Do you ever get tired of eating a tomato in your salad that just isn’t quite juicy enough? Or that bland piece of broccoli on the side of your plate? When you grow your own food, you don’t have any of these problems. If you’re clever about it, you can also save money, too.
And it’s easier than you might think. For myself, two hours gardening a week is a luxury because I’m often in five places at once. So, whether you’re a single parent with barely a couple of hours free, a busy worker or a student – in my new Small Space Garden series, I’m going to show you how you can master healthy homegrown food and a busy life.
Winter is here. As you read this, I’m 100% certain that the idea of going outside and gardening is the last thing on your mind. Yet, doing all of your preparation this side of Christmas means no hassle when the work starts picking up again and the growing season is in full-swing.
So, if you’re interested in starting your very own small space garden on your windowsill, balcony or terrace, picking up the right-sized pots is a good place to begin. Check out the video below for my guide to finding the best pots for the highest quality crops:
Are you starting out on your gardening journey in 2018? What are you focusing on this winter? Let me know in the comments below
Winter is the perfect time to start getting your space ready for next year. Throughout the five years that I’ve been growing my own food I’ve picked up lots of advice. Here are 3 Things I’ve Learned Through My Growing Journey So Far:
1 – Only Grow Radish If You Love Eating It
This is a really important first point. If you’re eager to start your growing journey, don’t grow everything that someone on a blog or in a book has, especially if you don’t like it.
Start small and start with your favourites.
Whilst homegrown food can make all veggies taste miles better, you’ll still end up wasting time, effort and produce because you really don’t like certain crops.
In my case, it’s celery and celeriac and all of the aniseed-flavoured vegetables. I’m still not a huge fan of radish either and can really take or leave Jerusalem artichokes. So I don’t set aside space for any of these things, instead focusing on my favourite food. Pumpkins and squash fill the plot, tomatoes and peppers grow nice and ripe in the greenhouse and the strawberries and raspberries surprise me year after year.
Every year I treat it like my first. I sit down and plan out what I want to grow depending on what I like to eat.
However, it’s also about what is going to reward you the most. As a vegetarian, I need lots of protein and iron from my food so I choose to grow leafy greens and peas and beans over broccoli. This is because I know I can get more meals out of a pot or plot of beans than I can from broccoli. The same often applies to potatoes, which take up huge amounts of space.
With Small Space Garden launching officially next year, I’ll be offering guides on some of the best crops that you can grow for nutrition as well as for quantity and ease.
2 – Don’t Get Ahead of Yourself
It can be easy, as I found out, to grow a ton of plants in the first year, yet when it comes to maintaining the plants, you’ll find yourself swamped. With only a couple of hours to spare you want to keep only a few really productive crops at first.
If you’re a single parent, work over 40 hours a week or you’re busy in other ways, most plants will cope very well with just one watering a week. Unless the weather is scorching, you can leave them in peace most of the time. With some tomatoes you’ll need to pinch the tips out and stake the stems to support and encourage fruit. I’ll be creating several handy guides for tomatoes next year, so watch this space!
3 – If You’ve Only Grown One Leek This Year, It’s Still An Achievement
Weather, slugs and poor seed stock can make growing your own a bit of a nightmare. Whilst slugs and the weather can be controlled to some extent, there is always something else around the corner. What is important to remember for any budding grower and gardener is that even the one tomato you’ve harvested from the ill-looking vine is a powerful thing.
Growing your own food isn’t just about the harvest – although that is very important. It’s also about the power and the independence. The connection with the earth and with nature, no matter how big or small. By nuturing a plant through to fruit, you have taken control of your food and you have engaged with the whole process. Trust me, the world looks like a very different place! After all, gardening is cool and growing food that you can eat and cook meals with is even cooler.
What have you learnt on your allotment, garden or balcony this year? I’d love to hear your experiences in the comments below!
Back at the beginning of the year I decided to run a little experiment. You see, I wanted to buy a greenhouse, but I had neither the means to afford a proper glass one or the means to transport it up to my plot, so I settled instead on a plastic model. The trouble with plastic greenhouses is that they aren’t nearly half as durable as their glass counterparts. One strong gust of wind, and the frames end up in a mess or the material covering the house is ripped up. You could even find your greenhouse caught up in a nearby tree.
