If you've always quite fancied the idea of growing your own herbs, fruit and veg, but either didn't think you had enough space or just didn't know where to start, read on. We spoke to gardener and gardening writer Jo Whittingham, author of Grow something to eat every day about starting small, growing your own and really tasting the difference.
Congratulations on your new book Grow something to eat every day. It's a big claim – is it really achievable for those of us without huge gardens?
Absolutely, it is totally achieveable no matter what size your garden. We're not talking self-sufficiency, but more about having something that's either fresh or stored to eat every day. It's all about planning – planting the right things at the right times and producing foods that taste great.
The great thing about growing your own food is that you can leave it where it is until you want it – and there's also pickling, freezing, drying and even making wine – all great ways to store the food you've grown until you're ready to enjoy it.
Even if you only have a small patio or roof terrace, you can still grow lots of great things in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets. In a smaller space, herbs are key – and most are perennial, so they'll come back year after year. In terms of fruit and veg, for most you will need a bit of sunshine, but as long as you have that then you can take advantage of fence and wall space and grow things like tomatoes, squashes, cucumbers and beans upwards - so hardly using up any space at all.
For any novice gardeners out there keen to give it a try – what kind of kit will they need to get started?
If you're starting out using pots on a patio then there really is very little that you need as there's no need for major, relatively expensive tools like spades. You just need a selection of large and small pots – and as long as whatever you're using has draining holes in the bottom, you can use pretty much anything as a pot – like a huge old olive oil tin for example.
You'll also need compost, some seed trays and it can also be useful to have labels so you know what's what and also string, wire, sticks and canes for support.
What would you say are the easiest plants to grow successfully?
Herbs – particularly the Mediterranean ones like thyme, oregano, rosemary – they're used to drier warmer climates so you can get away with not watering them as often. Also, baby salad leaves are easy and give quick rewards – in 4-6 weeks you'll have leaves like you see in the salad bags in the supermarket. The great thing is that they re-grow after being cut, not just once but two or three times, so you get a bumper harvest out of a small space. Radishes and beetroot are good too – and blueberries and currants – they're so expensive in the shops, but quite easy to grow.
What are the most common pitfalls for people starting out trying to grow their own food?
People tend to take on too much too soon and try to do everything in the first year. The trouble with that is that if you have a vegetable patch, say, and you don't fill it, then weeds start to creep in and it all gets a bit out of hand. When people decide they're going to give it a try they can sometimes get a bit over-excited and they buy seeds and sow them at the wrong time and so it just doesn't work – that's where the book can really help as it tells you what to plant when.
Do you have to tend to your plants every day to be a successful grower?
No, but if you have plants in pots and they're doing well and they're in the sun a lot, then you do need to water them every day. If they're in the ground, then they'll get rain and survive longer without watering as the soil has more capacity to retain that moisture. But the key I think with all growing is 'little and often'. Just ten minutes every evening, even if it's with a glass of wine in your hand, just to see how everything is doing and to keep track of what stage everything is at – plus that way you'll know when the time is just right to pick something.
What would you say to someone to convince them to give growing their own herbs, fruit and veg a try?
It's easy, it's cheap and the crops taste amazing. Until you've tried something that has literally just been picked, you won't believe the difference in taste. Even with stuff you buy at a farmers' market – it's fresh, but it's not just picked from your own garden. The rewards far outweigh the effort involved.
Jo's book Grow something to eat every day is out now, priced: £14.99
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