Gardening

Grow-your-own: my story, how to get started and busting myths!

Over the last couple of years, my partner Jason and I have forayed into growing our own veg, which is a rather enjoyable and rewarding pastime as well as having obvious benefits both for our health and the planet. Here I share some insights and tips from our experiences so far, whilst busting a few myths that may be stopping you from getting started with growing your own!

Do you ever despair over the limited choice of plastic-free produce in the supermarket, or at the price you pay for good quality veg? These issues leave me feeling wracked with guilt every time I go shopping, either for buying packaged items, stuff from halfway across the world or denting my bank balance more heavily than I’d have liked. Here in the UK we seem to be particularly bad for plastic packaging in our produce isles – though it’s getting better – and I’d love to hear what it’s like in your part of the world if you live elsewhere.

Anyway, I’m looking forward to the summer, when these issues won’t trouble me so much as we’ll be picking lots of fresh produce straight from our own crops!

We’re not gardening experts by any stretch, but that’s the beauty of it in some ways – you don’t have to be particularly skilled in order to make stuff grow – as long as you choose things that are relatively easy, give them enough space and provide the little bit of TLC they need (which for the hardiest of plants isn’t much!).

Last year I let Jason lead on the gardening, feeling I couldn’t contribute much because I didn’t know what I was doing. This year it’s different, not because I’ve suddenly become more knowledgeable but because I’ve taken the plunge and got stuck in. Here’s a run-down of what we’ve done, with some top tips and myth-busting thrown in along the way:

Top Tip 1: Grow-kits

Inspired by a colleague who had done the same, I bought some grow-kits from a local shop. Though such a simple thing, these nifty little packs that contained everything I needed gave me the confidence to crack on and get planting.

Where to buy: here in the UK, Wilko offers a range of grow-kits; this is where I got my stash.

I was impressed with the grow-pots, which are essentially yogurt pots that form a mini-greenhouse with their clear plastic lids. I’m continuing to use these as plant pots, and now I know how it works I’m saving yogurt pots to use for germination in future and minimise waste!

Myth: you need a greenhouse to be able to grow tomato plants

Bust: you don’t! Our tomato plants are coming on just fine, helped along by their starting life inside a yogurt pot (along with the glorious weather we’ve been getting of course!). Admittedly we don’t know how many will continue to survive, but we’ve got about 30 decent-looking baby plants that have survived this far without a greenhouse. Amazing!

We’ve also got radishes and Turkish Turban squash plants doing well, both from the 6-veg grow-kit you see in the picture. They are both super low maintenance and I can’t wait to see how they turn out later in the year!

Of course, this means we have a LOT of little plants right now. You might be picturing us in an idyllic garden with loads of space for them to live, but this isn’t the case! Our apartment is an annexe of a big house and we don’t have access to the garden. We only have concrete outdoor space, so we’re limited to growing in pots and planters.

Myth: you need lots of space and a proper garden in order to grow vegetables.

Bust: not necessarily; it all depends on what you choose to grow. Some plants are actually well-suited to being grown in limited space, with tomatoes being a prime example. Given too much space, they’ll spread outwards rather than upwards, so something just-big-enough like pots of baskets are perfect for optimal growth. For vegetables that like to grow in rows, such as beets, we’re on the lookout for some long but compact trough-like planters.

Top tip 2: smart storage

If you’ve got limited space, look for clever ways to store your plants. Whilst we’ve got lots of baby tomatoes, the pots are all stacked on a makeshift stand, which minimises surface area and makes them easy to move around (we like to get them maximum sun exposure during the day and pop them just inside the front door overnight to keep them warm).

Top tip 3: plant swap

As the plants get stronger and we’re confident in their survival, we’ll be able to donate some to friends and family. This is a lovely thing about growing veg: it’s rather sociable and it feels good to share. We’ve already done a swap of a squash plant for a couple of courgettes (or zucchini if you speak American English!) and it feels exciting to add a new vegetable to our collection! It’s also a good way to not end up with a surplus of something.

(Note: any plant swapping we do at the moment is done whilst maintaining appropriate distancing and as part of our daily outdoor exercise.)

Top tip 4: seed harvest

You can be even more resourceful by harvesting the seeds from shop-bought veggies and using these for planting. You’ll get loads of seeds this way so you can share them with friends too! Here are the 3 simple steps I followed to prep my butternut squash seeds for the ground:

  1. Scoop the seeds and pulp from the middle of the squash and place in a jug with enough water for the seeds to float to the top. Over the course of 2-4 days, the mixture starts to ferment, killing viruses and allowing the good seeds to sink to the bottom.
  2. Get rid of the pulp and any seeds that continue to float, then dry the remaining seeds thoroughly. I did this by laying them out on a paper towel on a plate and putting them in the sun for a few hours.
  3. Once you’re sure the seeds are completely dried out, pop them in an envelope (it’s a good idea to label with what they are and when from). Put them in the freezer for a couple of days to kill off any last bad stuff, then they’re ready to go!

I’m looking forward to getting some of these planted and am keen to learn more about prepping seeds from other veg for planting. Watch this space!

Myth: I can’t grow anything as all the stores have sold out of seeds.

Bust: with a bit of leg-work, you can plant the seeds from shop-bought vegetables!

So there you have it: a whistle-stop tour of my grow-your-own journey so far this year. If you’re keen to start growing, I hope this has provided the inspiration you need to get started. If I can do it, anyone can! Please use the comments box to share your own growing stories and tips. I’ll look forward to hearing from you and sharing more of my experiences as the season progresses!