If you’re into growing your own fruit and veg, you’ll know that when it comes to gardening success, nothing beats experience. Here to help you plan and prepare your garden for the growing season, we asked some of our favourite growers to share some of their tried and tested wisdom.
Getting the most from your plot begins with coming up with a plan. As Katie of Lavender and Leeks says:
I draw out detailed plans of the allotment with spreadsheets of all the seeds I’ll be growing along with when they need to be sown, planted out and harvested.
When planning your garden, do bear in mind how quickly different plants grow and mature.
Jonathan, aka The Propagator Blog, says: “I have planned my veg growing year to make use of the second half of the season so that, for example, when the peas are finished, I have cavolo nero ready to grow for winter leaves.”
With foresight, you may be able to get two, or possibly even three harvests from the same plot. Mark of Marks Veg Plot makes sure he has new seedlings ready to plant out as soon as the previous crop has finished. As he says: “Bare ground is unproductive ground.”
“The best way to maximise your crop during the growing season is to grow using ‘No Dig’ methods,” says Steph of No Dig Home. A planting method that’s rapidly growing in popularity, it’s important to feed your soil by spreading a mulch of compost over your beds each year.
Steph says: “This helps to keep the beds weed free whilst feeding the plants and - crucially - the soil and soil life, for a whole year’s cropping.”
Over at Life on Pig Row, Andrew says that good quality mulch is the trick to successful raspberries. His best advice is to “pile it on thick!”
We put at least seven inches of compost around the base of the plants to keep down the weeds and help retain water for a bumper crop of tasty berries.
Remember, your crops are only as good as the soil you grow them in. As Emma over at The Unconventional Gardener says, healthy harvests are: “very much about ensuring you’ve got healthy soil at the start of the growing season.”
Read the packet
Our growers’ best advice for planting out seeds and seedlings is to be guided by the seed packet...but take what it says with a pinch of salt. That’s because there’s no point planting seeds until the weather is right in whatever part of the country that you happen to live.
As Punam at Horticultural ‘obbit says: “Many people start out looking at seed packets, and sow according to those.” However, she reckons we need to read the clues in our own gardens:
What we need to do is just look out the window and see what is happening with flora and fauna.
Sue at Green Lane Allotments agrees. She says: “Let the weather and the soil tell you when it is time to plant… There is absolutely no point in trying to plant or sow seeds in cold, soggy mud.”
She adds that if in doubt, hold off planting your seedlings for a little while longer as they’ll grow weak and leggy if kept waiting indoors too long: “Later sown seeds and later set out plants will catch up, and they often benefit by not suffering a check to their growth that can result from planting out before the conditions are plant friendly.”
Plant everything at the same time and you’ll have so much crop ready at once that you can’t possibly eat it all. And while it’s nice to be able to freeze down the surplus or give it away to neighbours, you can easily avoid a glut by staggering your planting.
Richie at Sharpen Your Spades says: “My tip would be to sow short rows of root vegetables and salads every couple of weeks. It means no gluts and you can harvest delicious crops over a longer and continuous period of time.”
Rather than focus on growing as much of one crop as possible, I try and grow lots of things so that the harvests are smaller and staggered.
Emma says that the advantage of growing a broad mix of different plants isn’t just about avoiding a glut. She says that it also helps to attract “fewer pests and more beneficial insects”.
Watering your produce is a vital part of the growing process. Punam, the Horticultural ‘obbit learnt how to care for tomatoes from her Grandad: “He would water his tomatoes in the morning and the evening [when] lower temperatures mean less wastage and maximum absorption.”
Katie, from Lavender and Leeks is also thinking about watering this year. She says:
I’ll be creating an easier and more efficient watering system for the greenhouse and allotment by using my water butt and also drip feed irrigation.
Last year Katie’s squash trough did amazingly well because it was watered every day, and we all know how thirsty squash can be!
And if you want to add a little something to your water to help your plants reach their full potential, Claire, of Claire’s Allotment recommends Shropshire Seaweed Fertiliser: “It’s full of all sorts of goodness… Since using this fertiliser my produce has not only grown beautifully, but it has tasted amazing as well.” Just read the instructions on how much to use, and keep a good sized watering can at the ready.
If you’re wondering what to grow this season, it’s always fun to experiment with some of the more unusual or difficult to grow fruit and veg. That said, you don’t want to end up with nothing to eat if your experiments go awry. As Becky at Allotment Mum says:
Always grow some fairly fail-proof crops like beetroot, kale and courgette alongside the more risky ones like melons and aubergines.
She also strongly recommends investing in a polytunnel which has revolutionised her gardening life!
We hope our growers’ tips give you the inspiration you need to reach for a pen and paper and plan your fruit and veg patch for this season. And if you’ve some tips of your own to help budding gardeners everywhere get healthy harvests this year, we’d love to hear from you. Just head to our Facebook page and leave us a message.