How to grow your own edibles

There have always been countless reasons to grow some of your own food: to be more self-sufficient; to teach your children a powerful skill that is also a great joy or simply to tuck into an honest salad whenever your heart desires. Here are a few ideas to help you get started.


Start with the basics

The three most important things you'll give your garden are good soil, enough sun and plentiful (but not overly plentiful) water. When you're choosing where to plant your garden, think carefully about all three. You'll need a spot that gets plenty of sun throughout the day, has rich soil (you have more control over this factor than you might think), and is close enough to the water supply that you'll be able to water freely without a big hassle.

Sunspots

Most edibles want full sun or about six hours per day of good quality sunlight. (There are exceptions, like lettuces, which do well in shade. But it's easier to create shade where necessary than to create sun, especially if you're a mere mortal.) If you're not sure where your sunniest spots are, spend some time paying attention to your lawn, stoop or balcony this weekend at various times of the day.

Soil

As for soil, there are three primary options: use the ground you've got, plant in raised beds, or plant in containers. If you're considering planting in the ground, learn a bit about your soil conditions.

Do you have clay soil or loamy (sandy) soil? An easy way to find out is to wet some dirt and press it between your fingers. If it's sticky or slimy, it's clay. If it's gritty and dries quickly, it's sand. Knowing which type of soil you have will help you decide which edibles to grow, each plant has its own favourite soil conditions.

About two to three weeks before you're ready to plant, clear any grass and weeds, turn your soil and finally, add lots of organic compost.

Digging up garden soil and adding compost

Plant in containers

Choose containers that will provide enough space for root development. A depth and width of at least 30 centimetres will allow plants room to grow and help with watering and feeding (though shallow-rooted crops such as lettuce, peppers and radishes only need a container roughly 15cm in diameter with a 20cm soil depth).

Build a raised bed

Larger pots, half barrels and wooden tubs are ideal for growing tomatoes, runner beans, and cucumbers and almost anything from soft fruits such as strawberries and currants to onions, potatoes and most root vegetables can be grown in raised beds. They'll save you time spent digging and can be built to fit any size garden or outdoor space.

Think vertically

Indoor or outdoor vertical spaces can be used to grow edibles, freeing up valuable floor space. Herbs grow well in containers or in a specially designed wall-mounted unit like this one. Living edible walls do equally well outside, too, as long as they are well fed and watered, and have good drainage.

Many edible plants can be added to a living wall, including strawberries and varieties of salad crops, plus some vegetables. As the planting area is limited in a vertical living wall, some varieties that would normally grow quite tall will be shorter and more dwarfed. Plants will need watering regularly and feeding with an organic fertiliser every few weeks.


Vertical herb garden

Choosing what to plant

Are you a salad fan, or do you prefer roasted veggies even in the hot weather? How much fruit do you like to eat compared to vegetables? Which herbs do you gravitate toward? It's a good idea to plant mostly foods you already know and love, with maybe one or two less familiar foods thrown in to keep it interesting.

Pretty and edible?

There are many pretty edible flower varieties available and they can look wonderful in a garden. Try these for starters:

The chive looks great as a flowering perennial plant and will attract lots of bees, plus it also acts as a handy insect repellent thanks to its sulphur compounds. Use the green part in salads or serve with potatoes and fish. Separate the flower heads into individual stars and use them to garnish soups and risottos, or to add flavour to drinks.

Borage has a lovely blue, star-shaped bloom and a mild cucumber taste. Try adding it to ice-cold glasses of Pimm's or to salads. It's best to plant borage in pots, as otherwise it will quickly take over your garden and the leaves are an irritant.


Borage flowers in the garden

The truth is...

To be an earth-shatteringly brilliant gardener, you need to know an unbelievable amount about horticulture. But to produce a few varieties of delicious tomatoes or lettuce for your family's summer indulgence? Not so much. Landscaping with food has never been easier. Why not give it a go!


 

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