After choosing the Wilko Greenhouse for around £30, I had to work out a way of ensuring that this wouldn’t happen to me. My plot is quite exposed and even if I could only keep the greenhouse up for a year, so long as the growing season was done I could at least take something away from it.
I decided that digging a trench for the base was one of my safest bets at keeping it secure. Once this was done, I filled the entire square with earth and woodchip to help anchor it down. Wilko do supply you with guide ropes, which I made as tight as I could. Yet, having a compost bin on one side and some fencing on the other guaranteed that the structure wasn’t going to blow off in a hurry.
I can safely say that, six months on from setting the greenhouse up, it has yielded some fantastic results. My tomato harvest has increased to triple the amount I had last year out on the exposed balcony. I’m picking countless hot chilli peppers too. However, the biggest achievement for me this year has been successfully growing aubergines.
It’s not just inside the greenhouse that I’ve reaped the rewards. Providing yourself with a growing space that’s warmer than the outside during the winter and gives plants shelter to grow at their own pace means that you can have several strong vegetable crops ready to plant a little earlier than those you’ve had to grow at home. They’re also cheaper than garden centre varieties, too.
In the five years that I’ve been growing my own food, I have attempted aubergines three times now. On only one of these occasions have I managed to get any fruit. Picking my two long fruits earlier in the year, they made a fantastic base for curries and veggie Bolognese.
Whether the greenhouse survives some of the winter storms remains to be seen. But the overall picture is very promising indeed. In fact, I am so impressed by the results of my experiment that I will be erecting another greenhouse just a metre away from the original to house more of my seedlings next year.
So, if you’re hesitating about buying a plastic greenhouse over a glass one ready for next year, don’t overthink it. There are plenty of ways that you can keep your greenhouse secure, and the crops are worth it too.
If there’s one crop I look forward to the most it has to be squash. Pumpkins, courgettes and butternut squash are all fantastic vegetables and they can be used in a whole host of different ways. Although the initial preparation of slicing the squash into smaller chunks and removing the skin can be a little difficult, it’s worth it for the tasty orange flesh.
For vegetarians and vegans, pumpkins and squash have become suitable replacements for meat, and this recipe I’m bringing you today is no exception. If you are vegan, replace the milk cheese for a vegan equivalent, or leave it out and use houmous instead. The possibilities are endless. This is why, if you have a garden or allotment, it’s such a great idea to grow your own pumpkins and squashes. They don’t take a lot of caring for and you’ll get some fantastic results!
Pea and Stilton Stuffed Butternut Squash
One butternut squash, halved
A lug of olive oil
A teaspoon of paprika
A teaspoon of chilli powder
100g of peas
One onion, chopped
A couple of handfuls of spinach
Block of Stilton
To start off, turn your oven to Gas Mark 6/200C. Place your butternut squash halves, with the middles carved out, onto a baking tray and lightly cover them with a good lug of olive oil. Next, season with salt and pepper and top everything off with the paprika and chilli powder. Slide the tray into the oven and bake for around an hour or until the squash starts to char on the sides.
In the meantime, make your stuffing. Take 100g of fresh peas, or tinned equivalent, and pulse together with a handful of chopped fresh chives, the chopped onion and a little ground black pepper. Set aside until the butternut squash begin to soften.
Once the squash is soft, take a large spoon and press the stuffing into the middles. Place the squash halves back into the oven for around 10 minutes. Once again, remove the tray from the oven and this time place fresh chopped spinach leaves onto the stuffing, finishing with some generous pieces of Stilton, or a vegan topping of your choice (houmous, breadcrumbs and seasoning, couscous or vegan cheese). Cook the squash halves until the cheese has melted. When this is done, serve up and enjoy with a hearty summer salad.
If you’d like to know more about how to grow your own pumpkins and butternut squash, why not drop me a line on the contact page?
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:
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?
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 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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Same as above for planting. Water regularly and feed once a week with tomato feed to encourage more fruits to ripen.
