The Essentials for Setting Up an Edible Garden
Setting up your own edible garden from scratch can be as challenging as it is exciting, but help is at hand. The team at Grow Your Own magazine have compiled some helpful tips and tricks to get you off to a great start.
First things first, any successful grower will tell you that learning from your mistakes is key. Don't expect everything to go perfectly at the first attempt. Be ready to learn lessons because every garden - and every gardener - is different. Follow our advice though and hopefully you'll be able to cut down on those start-up mistakes.
Getting started in a small space
For younger gardeners, the challenge of setting up an edible garden in 2021 isn't technique based, according to Monty Don. “The challenge is space,” he told The Herald Scotland, referring to rising property prices and the increasing prevalence of flats with no outdoor space.
If you live in a property with little or no outside space, growing in propagators and containers is a great option. Tomatoes, strawberries and carrots can do particularly well in containers on balcony spaces or in a small sunlit yard. You will need a warmer climate for tomatoes and strawberries, while carrots are hardier.
One carrot variety especially well-suited to container growing is the ‘Paris Market Atlas' (featured in the March issue of Grow Your Own magazine). Short and stubby in appearance, but tender and flavoursome on your plate, this small vegetable is packed full of flavour and nutrients. It could suit your edible garden perfectly if you're limited to containers and propagators.
How do I set up a larger edible garden?
For those of us with a little more space, there are plenty of choices to be made in setting up an edible garden. Firstly, do you want to try your hand at no-dig gardening, or will you use more traditional methods?
No dig gardening does exactly what it says on the tin, replacing extensive soil work with mulching and similar preparation.
No dig pioneer, Charles Dowding claims: “A large part of no dig's success is to do with the relative absence of weeds. You save so much time, and are free to be more creative, with less of the constant need to weed. Incidentally I love wild areas and buzzing wildlife, but am not a fan of weeds in the veg patch or flower borders. They can easily go from just a few, to swamping all other growth, especially new sowings and plantings. No dig makes it possible to enjoy a clean garden with mixed plantings, beautiful and productive, full of wildlife too – especially in the soil.”
Raised beds are a good starting point for either method. Even for traditionalists, they'll cut down the time you need to spend digging and help to stop weeds spreading quite as quickly. Equally, if you suffer from back issues, working with raised beds is much easier than bending down to floor level, allowing you to keep working in the garden for longer periods.
You can create raised beds using railways sleepers, scaffolding boards or any similar materials. Or, to save on labour, you can buy kits from brands like Woodblocx. The beds will also help you to plan and organise your planting, offering clear borders between crops.
If you want to add fruit trees and bushes to your plot, make sure you select an area with rich soil and plenty of sun. Apple trees can be plated from December to March and pear trees from December to February.
If you want to make the plot more visually appealing, but retain functionality throughout, consider growing edible flowers. Chamomiles, cornflowers, courgettes and chives are all fantastic options. Chives particularly can also work as a companion plant, helping to keep pests away from your crop. Planting them near apple trees can ward off fungal condition, apple scab.
What equipment do I need and how do I get started?
- Pots: You'll need pots and containers. Try to avoid single use plastic where possible. Look for sustainable options and clean all containers before use.
- Products: In terms of other basics: pick up some gardening gloves, a good spade, trowel and rake. There are thousands of gardening products out there, but start with the basics and you can't go too far wrong.
- Pick: Select which plants you intend to start with. Ensure your plot has the right climate and enough sun for each crop.
- Prepare: Do you research. Which plants will you grow from seed? Where will you source the seeds and have you set aside time to sow them? Will you order a bare root apple tree, for example? Have you prepared the ground for its arrival?