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New to vegetable growing? Where to start
You don't need a huge plot or an allotment in order to grow your own vegetables. Even with a tiny space you can grow something worthwhile. It does take just a bit of time investment in the early stages as the key lies in good preparation. The smaller the space, the more organised you must be.
You'll want to grow a mix of crops that mature at different times so you have something fresh to pick throughout many weeks of the year. There is a system known as metre-square-gardening that encourages people to divide up their square metre into 16 smaller squares and within each 25sq. m. growing area, grow a crop. Grow around 10 or so quick crops and the rest can be slower growing vegetables that you will be able to harvest later.
The vegetable harvest.
As soon as you harvest one square, replace it with something different. Choose compact varieties of vegetables so you can make the most of the space available. Fast growing varieties would be the ones to give you the maximum amount of crops. The secret to success is to keep each square in production. No resting on your laurels after harvest!
What vegetables can you grow?
Let's think about fast growing crops first. Salads and even radish can give way to space for courgettes and beans later. Did you know that radishes can be ready in just five weeks? Check the seed packet to make sure you have a fast-growing variety. Salad can be ready to harvest in just three or four weeks from sowing and this can be done now. Even carrots are quick. You can enjoy baby carrots in just six weeks if you select the right variety. Spring onions take eight weeks. Beetroot is another fast-grower. Sow the seeds closely together and make sure you harvest the leaves as well as the roots. Two crops in one! Beetroot is part of the chard and spinach family and the foliage is delicious, with a slightly bitter taste.
Slower-growers include green beans of many different types. They can be started off indoors and planted out when the weather has warmed. Remember to position any climbing poles towards the north so that the height doesn't shade your tiny plot. Some vegetables, such as courgettes, take up a lot of room. They will therefore need to be planted on a corner site so that they don't encroach on the other plants. They need to go out after fear of frost has passed. Tomatoes are slower growers, but you can select quicker maturing varieties that won't linger into late autumn. Kale can be sown throughout spring to early summer and it should keep growing right through the winter, provided you protect it from birds.
How to protect your crops
The easiest way to keep birds and caterpillars off your crops is to cover then in a fine netting. This will stop the carrot root fly, birds and cabbage white butterflies. It won't stop slugs, however! But if you are gardening on a tiny plot you can easily surround your vegetable bed with copper tape or sand, which might keep the pesky nibblers at bay. Don't forget that the flowers of courgettes, beans and tomatoes will need pollinating, however so you will need to allow them access to the open air.
- Hoarding is good! There are many things that come in handy for a vegetable garden, including incinerators, water-holding vessels and framework supports for netting and climbing plants.
- Experiment, and learn from your mistakes! Try different crops and techniques. Make a note of work works for you.
- It's a really good idea to grow vegetables that are expensive in the shops. Take butternut squash, for example. A packet of seeds costs very little compared to the fully-grown squash.
- Make sure you actually LIKE to eat the fruit and vegetables that you are growing. After all your effort, you don't want to waste one tiny bit.
- Ask your neighbours what grows well for them! There's a wealth of knowledge to be absorbed from local people.
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