Springtime is a great time of year to start planning to make changes in your garden. If you’d like this year to be the year you start growing vegetables, then read on – in this article I’ll take you through some top tips for starting to grow your own produce.
The good news is, you don’t need an allotment or huge plot to grow your own vegetables. There are some types of vegetable that admittedly take up a lot of space, but many types can be grown in small beds, a trug or even in containers like pots and hanging baskets. I’ll share some of my favourite vegetables to grow in small spaces at the end of the article.
This is an introduction to growing vegetables for beginners, so it isn’t a comprehensive guide. Once you’ve decided what kind of veg you’d like to grow, there are plenty of amazing resources and books out there for you to find out more about growing your favourite crops.
Don’t forget, I offer bespoke 30-minute Zoom garden planning consultations. If you’re after some ideas for your garden or would like to talk through your plans, get in touch with me here.
What kind of vegetable bed to choose?
Depending on your space and the volume of crops you’d like to grow, there are a number of options available for growing vegetables. Wherever you place your chosen bed or container, remember that most veg does well in full sun. If there’s a ‘sun trap’ in your garden, for example next to a wall, place your veg bed or trug there so it can benefit from the residual heat of the day.
Raised beds are practical and manageable, and can be built almost anywhere including on allotments, on sloping terrain and even really small spaces. A raised bed creates a microclimate for your plants, so the soil in the bed will warm up more quickly than the ground. They’re also really easy to maintain and more accessible if you have any mobility issues.
A vegetable ‘trug’ or raised wooden planter on legs is another great option if you’re space-limited. Trugs can be easily built if you’re handy or purchased online in a variety of sizes ready for filling and planting. As these trugs generally stand at waist height, they’re excellent if you’re keen to avoid bending over for prolonged periods too.
Your existing containers and hanging baskets can also be repurposed as a home for your vegetable plants, as long as they are deep enough to support healthy growth.
Preparing your vegetable bed
One year’s seed is seven year’s weed! Weed your bed thoroughly each year and keep on top of weeds through the growing season so these intruders don’t steal much-needed nutrients from your veg. Fork through the soil and pull up any weeds you spot, making sure to remove the roots fully too. By keeping on top of regular weeding, you’ll prevent weeds from maturing and spreading their seed.
Next, it’s time to prepare the soil in your veg bed so that it’s a welcoming home for your seedlings. It’s worth learning what kind of soil you garden on, so you can work out if any additions are needed to optimise its texture and nutrient levels. For heavy clay soil, you can add sharp sand to make it more friable – but if it’s particularly heavy then working through some well-rotted, bulky organic matter like manure or compost will help. If you garden on light, sandy soil you’ll need to add something that will help retain moisture and nutrients, so again well-rotted organic matter is your best friend! In each of these cases, it’s also worth remembering that you can purchase ready-mixed topsoil that’s perfect for growing vegetables.
If you can only get regular topsoil, or you’re sprucing up last year’s bed, I’d recommend adding some additional peat-free compost to the top two inches of soil. You’re welcome to mix it into the topsoil but between you and I, the worms will help you out no end. You can layer the organic matter on top of th
e soil, and let the worms do their thing! Read my article on making your own compost at home here.
View my video “How to prepare a veg bed” with Love Gardening here.
Planning your vegetable bed
When it comes to planning what vegetables you’d like to grow, it really is up to you. With some savvy planting, you can grow a range of crops in just one bed all year round. There’s one simple factor you might like to take into account when choosing what to grow – what do you like to eat?
Some crops take up a lot of space and grow slowly, meaning that space is taken up all growing season – perhaps not ideal if you’re using a container or trug and particularly if you’re not going to eat them! Additionally, cost might be a factor. Some vegetables are more pricey than others to buy at the supermarket – so you’ll save cash by growing your own crop at home.
This excellent vegetable planner from the Royal Horticultural Society is a great resource for you to download and plan what to plant, and when.
Sowing seeds – when and where?
Sowing your vegetables directly from seed is really cost-effective as generally, seeds can be bought really cheaply. However it’s important to note that some vegetables are not frost-hardy, so should not be planted outside until any risk of frost has passed. When you come to purchasing your seeds, they’ll usually have a handy calendar on the packet which will show you where to plant them (indoor or outdoor), and when.
Hardier seedlings planted outside should be protected with horticultural fleece or bubble wrap in a particularly cold snap. If you’re sowing seeds for tender veg like runner beans and tomatoes, it’s best to start and keep them indoors until the risk has passed (this varies by location). You can buy special seed trays which are ideal for sowing seeds indoors, ready to place on a sunny windowsill to germinate. Alternatively, you can make your own using leftover toilet roll tubes, which will break down when you plant them in soil. The seedlings can be planted out in your prepared bed when they have a good root network and one or two true leaves.
Whichever vegetables you choose to plant, they’re a hungry lot – so make sure to keep them well-watered and give them a good feed every now and then.
Veg to grow in small spaces:
- Herbs and salad greens for a fresh hit of flavour in your salads and other meals
- Cherry tomatoes – delicious plucked straight from the vine, they might not make it to the table!
- Garlic is a super-versatile kitchen essentialand doesn’t need much space to grow
- Radish – super quick and easy to grow. You can pickle radishes, eat them whole or slice for salads
- Charlotte potatoes grow well in containers and have a lovely, delicate flavour and great texture.
Happy planting! Katie x