Why spend half your shopping budget on soggy salad and tasteless veg full of chemicals? It's much cheaper, healthier and tastier to grow your own.
Growing your own veg is back in the limelight and everyone's doing it, from TV gardeners and celebrity chefs to nutrition gurus. When you consider the health benefits of eating fresh, tasty, unadulterated food, it's easy to see why so many gardeners bother.
By growing your own produce, you can be assured that what arrives on your family's dinner table is not pumped full of man-made chemicals. Even better, it's readily available just a few feet from your kitchen door, whether that's in the garden or nestled in containers on a balcony. So you can feel a real sense of pride and achievement in your efforts - not that growing vegatales demands any great effort, knowledge, space or time.
My initial incentive to get outside and grow had a lot to do with having children. Apart from my own curiosity, I wanted them to see how vegetables grew and tasted straight from the plot. In time, I hoped it would become second nature for them to sow and grow for themselves.
Firstly, I would recommend you start small, as over-ambitious growing regimes can soon leave you feeling overwhelmed - I say this from experience! A few containers or raised beds are a good way to begin and are able to provide optimum growing conditions to boost your confidence.
Vegetables will grow in anything that can retain water and has drainage, from an old tyre planted with salad crops to a bin bag full of compost for potatoes. Whatever container you choose, make sure there are plenty of drainage holes covered with gravel or crocks (broken clay pots) to prevent them clogging up.
Raised beds are really just large containers sitting on the ground, and there are a number of advantages to growing vegetables in this way. Firstly, if you have poor soil (as we hve in our garden), raised beds can easily be filled with good garden soil and organic matter. Also, there is no digging or treading on the soil, therefore no soil compaction, meaning that drainage conditions are vastly improved and plants can really flourish.
Sowing the seeds
For a first-time gardener, I would recommend beetroot, salad leaves, new potatoes and chard. Beetroot has large, easy-to-handle seeds and can be sown directly outside (I do this around Easter time). Fresh raw beetroot is a powerful blood cleanser and tonic, which has been found to contain specific anticarcinogenic substances, and baby beetroot leaves are delicious in salads. Larger leaves can be cut and cooked like spinach.
Salad leaves will be growing within four weeks of sowing. Among some of the leaves I grow are mizuna (Japanese greens), whic hare extremely fast-growing, very easy to grow and winter hardy; mustard greens, which are also winter hardy with a distinctive mustard taste; and tocket, another flavoursome leaf that no salad should be without.
Potatoes can be easily grown in large plastic bags or in stacked tyres. You will need to add extra soil as the plant develops, so that the sunlight desn't turn the potatoes green. I also grow rhubard chard, which is very easy to produce and looks particularly striking as a container plant, and has the added advantage of tasting just as good as it looks!
There's nothing as satisfying as gathering your own crisp salad for an alfresco meal or serving up plate of young potatoes pulled straight from your own back garden with a sprig of mint and a knob of butter. They're full of vitamins and minerals, and taste fantastic. Everyone will want to dig in!