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
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.
Although I’m often writing excitedly here or over on Instagram and Twitter about what I’ve been up to, things have been difficult lately as I’ve been suffering from an anxiety disorder.
Whilst I spend much of my time worrying, lately my anxiety has dominated my life, consuming me and in the process I’ve had to scale back simple tasks. The day to day had been an uphill struggle up until very recently. But this is no surprise.
Anxiety and depression are on the rise, particularly amongst us Brits. With busy lifestyles, job dissatisfaction, daily troubles and more, it’s easy to see why so many of us suffer.
Yet, if you’re reading this whilst suffering from depression or anxiety right now, let’s do away with the doom and gloom. There is a very powerful secret weapon that I’ve been relying on almost every day to ease my anxiety. It’s an antidote not only to short-term symptoms, but to on-going and more serious forms of depression, too. One of the best ways of improving your mood, increasing your energy and helping yourself to get healthier is by spending time with plants.
Whilst research has shown that even just a wander through a green space and interacting with plants as you go is enough to combat depression, by owning your own plants you’ll notice even more improvements in your energy levels and your mood.
Walk, run, sniff, pick – plants and gardens are the best therapists
Unlike the busy towns and cities, the boxy flats and the claustrophobic streets, by getting an allotment with your friends, turning your rented garden into something more or by simply including some essential plants to your balcony or terrace, you can start feeling happier.
You want to build a space that you can completely immerse yourself in. Anxiety is beaten by breaking your thought spirals. You need colour, scent, flavour and texture to occupy your mind with and plants are just the thing.
Scented plants for calming you down
Just a sniff of this richly-scented herb has not only been proven to help with memory, grab a lung of it and you can help to control your anxiety. Feel the waxy leaves, look over the purple flowers and watch the bees working away to relieve all that stress.
The best part is that rosemary will happily grow in pots and you can hang it up around the house or, more importantly, use it on those roast potatoes. Here’s a great website for picking up your own plants.
Staying with herbs for a second, chamomile is a fantastic plant for anxiety. You can even take a bag of tea and scatter it over a pot full of soil for some easy seedlings. Just make sure the soil is moist and add a light layer of soil over the top of the seeds. Chamomile not only looks good, it smells beautiful too. By sowing lots of seeds, you can create carpets of flowers that will help you with a good dose of mindfulness.
These flowers come in a variety of different shapes and sizes. You can find some miniature roses that are perfect for patios and terraces. Alternately, get as many of these bright, bold flowers in as you can in an allotment or garden. By growing roses up archways or training them across fence panels, you can create a truly immersive space that will transport you. So long as you give the plants a good dose of manure when you plant them and keep them trimmed back a little every so often, they should thrive.
Colourful Plants to Boost Your Mood and Keep You Healthy
Depression is mood-altering. So how can we help to bring balance to your lack of energy and lack of inspiration? These projects aren’t big: remember, a pot, a bag of soil and a plant can quite literally transform a space. Even by just spending time caring for one or two of the plants mentioned will help you find a little peace and comfort.
There’s a real sense of achievement when you grow one of these. Of course, even if you don’t have the space to grow a goliath plant, you can still get some large-headed, bright flowers filling your space with colour. The best bit, of course, is that you can take the seeds once the heads have wilted. Sunflower seeds have lots of nutrients in them to help combat your depression, and from sowing seeds to harvesting a crop, that sense of achievement will also give you a great buzz.
Not only do tomatoes taste fantastic, they’re really good for you too. Lypocene, a nutrient that actually halts the build-up of pro-inflammatory compounds linked to depression. Grow cherry tomatoes for the richest source of lypocene. Cherry tomatoes are also highly productive in small spaces and, so long as you give them a good water every other day in dry weather and feed once a week, they should give you a glut. Wander past your tomato plants and take in the rich aromas, watch them growing to huge sizes and observe the tomato fruits as they ripen: it really is mesmerising.
Pop along to your local garden centre or any high street DIY store and pick up some late additions now.
