg and strawberries vertically or go for the old-fashioned route and begin breaking up the top layer of soil and mark out your new plots.

Next week, we’ll be looking at easy time-light ways to get rid of weedy ground, buying the right sized pots and talk about that all-important step of getting the soil right.

 

Small Space Garden Episode 2 | Sowing Tomatoes and Peppers

Last week I created a small bed, this week I’m sowing tomatoes and peppers.

The Small Space Garden series continues. This time, I’m looking at sowing some late tomatoes and peppers ready for containers in the garden.

Tomatoes and peppers are fantastic little plants for limited spaces and you’ll get rewarding crops at the end of it all too. It might be easy picking up that pack of peppers or those vine tomatoes, but you’ll never get the same flavour as you do by growing your own. Follow me and join in on this fun growing adventure.

If you haven’t seen Episode One, you can watch it here.

Happy planting

How to Start a Windowsill Veg Patch

Windowsills can often be awkward spaces in homes. Just what do you do with them? Do you keep them free, or do you pack them with nice-looking ornaments?

How about a pot, some soil and some salad seeds?

It might not be the prettiest sight you’ve ever seen on your windowsill, but a container full of crunchy salad leaves or delicious herbs is a fantastic investment. How many of us have gone to the supermarket to pick up a £1 bag of “fresh” herbs and found ourselves only using half of the bag, whilst the other turns into disgusting slush?

By growing your own tasty basil, you can have a constant supply of leaves to add to money-saving recipes and to add an extra bit of flavour to meals. In addition to this, if you keep your supply of salad leaves or herbs going, you can also start saving money. I’ve been running a little experiment on my own windowsill to see just how successful windowsill salads could be. You can see my first blog post about the project here.

And, after a couple of months, this is what my mini veg patch looks like now:

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What a fantastic little production line this salad pot is. Whether you’re keen to bring fresh leaves to your work sandwiches or herbs to your pasta pots, a windowsill salad patch is definitely worth a go!

Why Allotments Are Great for Your Health

Do you struggle to make yourself go to the gym every week? Perhaps you suffer from bad anxiety, stress and you need a break. I have one answer for you:

Get an allotment.

Continue reading Why Allotments Are Great for Your Health