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Grow Your Own Vegetables

Growing your own vegetables, salads and herbs can be extremely satisfying.

Not only do they taste much better than shop bought vegetables they are also cheaper and tend to provide us with more vitamins, minerals and nutrients.

It is also so much more convenient to pop out to your garden than to trek down to the shops for a couple of fresh tomatoes and a lettuce.

So, there’s no excuse not to grow your own, you don’t need a large garden or an allotment, just a few pots on the patio will do if space is limited.

This article will help you to Grow Your Own with just five simple tasks:

  • How to Prepare the Soil
  • How to Sow Seed Outdoors
  • How to Sow Seed Indoors
  • How to practice Crop Rotation
  • How to Grow your Own in Containers

Preparing the Soil

Digging breaks up compacted layers in the soil helping to improve drainage and aeration it also gives you the opportunity to improve the quality and structure of the soil. The important thing is to do it at the right time; the soil mustn’t be not too wet or too dry.

The best way to improve your garden soil is to increase the amount of humus it contains. This can be done by either adding well-rotted organic matter or by growing special green manures. Plants can also be given a boost by applying fertilisers.

All soils can be improved by adding well-rotted organic matter; but the effects depend on the type of soil you have. On clay soil it aids drainage and aeration, on sandy soil if helps retain moisture and boosts fertility and on silty soil it helps prevent compaction. Organic matter is best applied either in autumn or spring.

Find out more about the different soil types.

Sowing Seed Outdoors

Seeds will only germinate when temperatures are high enough to allow growth so make sure you time the sowing of your seeds in relation to the weather where you live.

To give your vegetables the best start in life prepare your seed bed in early spring but only if the soil is not too wet.

Breakdown any clods of soil and add a general-purpose fertiliser to the surface and work into the top few inches of the soil.

Use a rake to work over the surface until it is smooth and level with a crumbly surface.

  • Mark out a row with a length of string
  • Draw out a drill with the edge of a trowel to the depth recommended on the seed packet
  • Water the trench before sowing
  • Sprinkle the seed along the bottom of the trench and cover gently with the soil removed from the trench
  • Keep well watered
  • To keep cats and pigeons away from your precious seeds lay some twigs or canes over the surface to cover with netting
  • When the seedlings produce their second set of leaves gently thin-out by removing all but the strongest, leaving enough room between them as recommended on the seed packet

Sowing Seed Indoors

Sowing seeds indoors means you can get a head start on the season but it does mean you will have to plant the young plants outside when the weather warms up.

  • Fill a seed tray or plant pot with a seed and cutting compost
  • Firm lightly and water until moist, not wet
  • Scatter seeds thinly on the surface and cover lightly with compost
  • Cover the container with a sheet of glass and cover that with newspaper to keep out the light
  • As soon as seedlings appear remove the paper and glass and move close to the light
  • Keep the compost moist
  • As soon as the first set of true leaves appear prick out into small pots filled with potting compost
  • Once the seedlings have settled begin hardening off by increasing the ventilation or moving to a cold frame. Once they are accustomed, move them outdoors during the day until ready to plant out
  • Plant out to the recommended spacing

If you do not have a greenhouse or cold frame you can grow seeds on a windowsill. After sowing the seed place a plastic bag loosely over the pot and secure with an elastic band. Keep in a warm, shady spot. Once the seedlings begin to appear remove the bag and place the pot on a windowsill out of direct sunlight. Keep the compost moist.

Crop Rotation

A common mistake that a lot of people make is to continue to grow the same crops in the same spot year after year. If this continues it will encourage diseases, specific to that crop, to increase each year and the nutrients used by the crop will become depleted very quickly.

To avoid this and to encourage large, healthy crops you should rotate the crops grown in each bed/container each year. For example:

Year 1

  • Bed 1 – Root vegetables such as Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroot, Potatoes
  • Bed 2 – Brassicas such as Cauliflower, Kale, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage
  • Bed 3 – Other vegetables such as Tomatoes, Sweetcorn, Peas, Spinach, Celery

Year 2

  • Bed 1 – Brassicas such as Cauliflower, Kale, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage
  • Bed 2 – Other vegetables such as Tomatoes, Sweetcorn, Peas, Spinach, Celery
  • Bed 3 – Root vegetables such as Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroot, Potatoes

Year 3

  • Bed 1 – Other vegetables such as Tomatoes, Sweetcorn, Peas, Spinach, Celery
  • Bed 2 – Root vegetables such as Parsnips, Carrots, Beetroot, Potatoes
  • Bed 3 – Brassicas such as Cauliflower, Kale, Broccoli, Brussels Sprouts, Cabbage

Year 4 – start again as Year 1

Before planting or sowing prepare the beds according to the crop to the grown. For Root vegetables do not add manure or lime, for Brassicas add well-rotted manure or garden compost and lime if the soil is alkaline. For all other vegetables add well-rotted manure or garden compost and lime only if the soil is acid. For all beds fork-in a general-purpose fertiliser two weeks prior to sowing or planting.

Growing in Containers

Most vegetables grow perfectly well in containers; any container will do including tins, pots, thick black plastic bags and even wellington boots! The most important things to remember are:

  • Use a good quality compost
  • Add a good helping of manure to improve the structure and help retain moisture
  • Remember to put holes into the base and/or sides of the container
  • Add crocks to the base of the container to improve drainage
  • Water well at planting/sowing time and continue to water throughout the season
  • Feed regularly
  • It is best to replace the compost each year but if you can’t afford to do this then mix the old compost with fresh compost and add fresh manure. Remember to rotate your crops each year.

Organic Vegetables

More and more people are choosing to grow organically, if this is you then take a look at Suttons range of organic seeds. This collection was trialled and tested at Sutton’s trial grounds and, as well as having organic origins, they are free from pesticides and other chemicals. All Sutton’s Organic Vegetable Seeds carry the Organic Farmers & Growers Seal of Approval. To help you plan your gardening year, take a look at our Vegetable Plot Diary. Keep track of when to sow seeds indoors and outdoors, when to plant, when to harvest and when to carry out other vegetable gardening tasks. You can also download a pdf version and make your own notes.