It's time to veg out

Date
Published in
Bella (UK)
Written by
Kim Wilde

Our brilliant new gardening expert Kim Wilde tells you how to get sowing - and more...

Have you ever thought about growing your own fruit and vegetables? I remember feeling overwhelmed at the prospect, but six years ago I jumped in with both feet and I haven't looked back since. I have to admit that my family is far from being self-sufficient and we're still learning but the joy of munching through a row of fresh peas on a summer's day with the children, or watching as they raid the raspberry canes makes the effort worthwhile.

Give raised beds a try

We grow all our vegetables in raised beds which are so easy to create. Simply surround an area of about 1.5 sq m - so you can easily reach into the centre of the bed - with pressure-treated gravel boards, bricks or old railway sleepers (not creosote-drenched ones). You don't have to dig very deep, just mix in a mulch of well-rotted organic matter to raise the soil level. Add more each autumn to improve drainage and help the soil to retain water - a real advantage in our garden, which has cold clay soil.
Raised beds warm up much quicker than the ground and the roots of vegetables have a free run in the humus-rich soil.

Plant them now

Sow seeds now about 2cm apart and cover with 3cm of moist soil. To help keep them warm cover with clingfilm pierced with a few air holes until they've grown two or three sets of leaves. Thin out, saving only the strongest. Keep out of direct sunlight until well established. As soon as the second set of leaves have formed, feed with liquid fertiliser every week.

Put them in pots

If space is tight, why not grow vegetables in pots? Any container can be used - the larger the better as they are less prone to dry out - but make sure there are drainage holes at the base. Cover the holes with a layer of pebbles, gravel or broken pieces of polystyrene packaging to allow the water to drain out freely.
Terracotta pots - unless glazed - absorb water from the soil. To prevent this, I find the best thing is to line them with plastic - not forgetting to make drainage holes. Fill the pots with potting compost - not garden soil as it's too heavy.

Spring flower power

I love bulbs in pots, which I place on a garden kitchen table outside our kitchen. I start with snowdrops, crocuses, short-stemmed daffodils and grape hyacinths followed by Dwarf tulips, pansies and polyanthus.

My favourite flowers this month

For a fantastic show of colour with very little maintenance I like to sow hardy annuals right where I want them to flower and which helpfully seed themselves around.
The Poached Egg Plant (Limnanthes douglasii) is lovely and is also great at attracting the greenfly-eating hoverfly; which feeds on its pollen.
My other favourites include cornflowers (Centaurea); English marigolds (Calendula) and Love-in-a-mist (Nigella damascena).
Hardy annuals are frost hardy and can also be sown in the autumn for early flowering the next year.

Jobs to do in April
  • Cut back the tall, old stems of established buddleia to about 1m from the ground. Prune forsythia after flowering - trim back secondary branches to a few centimetres from the main stem. 
  • Don't be tempted to cut or tie back tatty-looking leaves left after bulb flowering - they will help to produce food for the bulb in preparation for next spring. 
  • Plant your summer flowering bulbs now. Lilies, or the exotic tiger flower (tigridia pavonia), look wonderful planted in pots.