Starting a vegetable garden

Martyn Cox

Fed up with tasteless fruit and veg, worried about air miles and pesticides? Time to get growing your own vegetables.

Buying vegetables from the supermarket is convenient, but nothing can beat the taste of fresh produce that you have grown yourself - sun-warmed tomatoes or earthy beetroots, eaten within a few minutes of being picked are superior in taste to mass-produced crops.

Growing your own vegetables also gives you the opportunity to try many vegetables or unusual varieties that you never see in shops, plus there’s huge satisfaction in growing something yourself and then eating it. Late winter is a great time to plan what to grow, ordering your plants or seeds, and preparing the soil for planting in spring.

What to grow?

Deciding what to grow largely depends on what you like to eat, although it is worth imposing a few rules to help make the selection easier.

If you only have a small garden, it’s best not to fill up the available space with crops that take a long time to mature or that need lots of room. Instead go for compact, fast growing plants such as radish, carrots, lettuce and other salads.

Avoid anything you can pick up for a few pence in shops and go for unusual varieties of tomato, chilli peppers and beetroot, along with gourmet vegetables, such as Borlotti beans, rainbow chard and radicchio.

If space isn’t a problem, then there’s no need to censor your decision, but avoid plants that you or your family don’t like. There’s no point spending time nurturing a crop if it’s just going to end up on the compost heap.

Visit our Fruit & Veg section for an extensive range of growing guides.

Seeds or plants?

Most vegetable seeds will need to be sown between March and April, although several, fast growing crops can be sown well into summer.

Generally there’s a bigger range of varieties to choose from if you grow from seed, but there’s a downside. You have to spend a lot of time nurturing the plants before they are ready to plant out.

If you’re pushed for time or forget to order seeds, young plants are readily available from May onwards at garden centres, nurseries, DIY stores.

Where to grow?

Either grow in a dedicated vegetable patch or kitchen garden, or try squeezing attractive edibles into gaps between other plants in beds and borders - some have pretty flowers, colourful stems or eye-catching leaves.

If you’re starved of space grow in pots. Florence fennel, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, broad beans and spinach are all ideal in large containers.

Preparing your soil

Before sowing or planting vegetables in the ground you will need to prepare the soil. Start by digging it over – at the same time eject large stones, bury annual weeds and remove any tough perennial weeds.

Next, take a fork and break down the clods to leave a roughly level surface. Use a rake to fill in any hollows and to even out mounds. Then rake thoroughly until the texture resembles bread crumbs.

Read more about creating a vegetable garden from scratch.

The opinions expressed are those of the author and are not held by Saga unless specifically stated.

The material is for general information only and does not constitute investment, tax, legal, medical or other form of advice. You should not rely on this information to make (or refrain from making) any decisions. Always obtain independent, professional advice for your own particular situation.