“Nothing tastes as good as home-grown!” – a familiar cry from allotment owners and keen gardeners everywhere. But is it true? And are you ready to find out for yourself?
There are many reasons why growing your own is a good thing to do – both for yourself, and for the environment. When you grow your own food, you know exactly where it’s come from: your own soil, pesticide-free and freshly picked. Often, the produce we buy from the supermarket shelves is already several days or even weeks old and may have been treated with preservatives to prevent them from spoiling. Carrots, for example, are typically stored for anything from 1 to 9 months before being sold in the shops; in contrast, you can pick a carrot from your garden and have it cooked and on your plate within minutes – guaranteed freshness which also means fantastic flavour.
And the total food miles? Zero! At a time when the climate emergency is on everyone’s lips, reducing the amount of carbon emitted by food transportation is another way we can contribute to the fight against global warming. Not to mention that growing your own food completely bypasses the plastic packaging involved in unnecessarily wrapping fresh produce. But perhaps one of the best reasons to get into ‘grow your own’ is because it’s really enjoyable! It’s incredibly satisfying to sow some seed, watch the shoots germinate and grow and eventually harvest some delicious food to feed yourself and others.
You don’t need a huge garden or allotment plot to begin growing fruit and vegetables – any outdoor space can be adapted for growing. Garden beds are useful, but if space is limited you can grow in pots, window boxes or growbags. If you are fortunate enough to have some room in the garden, or even an entire allotment plot, you can sow straight into the ground or create raised beds, which can be constructed from various materials, and can offer easier access to the soil and plants. In terms of tools, a basic but useful set would include: a spade and/or fork, a rake, a trowel and a watering can or hose.
Your growing area should be prepared during autumn to late winter, so that the ground is ready for planting in spring when the soil warms up. This is the time of year to begin sowing – a wide range of vegetables can be started from seed either indoors on a sunny windowsill or under glass in a greenhouse or cold frame; these will be planted out into your veg beds once they’ve established a good root system and after the last frosts (generally around mid-late May for Scotland).
You’ve got the space and the tools – now what to grow? The best place to start is to think about what you like to eat, and grow that. Love potatoes? They’re quick and easy, and even better fresh from the plot. Can’t stand carrots? Then don’t bother – they have a relatively long growing season, so put your efforts into something you prefer. Figure out how much space you’ve got, and choose the crop to suit. Peas and beans grow vertically, so don’t take up much room; potatoes, on the other hand, are large and leafy and need to be spaced around a foot apart. Smaller, fast-growing salad veg such as lettuce, radish, beetroot and spring onion can often be planted among those which take longer to harvest, maximising your growing space.
Tomatoes require some extra effort, but are well worth it – there is nothing to compare with the flavour of a fresh, homegrown tomato. These usually need to be grown in a greenhouse, with careful watering – but there are some outdoor varieties which may withstand the variable weather of a Scottish summer. Other greenhouse (or warm conservatory) options include chillis, peppers, cucumber and aubergines.
The other addition to your plot should be some flowers – these are important for attracting beneficial insects and repelling pests. Pollinators will visit for bright blooms such as cosmos, calendula or nasturtium, while marigolds are said to be effective at repelling aphids.
To find out more information on growing your own you don’t have to look far – there is a plethora of books on the subject, along with websites, apps, magazines and podcasts. Charles Dowding is the creator of the ‘no-dig’ movement and a master of grow your own – his books and website are a great place to start. If you’re short of space, try Huw Richard’s book ‘Veg in One Bed’ for a very simple guide to growing as much as possible in a small area. The book ‘Fruit and Vegetables for Scotland’ by Ken Cox and Caroline Beaton is especially useful for identifying the best varieties for Scottish gardeners.
If Instagram is your thing use the hashtag #GYO or #growyourown to find a community of like-minded gardeners and allotment holders who love to share photos and advice. There are also plenty of podcasts covering food growing and related topics – such as The Organic Gardening Podcast or The Dirt, which is produced by Grow Your Own magazine, another excellent source of information and advice – plus each issue comes with free seeds!
If you’re thinking now’s the time to try growing some food – just go for it. You’ve nothing to lose but the price of a packet of seeds – and you might gain a new passion, better health, more time outdoors and some really tasty fruit and veg!