Top tips for new kitchen gardeners to get the most out of their first summer of growing vegetables
1. Start small and grow things you actually like to eat. It's really easy to fall into the trap of trying to grow every vegetable imaginable and ending up feeling overwhelmed. Starting with a small patch or just a couple of raised beds will feel much more manageable when you start out on your homegrown adventure. Choose easy to grow crops that you often eat to make the most of your new vegetable patch. Cut and come again crops like salad leaves and spinach are super easy to grow, can be harvested every day, taste amazing freshly picked and are expensive to buy so are a great value crop.
2. Pick the right location. Most vegetables need lots of direct sun to flourish. The more sunlight vegetables receive, the better they will grow and taste. Protecting your patch from harsh winds will avoid the plants getting battered and encourage pollinating insects to do their work. Rich, well-draining soil that isn't compacted will mean larger roots and healthier plants. Finally, vegetable plants need lots of water, particularly if grown in raised beds so having a water source nearby rather than at the other end of the garden will save a lot of leg work.
3. If space is at a premium consider raised beds and containers. The fertile, deep soil in raised beds and containers enables crops to be grown closer together, meaning more food from the same amount of space. This makes them particularly useful in an urban vegetable garden where room is at a premium. The aim is to space vegetables so that when they are fully grown, their leaves just touch each other. Growing veg like this creates a microclimate in which weeds are suppressed, and moisture is conserved, cutting down on work and increasing yields.
4. Plant your seeds in batches It's really easy to fall into the trap of planting a whole packet of seeds in one go, then ending up with far more plants than you could ever eat maturing at one time. By planting rows in succession a month apart, you'll lengthen your cropping season and make far better use of your beautiful home grown veg.
5. Plant flowers and herbs alongside your veg. Not only do they look beautiful, but flowers and herbs will also encourage the pollinators to visit your garden, resulting in higher yields from your vegetables. Many herbs also act as great companion plants to veg by masking their smell and deterring pests.
6. Keep records Growing vegetables is a learning experience. What grows well for one person or in one garden depends on a whole host of factors. Weather, soil, pests and quality of seeds all play their part and every year is different. Make a note of when you planted, what did well and what grew where. It'll be a huge help with planning and crop rotation in subsequent years.
7. Start a compost patch. Vegetable plants have high nutritional requirements, and if you grow them in the same place each year, the soil soon becomes depleted. Crop rotation goes some way to combat this but vegetable garden soil benefits from being fed regularly too. Homemade compost is a great way to recycle weeds and kitchen waste. Not only does it reduce what goes to landfill; it's a great way to add nutrients back into your soil.