Things to think about

To grow vegetables, you will need an open, welldrained plot.

When you first start out, it is more useful to have a cold frame than a greenhouse to grow vegetables in. There are different benefits to growing in a greenhouse and a cold frame. If you can include both in your vegetable garden, so much the better.

Growing your own vegetables is convenient. You can grow far more varieties than you can buy in the shops and, as well as growing vegetables that you like, you can experiment with unusual varieties.

If seed is sown directly into the soil, good preparation is essential. Dig the soil in the autumn and again in early spring to remove stones and weeds. Then rake over until the soil is fine before sowing your seed as the supplier recommends.

As sowing times and planting distances vary, it is important to follow the instructions on the seed packet.

Store left-over seed, and seed you have saved yourself, in a cool, dark, dry place to use again or swap with your friends.

Keep a diary to plan successive sowings of vegetables. Some will crop late, some early, but with careful planning you can make the most of the growing season and avoid shortages, gluts and a lack of variety.

In the vegetable garden straight rows of plants are easiest to keep free of weeds that will compete with your plants for nutrients. Straight rows can be easily accessed to weed with a hoe.

Crop Rotation

Crops will thrive and you will have fewer pests and diseases if you don't grow the same crop on the same ground year after year. Crop rotation will prevent an imbalance of nutrients in the soil.

A sensible crop rotation would be:

  AREA 1 AREA 2 AREA 3
YEAR 1 ROOTS BRASSICAS OTHERS
YEAR 2 OTHERS ROOTS BRASSICAS
YEAR 3 BRASSICAS OTHERS ROOTS

ROOT CROPS include beetroots, carrots, parsnips, radishes, swedes, turnips and potatoes

BRASSICAS include broccoli, brussel sprouts, cabbages, cauliflowers, kale and pak choi

LEGUMES/OTHERS include beans, peas, celery, courgettes, leeks, endives, lettuces, marrows, onions, spinach, leaf beet and sweet corn

Even if you don't strictly follow a system of crop rotation, try not to grow the same thing in the same place for too long.

Plant & grow potatoes

Potatoes are an excellent crop for a new or neglected garden as the root system breaks up the soil and improves its structure. There are few soils in which potatoes won't grow reasonably well.

1

Prepare the soil by digging plenty of organic matter into open, frost-free ground, to a depth of 60cm. Crops will be poor in shaded areas.

2

In a light but not sunny room, set out the seed potatoes, eyes uppermost, in trays or egg boxes to chit (sprout). In six weeks they will develop 2cm sprouts.

3

Plant seed potatoes upright, with shoots at top, 30cm apart with 60cm between rows 15cm deep. Take care not to damage the fragile shoots.

4

Potatoes need constant 'earthing up' to protect them from late frost and prevent tubers that are too near to the surface turning green and toxic.

5

As an alternative, and for easier harvesting, you can earth up with straw. Potatoes are ready to dig up when they are the size of a hen's egg.

Plant & grow onions

Many recipes make use of onions, shallots or garlic. You can easily store these indispensable vegetables for future use. Onions of ordinary size and quality can be grown in most soils.

1

As onions need good drainage, the texture of the soil is important. Before planting dig in well-rotted manure and sand or grit. Add general fertiliser.

2

Plant onion sets 10cm apart from late winter to mid spring, when the ground is workable. Push gently into the soil until just the tips are showing.

3

Plant easy-to-grow shallots 15cm apart from late winter to early spring. Press the bulbs firmly into the soil until they are half covered.

4

Garlic likes the sun and fairly rich ground. Plant bulbs vertically, 10cm apart, in late autumn or early spring to the depth of the bulb.

5

When onion, shallot and garlic leaves turn yellow, lift the bulbs and spread them to dry in a cool dry place, or plait withered leaves together with string.

Plant & grow peas

Peas are one of the highlights of a vegetable gardener's year. In small gardens, sow peas in ground that can afterwards be used for salad, leeks or cabbage. Peas need plenty of water to thrive.

1

Peas need sun and well-drained soil. Dig in plenty of compost and wellrotted manure, with a top dressing of general fertiliser, before sowing.

2

The hard round seeds are sown outside when the soil temperature is above 10°C, for a first harvesting in late May or June.

3

Sow seed 5cm apart in single V-shaped rows 5cm deep. The distance between rows should equal the height of the fullgrown plant.

4

Yields are better and picking is much easier when pea plants are well supported. Use bamboo canes and netting.

5

Peas need plenty of moisture, especially as pods begin to fill. Begin watering when flowers appear – around three litres per square metre per day.

Plant & grow lettuce

Harvest 'cut and come again' varieties after just four weeks. Pull single leaves from each lettuce as required, or cut a plant 3cm above the base and let it sprout again. The plants will keep on growing.

1

The autumn prior to planting, dig in plenty of well-rotted manure. Fork in general fertiliser then rake to create a fine seed bed before planting.

2

Young plants do not transplant well in dry weather. Sow seed sparingly in 1.5cm deep drills. Thin to final spacing when strong enough to handle.

3

As the germination of lettuce seed can sometimes be poor, you may prefer to sow the seed in modules. Make sowings small but frequent.

4

Water well after both sowing and planting as a constant supply of moisture is vital to success. Lettuce is liable to run to seed.

5

Hoe around the plants and hand weed regularly to remove weeds that will compete with the plants for nutrients.