How to…Start a Veg Patch From Scratch!

Woman digging soil for a vegetable patch

by Garden News |

Growing your own fruit and veg is one of the most satisfying things you can do. What other pastime improves your diet, health, wellbeing and can even save you a bit of money too?

It pays to give your veg patch the best spot you can, somewhere sunny with decent soil. Building raised beds is a good solution if the soil is bad – for example if it sits wet over winter or is full of builders’ rubble.

Getting an allotment can be a good idea if you don’t have space at home – it’s worth seeking out a half or quarter plot if you’re new to vegetable gardening. Just make sure that the allotment site is convenient to get to as you’ll need to visit at least twice a week over the growing season - it’s a lot of work! One great thing about allotments is that other plot holders are often more than happy to share their wisdom and get you set on your ‘grow your own’ journey.

But what to grow? First and foremost, grow things you enjoy eating! There’s no point growing huge rows of various salad crops that aren’t actually to your taste when you wish you’d planted strawberries instead! Some crops are much easier than others - here’s our pick of good ones to start with (and some to avoid too)!

Easy fruit and veg for anyone

• Salads (lettuce, rocket, mizuna)

• Courgettes

• Strawberries

• Squashes and pumpkins

• Raspberries

• Grow some herbs and edible flowers too – they’ll make it look and taste all the better. Pot marigolds, dill, parsley, borage and chives all make pretty and easy additions to your new veg patch.

The ones that are tougher to grow

• Florence fennel – need tending regularly to get good size bulbs.

• Aubergines – need warm weather and dry, sunny summers.

• Cauliflower – takes up too much room, doesn’t store well.

• Celery and celeriac – fussy, thirsty, and need lots of room.

• Sweet peppers – these require a great deal of TLC.

The no-dig veg patch

There are two schools of thought on vegetable gardening: dig and no-dig. From personal experience, having taken over a very weedy allotment that had been rotavated, I’d probably choose no-dig – if you can get your hands on lots of waste cardboard and materials for mulching.

No-dig works on the premise that you don’t disturb the soil so fewer weeds come up, and the worms and other soil lifeforms are not disrupted by being turned over, so you get healthier soil.

To get started, cover the whole site in at least three layers of cardboard and weigh it down with a mulch such as farmyard manure, lawn clippings, compost or woodchips to a depth of at least 8cm (3in).

Raised beds

If your soil is unsuitable for veg growing (perhaps it’s full of rubble or waterlogged), then building raised beds is a great way to still get some homegrown harvests. They can look smart enough to be worth a place close to the house too!

There are many kits available which make building raised beds quick and easy. Fill them with garden compost, good garden soil (if you can get it), well-rotted manure, or a combination of all three. It’s vital to site them close to a source of water as plants in raised beds dry out quicker than those in the ground.

Digging it

The more traditional approach is to dig over the site. If you’re starting with lawn, it’s best to remove the top 5cm (2in) of turf completely, and stack it upside down to rot away. It will become fertile loamy soil that can be added back to your patch once the grass has died.

Fork over the bare ground, removing any big stones, rubble and roots. For each square metre/yard spread about a handful of general purpose fertiliser such as bonemeal and chicken manure pellets (organic) or Growmore and Vitax Q4 (non-organic) at and dig it in along with a bucket of garden compost or well-rotted farmyard manure.

How to lay out your plot

If possible, lay hard paths dividing your plot up into beds. Having distinct beds can help you not to feel overwhelmed as you can tackle them one at a time.

Often you can pick up old paving stones for not much money (sometimes even free!) online or in the local paper. Having at least some hard paths is useful in wet weather to allow you harvest things without getting too muddy.

Beds about 1.2m / 4ft wide give a nice manageable feel – avoid the temptation to make grass paths as they need a lot of work to maintain and the grass will always try and invade the vegetables.

Move it around

Crop rotation is a good idea, but it’s not as critical as the old books make out. It’s only really important for brassicas (cabbages, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, etc) and potatoes.

As a general rule try to grow your veg crops in a different place to where they were last year and you won’t go too far wrong.

Make your own compost

Just as the old saying goes ‘behind every great man there’s a great woman’, behind every great vegetable patch there’s a great compost heap. A heap is so useful, not just for getting rid of waste but for making garden compost which is the lifeblood of vegetable growing.

Buy in a plastic one or make your own from wood such as old pallets screwed together at the corners. Compost can be dug into the soil or used as a mulch to keep weeds down and water in. Either way it’s great stuff!

TOP TIPS

• Make sure there’s a source of water such as tap or water butt nearby when choosing your site

• Salads crop quickly and give you a lot of return for a small space – make small sowings every month or so in late spring and early summer.

• Fruit is generally less work to grow than vegetables, although most types need netting against birds as they ripen.

• Get a half or quarter plot on an allotment site and you’ll have lots of people around to offer help and advice.

• Don’t put tall crops (runner beans, raspberries, Jerusalem artichokes) where they might shade others.

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