Being able to grow your own food is amazing. Even if it’s only a few things, eating food you have grown yourself always tastes the best. We believe everyone can grow something if you want to, even if you’re in an apartment, and even if you believe you aren’t green fingered. It just takes a little time, practice and patience! We are still new to growing ourselves, but in the short period we have been growing we have learnt a lot! This is by no means a conclusive guide, but just what we have learnt so far. If you are completely new to growing, we hope this post will help you get started.
Utilising the space available to you
- If you live in an apartment, or have a small outside space, starting a windowsill herb garden is an amazing place to start. Herbs are easy to grow, and it’s simple to just snip off what you need when you’re in the kitchen preparing food. You can also grow lettuces, micro greens and learn to sprout all with just a windowsill!
- If you have the outdoor space, you can start a small vegetable patch of your own. You can grow plenty in a small area and it is so fulfilling watching something grow from seed that you can eat. There are so many amazing resources out there to help you start your vegetable patch, even if you have limited space.
- If you don’t have access to a garden space of your own, consider applying for an allotment or joining a community garden! It’s an amazing way to grow your own food whilst learning lots and you’ll meet some fantastic people.
How to grow from seed
Learning how to get your seeds germinating and growing is that vital first step! Here are a few tips to get you started growing plants from seed:
Reuse and repurpose
Reuse/re-purpose what you already have for your seeds: toilet paper tubes, yoghurt pots, margarine pots and egg cartons all work really well. Just make you punch holes in the bottom before you get started as this allows for water to drain.
Use a great quality potting soil as your little seeds need the best start in life in order to grow well. You also want to make sure your soil is compacted well to eliminate air bubbles, as these will cause the roots to struggle to reach the nutrients they need. Don’t plant seeds too deep. Planting them too deep means they may run out of nutrients before they break the surface and reach the sun. A good rule is to plant the seed the same depth as the size of the seed.
Make sure to water your seeds right after you have planted them! A mister spray is perfect if you have one. You also want to make sure you water enough, but not so much that your seed and roots rot. A good test is to check if the soil is dry, if it is, then you can water.
Pick the right location
Leave your seedlings in a warm place, ideally a windowsill that gets plenty of sun! Frost kills seedlings so do not put your seeds outside unless you are sure the risk of frost is gone. Also make sure to rotate your plants regularly so they don’t lean one way into the light. This will cause them to grow straight and strong!
Harden your seedlings
About a week before you are ready to plant your seedlings outside, you can start to get your plants prepared for the outside world. This process is called hardening off. Leave your plants outside every day during the day, slowly increasing the amount of time each day to get them used to being outside. Remembering to bring them in during the night. After a week or so of this you can plant them outside!
Growing your own sprouts
We love to grow sprouts, they are so easy to grow your own and so satisfying. If you want to grow more of your own food but have no outdoor space, try growing sprouts. All you need is a glass jar, an elastic band, some muslin cloth and a bowl. And your sprouting seeds of choice, of course!
1. Take a teaspoon of your sprouting seeds (for the best results buy seeds specifically for sprouting, some seeds are heat treated and so won’t sprout) and put in a clean glass jar.
2. Cover the opening of the jar with a small piece of muslin cloth secured with an elastic band.
3. Pour water into your jar and allow your seeds to soak in the water overnight.
4. In the morning, strain the water, and then give the seeds a rinse with fresh water. Strain out this water.
5. Leave the jar in a bowl to sit at a tilted angle to allow any remaining water to filter out. Make sure you leave your jar near a window but not in direct sunlight.
6. Rinse and drain, leaving the jar at a tilted angle every morning and evening until you’ve got a beautiful jar filled full of fresh sprouts!
Depending on the seeds you use, you can end up with sprouts in as little as 4 days, whereas others take longer. Once ready, store in the fridge and consume within 3 days.
