Throughout the pandemic, many Brits made the most of their outdoor space and embraced ‘The Good Life’ by growing their own herbs, fruit and vegetables. If you’d like to join the UK army of green-fingered food growers but are unsure where to start, we’ve gathered together all the gardening tips and growing advice you need:
Why grow your own fruit and veg?
Nothing is more satisfying than tucking into a meal that contains home-grown ingredients, and there are many other benefits to growing your own fruit and vegetables as well.
One of the biggest advantages is a reduction in your food bills – the price of a packet of seeds is roughly the same as a single pre-packed item in the supermarket – saving you money and also cutting down on the plastic waste involved in purchasing shrink-wrapped produce from the shop.
There are also health benefits to consider. According to data from the WebMD website, maintaining your garden plot, planting seeds and keeping it weed-free burns between 200 and 400 calories an hour.
Gardeners who regularly grow their own produce are also more likely to consume up to 40% more fruit and veg than those who do not – making it much easier to achieve your five-a-day fruit and vegetable consumption.
Ready, get set… grow!
April is the perfect time to start a vegetable garden. Hardy vegetables such as carrots, beetroots, turnips and peas will all thrive in well-prepared plots.
Carrots are popular and easy to maintain and are a great introduction to gardening. They simply need to be sowed in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Thinly sow the seeds in holes approximately 1cm deep and in rows at least 15cm apart. Carrots are resilient root vegetables and do not need to be watered very often – although in prolonged dry conditions they will enjoy a long drink from the watering can.
After three to four months your carrots will be ready to harvest and enjoy, try serving them as a buttery side dish to a Sunday Roast, or whip up a Roasted Carrot, Rocket and Lentil Salad that makes a calcium-rich, vibrant summer salad for a quick lunch.
Turnips are another easy to grow vegetable – and are very under-rated. There are some delicious recipes which transform the humble turnip into something truly delicious, such as this Sliced Turnip and Bacon Bake which is the perfect accompaniment to slow-cooked lamb shoulder.
Like carrots, turnips can be sowed in rows with seeds spread thinly at a depth of 1cm. Unlike carrots, turnips are a thirsty vegetable and will need regular watering, otherwise the roots will develop a woody flavour. Grow them in cooler areas of the garden for the best results.
Rent an allotment
Demand for allotments increased during the lockdown period, so if you want to secure a plot, make sure you get your name down on your local allotment waiting list – as the average waiting time to secure a plot is between six and eight months.
It’s estimated that there are 300,000 plots available in England, most of which fall under the responsibility of local councils. Your local council website is a great place to start if you want to add your name to the list, but it’s also worthwhile checking with the National Trust website too, as they offer some allotment sites to the public on the land they care for – and also provide plots for local community groups and schools.
Growing your own fruit and vegetables in pots
Even if you have limited outdoor space, there are still plenty of opportunities to plant your produce in pots, even on a small balcony or patio area.
Strawberries can be grown from a hanging basket and the Alpine strawberry (also known as wild strawberries) variety is a great choice as the berries are smaller and will tumble over the basket to brighten up your outdoor space before harvesting. They also make the most amazing wild strawberry jam!
Other produce worthy of consideration is leafy veg such as kale and chard which need sturdy containers with good drainage but are happy to grow in shady spots with as little as 4 hours of sunlight a day.
If your miniature vegetable garden is bathed in sunshine then peppers, beans and butternut squash are all sun-worshipping options, although butternut squash requires a larger container that will hold at least 5 gallons of soil.
Our top tip is to buy wheeled planters and containers, which will allow you to easily move the plants into sunny or shady spots of your garden to keep your crop happy!
A kitchen herb garden
Herbs are easy to grown and can be planted anytime during the spring and summer months. Creating a herb garden is also a fun way to get younger members of the family involved – with basil, parsley, chervil and dill all growing fast enough to keep children interested. These herbs can be grown from seed and will thrive on a sunny kitchen windowsill.
To achieve a bumper crop of perennial herbs such as mint, rosemary, sage or thyme, we advise planting outside in late spring in well-drained soil with plenty of compost. Once the plants are established, they will supply a continual variety of flavours that will make any meal taste great. Try this Smoked Salmon, Dill and Lemon pate which can be whipped up in just five minutes and used as a dip with crackers or crusty bread.
Or for something a little unusual to pep up a summer cocktail, freeze some herb-infused ice cubes and add them to a glass of Pimms lemonade.
Where to buy seeds?
If you are keen to get growing, there are plenty of places to purchase seeds and plants. Marshall’s Garden has a large array of seeds and plants to get you started, or simply pop into your local garden centre to purchase everything from compost to containers to get you started.