Grow your own – tips, ideas and inspiration for creating your own produce garden
It used to be commonplace to grow your own fruit and vegetables – we bet most of your grandparents had a vegetable patch or an allotment they tended daily, producing delicious, healthy fresh fruit and vegetables. But then it seemed to go out of fashion, and organic produce markets were all the rage – nobody wanted to take the time to grow their own fresh produce.
A survey by the consumer group Which? In July 2011 revealed the 'grow your own' trend was still popular, with 24% of 1,009 people surveyed growing their own produce. The most popular reason survey participants gave for growing their own was trying to save money (59%) but healthy eating came a close second at 33% (1).
Fast forward to today and it's still cool to grown your own. Chefs like Jamie Oliver, who has always championed the idea of growing your own veggies and herbs, and TV shows such as Grow Your Own Veg have helped bring the idea back into the spotlight, and with the rising price of produce, it has never been a better time to create your own produce garden.
Whilst most of us make do with some window boxes or an allotment, the increasing trend to grow your own has spawned a new generation of produce perfectionists, such as Jason Hirst, founder of Evergro. The company creates state-of-the-art appliances for growing plants indoors, combining cloud software, hyrdoponics and LED lighting – it's all very high tech and there's even an app! Whilst their main customer base is fine-dining restaurants in London, Evergo hope their technology will be embraced by those looking to grow their own at home in future (2). But don't worry, you don't need to spend a fortune to produce your own vegetables and herbs.
Why grow your own?
With the price of food rising, growing your own is an attractive prospect for those on a budget. It may cost a bit to get started, but seeds and plants can be bought cheaply from garden centres or online. Then there's the creative side. Gardening is a relaxing hobby that not only boosts your flexibility and helps you get a healthy dose of vitamin D (if you're outside!), it can also help relieve depression and gives you a creative outlet, not to mention a sense of achievement.
Growing your own produce means you know exactly what you're eating, so there is no need to worry about pesticides. Did you know that 20% of fruit and vegetables found in your local supermarket contain residue from more than one type of pesticide, which could create a harmful 'cocktail' that could disrupt hormone levels? (3). The Maximum Residue Level (MRL) is the level of pesticide residue legally allowed to be present in our food. A study in 2001 revealed that 1.5% of fruit and vegetables sold in supermarkets had residues exceeding the MRLs.
So growing your own is a great choice for physical and mental well-being, not to mention it can be far easier to make good food choices when you have a constant supply of fresh vegetables, fruit and herbs to hand! It can also encourage eating food which is in season, so you're less likely to rely on imported food, which cuts your carbon footprint and helps you do your bit for the environment too.
What should you grow?
So, you've put some thought into creating your own produce garden, but what should you grow? A survey in 2010 by the Horticultural Trades Association revealed the top 5 things to grow were:
These are amongst some of the easiest things to grow and you don't need lots of space. Whether you have window boxes, pots, a vegetable patch or a full allotment to hand, you can get started.
Grow your own with limited space
You'd be forgiven for thinking it's not possible to have a produce garden if you live in a flat in the centre of London, or another busy city – but that's not true! A feature by the Telegraph in 2013 looked at the book 'Edible Cities' by Judith Anger, Immo Fiebrig and Martin Schynder, and focused on several city dwellers growing their own produce. One woman who lived in a two bedroom flat in Vienna grew herbs in pots and vegetables such as tomatoes and lettuce indoors, with vines climbing up the insides of her windows. Another man in Switzerland used his balcony to grow everything from watercress to spinach and Swiss chard. Inspirational? We think so (4)!
You'll find plenty of inspiration for growing produce indoors, on your rooftop or on a balcony online. The BBC offers advice on how to grow your own grub in small spaces here (5). We also love the blog Vertical Veg, which encourages the creation of 'Edible Gardens' and container growing (6).
Tips for growing your own
Feeling inspired yet? We're surprised you haven't stopped reading and headed for your nearest garden centre already! Imagine being able to grown your own fresh basil and mint to add to salads and pasta whenever you want, or your own tomatoes and lettuce to make a delicious salad. It's quite an achievement. We've got a few tips and ideas that will help you get started.
Grow your own herbs
No kitchen or flat is too small to grow herbs and it's a great introduction to the world of growing your own – plus, they smell amazing! During the autumn and winter months, sunlight can be limited (if you're in the UK), so we recommend choosing hardy herbs such as Bay, Rosemary, Tarragon and Thyme – save the basil and mint for the spring. We recommend this Instructables tutorial (7) for starting your own mini herb garden; you can make it look rather pretty. But you could also grow herbs in a window box outside if you live in a warmer climate.
Here are a few more top tips for those new to growing:
- Think about where you get the most light in your home – sunny south facing windows are an ideal spot for containers
- Buy seeds from your local garden centre or online and sow them in specialist seed compost. This gives them the best possible start and they can later be transplanted or moved onto a balcony or into your windowbox. It's a good idea to wait until the plants have four or five leaves before doing this, and don't put young plants outside during frosty weather!
- Try growing rainbow chard – it's the prettiest vegetable and is also fairly easy to grow. The seeds will take around a month before they reach a size suitable for transplanting, and whilst you'll find your chard produces less leaves in the winter, it should give you enough tasty leaves to enjoy year round.
- Courgettes are one of the most satisfying vegetables to grow, although they do need large pots. They like direct sunlight and regular watering, but they'll reward you by growing quickly and producing beautiful flowers (which can be cooked!) and of course the vegetables themselves. We love to make courgette 'pasta' or include them in omelettes and stir fries. Delicious!
- Tomatoes are another great vegetable to start growing during the winter months, providing your home has plenty of light. Placing pots in front of patio or balcony doors is ideal. They can be transplanted outdoors or onto the balcony once the spring frosts are over, in April or May. Whilst they require regular pruning, careful nurturing gives you a real sense of achievement when you're rewarded with delicious tomatoes you can add to soups, sauces, stews and salads.
So if you're looking for a project to keep you busy this winter in between your gym sessions, why not think about growing your own? Once you get started, you could save a fortune on organic produce and enjoy the benefits of healthy eating, plus it's a great new hobby!
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