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Really Useful Tips to Grow Your Own for Beginner Gardeners!

April 1, 2017

If you are anything like me, the idea of Growing Your Own fruit Grow is massively appealing, but also a little intimidating. My mum was a very keen gardener, so I never really bothered to learn, relying instead on the glut from their allotment, and my mum’s inability to not potter around our garden doing all the jobs whenever she visited. Now she is no longer with us, I am realising quite how much I regret not tapping into her wisdom and knowledge (about so many things, not just gardening) and it all suddenly seems a little daunting.

I decided that it can’t be just me who would love a really basic, ‘idiot’s guide’ to getting started with growing my own fruit and veg, so I asked in my fabulous Facebook group for tips for beginners, and as ever, the wonderful community there came up trumps.

Here are some top tips for beginner gardeners to get started growing their own fruit and veg this season.

1. Have a go!
At the end of the day, you have nothing to lose.
Seed is cheap, or you could actually have a go at growing from the seeds of your bought fruit and veg (although some has been genetically modified not to grow, but you won’t know until you try!).
I am sure that experienced gardeners will be showing pitchforks at their computers as they read this, but the basic equation is seed+soil+sunlight+water=plant.
I know there are all kinds of considerations of soil type, and climate, but I’m afraid I do start to switch off as soon as people start to talk about soil types. Have a go, engage in a  bit of trial and error. And learn from your mistakes. There are no failings, only learning!
I love this quote from one of the comments in my Facebook group:
“Technically skilled gardening can wait – just seeing what you can get to pop up and scoff is not daunting.” 
Now that’s my kind of gardening!

2. Keep a diary
If you are going to learn from your failures learnings, then you need to be able to remember what worked and what didn’t from one year to the next. Keep a Grow Your Own journal of some kind – make a note of what you planted, where, and the result, to inform your choices next year.

3. Grow what you like to eat
This may sound really obvious, but for a couple of years we grew broad beans, because they were easy, and that’s what everyone recommended. None of us actually like broad beans….
If you have kids, and want them to get involved and ‘help’ (the amount of genuine ‘help’ they are is obviously age dependant, unless you count over liberal watering, throwing of soil, and dumping all the seeds in one hole as help…)

4. Grow stuff that is expensive to buy in the shops
Potatoes, onions and carrots are great to grow but are cheap to buy.
Think about things like mange tout, or cherry tomatoes or soft fruit – all far more yummy to eat, and relatively expensive to buy, even when they are in season. We have a few raspberry canes in our garden, and there is an immense satisfaction for a few weeks a year when we can go out and pick  a couple of quids worth of raspberries for pudding each night, for free!

5. Ask other people
Check out your local allotments or gardening club.
Gardeners tend to be very generous souls, and if you take a stroll up to your local allotment, and start chatting, you will undoubtedly pick up all kinds of useful tips, and may even be donated some seeds to get you going!
Someone in my group is learning by volunteering at a local garden – the National Trust are often looking for volunteers to help out in the gardens of their magnificent historic homes – what a great opportunity to learn from experts in amazing surroundings!
Another good place to look would be to see if you have a local Incredible Edible project – these are community projects that aim to bring communities together through food, and utilise public land to grow fruit and veg that anyone in the community can help themselves to.

6. Get a good basic book to help you out
Recommendations from my Facebook group include:
– ‘Allotment. Month by Month’ by Alan Buckingham. Published by Dorling Kingsley.
– books by Alys Fowler like The Thrifty Gardener or The Thrifty Forager.
– RHS book – Step by Step Veg Patch by Lucy Halsall.

7. Start small and keep it simple
“There is nothing worse than putting in loads of effort and getting no return, you will give up. So pots in the garden of chard, radishes, salad leaves. Herbs on your kitchen window sill. A few peas on some canes…”
More wise words from my Facebook group!
Remember that the things you plant now will need weeding and watering as the weather warms up, and this can mean a daily commitment if you get a hot summer.
Also bear in mind that you will need to be able to eat/preserve/give away whatever you grow. Do you have the time to be making endless pots of chutney or jam? Or to be blanching and freezing courgettes? Think about how much you can realistically eat or preserve, and plan accordingly!
Herbs on the windowsill (or if you grow them outside, a great top tip from my Facebook group was to grow them close to your back door, so you can easily access them in the winter), or cut and come again lettuce in a pot are easy ways to get started.

8. Use what you have
Don’t rush out and buy lots of plastic pots for growing seedlings, or those plastic label things. Here are some great ideas for ‘Make Do and Mend gardening’ that were in the comments:
– Labels can be made from plastic milk bottles or wooden pop sticks (like the ones in store bought icecreams),
– Loo rolls as seedling pots,
– Making your own compost,
– Having a worm farm and using worm tea as a fertiliser,
– Using milk/soft drink bottles with the bottom cut off as a mini green house for individual plants,
– Old yogurt, margerine and muller rice pots, ice cream tubs – good for potting on seedlings – poke hole through bottom with a hot skewer,
– Also tubs you get mushrooms in are a really good size for windowsills,
– You can often find lots of usable stuff at tips, if you have a good one that rescues and recycles stuff. “We have lots of old metal colanders, even an old metal baby bath and a metal lampshade, that I use for things that the slugs particularly like. They don’t like the metal 

9. Be ready for slugs…!
Slugs are a gardeners worst enemy – here are some ways to deal with them without resorting to slug pellets:
– Beer traps can work – dig a jam jar into the ground so that it’s rim is level with the surface of the soil, and then fill it 2/3 full with beer. The slugs will be attracted by the smell and crawl in and drown. Do remember to check and empty them regularly though, as is warm weather they start to stink pretty quickly!
– A dusk slug patrol is recommended by one the members of my Facebook group – “Collect and dispose – To friend who have hens? Or dump on a patch of waste ground over 100yds away, or put in the compost heap.”

10. Have FUN!
Above all, don’t take it too seriously. Think about what you like to eat, how much you can eat, and then have a go. Get the kids on board, wander up to your local allotment and make some new friends.  Learn from anything that didn’t go well. And make sure you enjoy the fruits of your labour at harvest time!
This was my favourite quote from the comments, and should give us all hope…
“Been gardening for 40 years, still cock it up sometimes.”

I know I’ve missed loads of stuff out, but as I said this is an ‘idiot’s guide’ for total beginners, and I think the main thing is that we all have a  go, and aren’t intimidated to make a start.
So are you inspired to have a go this year?
Do share your plans, comments, tips in the comments below!

This post is part of One Planet Food topic, for One Planet Living. You can find out more about the idea behind One Planet Living here, and all the posts about One Planet Food here.
For anyone wanting to join in and explore how you live more lightly and mindfully, I have put together a One Planet Living Planner, full of information and ideas for small steps to more sustainable living. You can get your FREE copy here.

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  • Reply SueB April 1, 2017 at 12:01 pm

    Grow a variety of things if you can, weather and pest conditions will change so spread the risk. Something that did poorly one year might not do so badly the next (if it always does poorly then maybe it’s an underlying problem like unsuitable soil rather than a pest or weather problem).

    Most of gardening is about mitigating the pests including weeds, be prepared to net if you have birds or they will enjoy your gooseberries, blueberries and raspberries at a point of ripeness just slightly less than when you intended to pick the fruit. They can strip a bush very quickly.

    • Reply Jen April 1, 2017 at 5:52 pm

      Great tips, thanks Sue!

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