Getting Started

Tanya, Grow Your Neighbour’s Own’s veg doctor, has written a short guide on how to get started with growing veg if you’re a complete beginner:

Whatever the outdoor space you have, you can grow some vegetables, even if its salad ingredients in a container. Once you’ve begun and tasted the fruits of your labour, you really won’t want to stop.

Preparing your soil
The single most important thing to remember is your soil. Feed the soil, look after your soil, keep adding organic matter and it will be able to look after your plants.

If you get a plot in spring, it’s fine to dig it over and add well rotted manure/compost before planting. Autumn is a great time to add farmyard manure (I do so in spring too). If you have a new plot, in autumn, cover the soil with heavy black plastic/carpet over winter to kill off any weeds. If your beds are weed free, sow ‘green manures’ eg/ red clover, mustard. Before flowering, dig the plants back into the soil, they add a lot of nutrients.

Where do I plant?
So, first things first. You need to decide where in your garden to plant your vegetables – most vegetables want as much daylight as possible. Choose a sunny (if possible south facing) spot not shaded by trees, buildings or a fence and close to a water supply if possible (having to carry watering cans endlessly gets boring pretty quickly).

Whether growing in a container or vegetable plot, the soil needs to be fertile & well drained. Once you’ve chosen a plot, you need to prepare the ground. If it’s a large area you would usually hire a rotovator. For smaller areas, once the lawn (if any) is lifted, you need to dig it over, starting at one end digging at least a spades depth, adding plenty of well rotted horse manure and/or rotted kitchen/garden compost. This is really important to get healthy, productive happy plants. The soil will be improved no end and organic matter helps release nitrogen, minerals, and other needed nutrients. Make sure you don’t dig when its too wet – you’ll know it’s too wet to work if you squeeze a handful of soil and it stays in a ball rather than breaking up. You also want to make sure you don’t compact the soil by treading over it as you turn it – you want loose, crumbly soil. Use a plank of wood if you have to walk on the plot.

If you’re using raised beds, the issue of soil compaction won’t be so much of a concern. Raised beds are very popular nowadays and are good if you have terrible soil eg/ chalk. Once you’ve dug over the plot and incorporated the ‘organic matter’ the plot is prepped. Before sowing your seeds you’ll just need to rake, hoe etc it to a fine tilth (fine, crumble like texture). Make it as even as possible.

If planting in containers, the containers shouldn’t be smaller than 30cm, ideally much larger. I wouldn’t use terracotta as terracotta dries out quickly. Using a large container is best, being hungry, the plants will have more chance to grow with the available compost. Go for a loam rather than multi purpose compost, it holds more nutrients and holds water better. In containers, you are restricted somewhat by your options, the bigger the container, the better choice you have: lettuce, cut-&-come-again salad leaves, radish, spinach/chard, green beans, tomatoes, herbs and strawberries can all do really well. Feed weekly with a seaweed fertilizer.

What do I grow
Decide what you want to grow – do you like eating lettuce/salad greens, herbs, green beans, carrots etc.? And then for a month-by-month sowing guide, when to plant what it is you want to eat, see here.

Sowing
People often have their own preferred methods of sowing – eg/ I always sow my lettuce/salad seedling in ‘cells’ or ‘modules’ which are small individual pots all within one tray. Modules mean seedlings are not disturbed when planted out as they don’t have to be split up. They have no competition for nutrients or space etc and can become really healthy. You could sow seeds in individual pots – a few seeds/pot and thin out before planting.

Plants want to grow so given the right conditions they will!

Watering
If this is not provided by rainfall, you will need to. I water regularly – in the early days of spring when plants are young, I like to ensure they don’t dry out too much. Once veg/fruit has set, regular watering means tasty, tender crops. Tomatoes in particular like regular water especially once fruit has set (and tomato feed). The best time to water is early in the morning (at night it will attract the slugs). Hoe your beds regularly to control the weeds and leave the soil in a loose, friable condition to absorb later rainfall.

Generally…
Experiment. Look at how vegetables grow e.g. in allotments. If you have a small space, growing a crop of sweetcorn isn’t a reality, although you could grow potatoes in a container. If the first lettuce crop gets eaten by slugs, don’t be disheartened. With a little practice and experimentation, you’ll be bitten by the growing bug and become an old hand. Most of all enjoy yourself!

More advice can be found here, and on many other websites (see the links page).