May you reap what you sow
SAFE. We are now into May and I always consider that by May we should be safe of any lingering threat of frost. This means we can get up to what ever we want to in the garden with a carefree heart. May is also a good time to focus back on the kitchen garden and sowing new crops.
The aspiration of growing your own food is one of the major driving forces of many gardeners and would-be gardeners I meet. The sense of achievement and gratification it gives top all others. But the aspiration and the execution can be very different things.
Growing vegetables is time consuming, particularly if you repeat crop areas. Also it is not particularly a money saver, just look at the price of vegetables in the shops. And if you are not growing organically you might as well buy from the shops. That said whatever your growing method and whatever you grow it is good for your wellbeing and your veg will be hitting your dining table as fresh as you can get. From fork, garden that is, to dinner fork.
My advice to all gardeners new and experienced is to start any project, including veg growing, at a size that is managable to you. The whole point of gardening is for it to be an enjoyable pastime, a messy unproductive vegetable weed patch can infuriate and frustrate all summer.
The most satisfying method of growing veg is undoubtably by growing from seed. May is a great month for doing this as everything is eager to burst into life at this time of year. You can sow directly into well prepared soil or into pots and seed trays to transplant into the soil as seedlings. When sowing read the instructions on the packet carefully as there are slightly different methods of sowing for individual crops.
Root vegetables, carrots, beetroot, parsnips and turnips are best sown directly into the soil and left undisturbed. Other crops like lettuce, cabbage and broccoli can be transplanted from seed trays into the soil. Peas and beans can be soil sown or into individual pots then transplanted later. When sowing directly into the soil be prepare to thin out the germinated seedlings to appropriate spacings. Failure to do this will result in poor harvests and also increase the likelihood of disease.
Growing from seed is the cheapest way to produce veg but can also be a false economy. Seed packets can contain far more seeds than you need. You can keep these for the following year but the germination rate is usually quite poor the second year. An alternative is to buy plug plants. Plug plants are seedling plants that are supplied in small multipack containers ready for transplanting out, in much the same way you might buy your summer bedding plants. These are very widely available from garden centres these days and are supplied in a great variety of crop types.
Growing this way takes away all the worry of self sowing and cuts out any waste as you are buying the number of plants that you need. This is a more expensive way to buy at the point of sale but for a small veg area in the long term this may work out to be comparative if not cheaper to self sowing. Other benefits are that you are already three weeks ahead with your crop compared to sowing the day you buy your plug plants. They are also easier to manage once planted out as they are obvious from the weed seedlings. On the subject of weeds it is vital to keep these away from young crops in particular, little and often is the key and this may mean getting down on your hands and knees to hand weed.
Most vegetables can be sucessfully growing in pots and containers as long as you water and feed regularly. Herbs are particularly good grown this way both in limited garden spaces and larger gardens as they can be grown close to the kitchen door for convenient harvesting.