ARE YOU BEING SERVED?
Grow your own fruit and veg to avoid price rises and shortages
We MUsTN’T panic. But it’s hard sometimes on learning that supermarket shelves are emptying and debts are piling up, with little hope that things will improve this spring and summer.
We can seek solace in our gardens, of course. But on a more practical level, we can start growing our own fruit and veg, saving money in the process. With the cold snap coming to an end, this is the perfect opportunity to start sowing.
In March, plants get going after their winter sleep and the vegetable patch is no different. Time invested now will reward you with a bumper harvest later in the year. If you only have a balcony, why not try growing pizza ingredients in a container: tomato, sweet peppers, basil, and oregano?
I’ve just sown my tomato seeds into seed trays covered with a thin layer of vermiculite. They need plenty of warmth so use a heated propagator or place on a warm windowsill with a clear plastic bag on top. Once you have a seedling with a healthy pair of leaves, you can transplant to a bigger pot. Make sure to water tomatoes regularly. vine tomatoes need to be trained against a cane, and their shoots removed regularly to conserve energy for fruiting, but bush and trailing types can be left to their own devices.
Raised beds are a good option for growing outside. You can buy ready-made kits or do it yourself. Decide how big you want your bed to be; it should be no wider than 1.2m.
Cut timber planks or sleepers to the desired length and then screw these together using pre- drilled holes and short, pointed wooden stakes at each corner.
Once you’ve assembled the bed, these should be hammered into the ground with the points facing downwards, then it’s ready to fill with compost. Next, prepare your seedbed. If you have covered existing beds with sheets or cardboard over winter, remove them now.
Use a rake to work the surface of the soil, removing any lumps and stones. What you’re hoping to achieve is a fine tilth, the texture of cake mixture, to give seeds the best start. If your soil feels dry, water it, or if wet and claggy leave to dry out.
SPRING INTO ACTION
IN early spring, you can sow broad beans — about 20cm apart. Leeks can be started off under cover and will be ready to plant out when they are pencil thick, or you can sow them straight into the ground 15cm apart for harvesting in the autumn. Onion and shallot sets can be planted out now, and there is still time to get garlic into the ground.
Carrots, beetroots, Jerusalem artichokes, lettuces, spring onions, peas and spinach can all be sown directly into the ground now, although they may need protecting against the cold.
Asparagus crowns should be planted out as soon as they arrive in the post.
If, like me, you’ve been chitting potatoes indoors, you can plant these out later in the month. Dig a trench and plant 15cm deep at 30cm intervals or grow in tubs at least 30cm deep. Top up with compost as the plant grows for fresh spuds from June.
If you’re new to growing veg, remember you don’t have to sow everything at once. Choose one or two varieties to focus on. The reward is in the eating.