Starting a vegetable patch
There are so many options available if you are able to create your own vegetable patch. Traditional gardening, raised planters or even just in plant pots are all viable ways depending on the space you have. Do your research to work out what will be most suitable for you and the area you live in! We made raised planters out of old wood we already owned. We first lined the beds with a combination of wood chips and cardboard to stop the weeds coming through and help feed the bed as they break down. Then we mixed in a combination of garden soil and compost and it worked well for us!
Learning how to create your own compost is so invaluable as well. A compost heap can be as simple as a pile in the garden, but there are a range of different options available depending on your situation. Composting doesn’t have to be complicated. There are a lot of rules that can put people new to composting off, but it really can be very simple. You can compost most natural things – everything from fruit and vegetable scraps, loose tea leaves, coffee grounds, cardboard (non-shiny), twigs, leaves, plant cuttings, grass clippings, newspaper, weeds, shredded paper, egg shells, straw, hay, food leftovers, wood chips to sawdust. To compost, you have to find a balance of what is known as brown (carbon) and green (nitrogen) materials. A healthy compost pile should have much more brown than green materials.
Have you ever heard of companion planting? Companion planting means planting certain plants together. When you’re growing your own fruits, vegetables and herbs, it’s an invaluable tool to learn about as you can increase your yield – and who doesn’t want more delicious home grown organic food?!
Here are some of the benefits of companion planting:
- they help repel pests
- they help use garden space more efficiently
- larger plants can provide shade for smaller plants that need sun protection
- they improve flavour for each other
- tall plants such as corn can support sprawling crops such as cucumbers
- it’s great for pollinators and other wildlife
- it can suppress weeds
- it can improve soil health
Here are some great examples of companion plants that you can start with:
- Tomato and basil – a great combo in the kitchen and in the garden! The basil helps protect the tomato from horn worms. Peppers are also great to plant nearby!
- Marigolds and nasturtiums – these flowers are great anywhere in your vegetable patch! Marigolds repel nematodes which attack vegetable roots. Nasturtiums are loved by aphids that they will flock to this plant instead of your beloved veggies!
- Carrots and onions – the onions deter carrot pests such as carrot rust flies. You can also plant chives near carrots as they also deter aphids and other pests, and have said to improve the taste and texture of carrots!
- Potatoes and beans – potatoes grow down, beans grow up, making these two the perfect pair. Potatoes help beans out by deterring pests too. You can also plant lettuce and other leafy greens in between potatoes as they don’t take up too much room, and the potato plant helps provide some shade for the lettuces!
These are just a few combinations, but the possibilities are endless! It’s a good idea to research what you have growing specifically and decide what to plant together for the best benefits.
Using liquid fertilisers
Using liquid fertilisers are an easy way to ensure your plants are getting all the nutrients they need! Fantastic liquid fertilisers you can make yourself are comfrey fertiliser, banana skin fertiliser and nettle fertiliser. We’re going to share our nettle fertiliser recipe, it only takes 2 weeks to make and it makes a big difference to your plants.
Here’s how you can make your own nettle liquid fertiliser:
1. Find a great patch of nettles you can cut from. You want an area that you know has not been sprayed with any pesticides and isn’t too close to a road.
2. Take a bucket and collect up your nettles. Make sure to wear gloves to avoid the sting of the nettle! You want to cut the tops of the nettle as this is where the new growth is, and so where all of the nutrients are in the plant. Fill up your bucket with the nettles!
3. Fill the bucket with water, making sure all of the nettles are fully submerged in the water. Cover your bucket and leave it away from the house for 2 weeks as it can smell quite bad!
4. Once you have waited 2 weeks, strain out the nettles and dilute the nettle water one part with 10 parts fresh water. You can then water your plants normally! Do not water your plants more than twice a month with this mixture as it can burn the roots if you use too often.
If we have learnt anything about growing, there is no set wrong or right way to do things. These are things that have worked for us in our climate, but might not work for you. The best thing to do is to just start! There are no failures, only learning experiences. And remember, have fun! Happy growing!