The scent of jasmine is enough to reinvigorate your senses. You don’t even need to be close to smell the deep aromas of this plant. Let the jasmine fill your closed space with greenery and aroma and you’ll feel all the better for it.
June is the perfect month to roll up your sleeves, pick up a trowel and start growing some quick and easy crops.
Peas are great speedy vegetables. Home-grown, their flavour is phenominally better than those cheap ones in cans, and if you’re clever you could even save a bit of money too.
In just under a week and a half, with a bit of heat, you’ll have pea seedlings poking through the soil. Very soon after potting the peas up or planting them outside, you’ll be inundated with flowers and delicious pods, ripe for picking.
Trust me, they won’t make it back to the dinner plate.
Last year, I grew just one large container’s worth of peas. There were about ten plants in total. From those ten plants, I received a constant supply of pea pods that saw me through the best part of three weeks. This just goes to show how productive peas can be, even in the smallest of spaces.
No room for a big container? Grow your peas in a small pot and harvest the growing tips instead. Use these on your salads and you can gloat about how healthy you’ve become.
Check out my video below for more information on growing peas:
The days are warmer, the sun is out for longer and there is plenty of fun to be had in the garden. Today is Somerset Garden Day, the first garden celebration day of its kind in the UK. Whether you’re the proud owner of a window box, a terrace or a full-blown garden, today is the day for putting your feet up and enjoying the space that you own. In celebration of the day itself, myself and fellow blogger and Incredible Edible Bristol community gardener, Man vs Allotment took time out of our busy schedules to throw a little party.
I’m ashamed to say that I don’t have many visitors to my plot. Although the plot itself is huge, it’s been under development for quite some time. However, with Somerset Garden Day dawning, it provided me with the perfect excuse to get some of my allotment neighbours and housemates over to the plot for some relaxing and unwinding.
By allowing yourself the time to unwind in these places of nature, or by sitting in your terrace garden with friends, you really do feel the stresses of the week fall away. It’s been proven that spending time around plants and trees and nurturing your own garden helps with anxiety and depression, and as someone who suffers from the former, I can confirm that it really does work.
Not only did we take some time out to immerse ourselves in the allotment, I also learnt more about my allotment neighbours. Ross (Man vs Allotment) is famous on the site for featuring with his innovative pub-shed idea in Big Dreams, Small Spaces presented by Monty Don. Naturally, I had to see it and we wandered up to enjoy a beer and talk about a range of different plans and ideas. Through inviting people into your garden or allotment, you can exchange great new ideas and inspiration, and I came away exactly having achieved it.
What was also brilliant to see was the diversity between the five of us. My two housemates own a colourful terrace garden right in the noisy centre of Bristol. Yet, they surround the space with lots of different plants to create a tranquil space. Tim, one of my allotment neighbours who writes for a local community newspaper has just taken on his second half-plot on the site and we exchanged lots of ideas about gardening and garden writing. Ross, again, has some great ideas for using his space, growing hops over his pub-shed so that he can start making his own brew, as well as lots of other little quirks on his plot. Together, we were all a hive of different ideas and the whole day was a refreshing change from the norm.
Across the county, let’s escape the stresses of the week and immerse ourselves in our slices of paradise. If you haven’t got enough plants, why not pick some fresh new colour, edibles and more from a local garden centre today?
Don’t forget to follow Somerset Garden Day on Twitter and on Instagram and tweet/take lot of photos of your garden spaces!
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.
Whenever I get into a conversation about growing food with one of my friends the most common reason for them not attempting to have a go is because of a lack of space. Now, as many of you are aware, my mission in life is to prove to everyone, no matter what you do or how much time you can spare, that growing your own food is actually very achievable.
So I started the Grow Your Own Food Challenge. The aim of the challenge is to show you all from seed through to meal that, garden, balcony or windowsill, there are still plenty of options available to you.
I’ll be posting videos and hashtagging #seedsaturday and #seedsunday every time I sow a new plants or share an update on the plants I’ll be growing this year.
Last weekend, I started my first batch of chilli seedlings. You can see the video below. Remember, if you’re new to this or you know someone who wants to grow their own food, make sure you follow my Facebook page for more information.