It’s a great idea to learn how to grow a vegetable garden if you want to have natural and organic food on your table.
And it's a very green thing to do – provided that you do it in a green way, of course! It's not an essential part of green living - not everyone wants to spend countless (mainly enjoyable) hours outside working. But if you want some healthy diet advice, grow your own organic vegetables and eat lots of them every day! This is one of the best ways to ensure your long term health and fitness.
And you can also save serious amounts of hard-earned cash if you become reasonably skilled and invest a little time.
These articles all have full instructions on sowing, planting and harvesting. Most of the articles are for easy crops which anyone can grow with a little space.Click here to go straight to the articles.
Or read on for more about learning how to grow vegetables at home - some of the background knowledge and preparation you need for success.
In short, because you are building your own health and vitality and you are helping support wildlife.
If you learn how to grow a vegetable garden and you are producing some of your own food you are also reducing the food miles of your kitchen supplies. For the food you grow in your garden or yard that's zero food miles in fact!
"Food miles" is a measure of the distance a particular food item has travelled from the grower or place of origin to your table. It is important for the long term sustainability of our food, because of the costs and carbon emissions associated with transporting produce. The concept of food miles is not as simple as it seems, as food may be grown locally but fertilisers and pesticides may be brought in from far away.
An organic vegetable garden is great for wildlife.
For example, robins love to find worms as you dig the earth. Lots of birds, insects and animals benefit from an organic garden, directly and indirectly. A vegetable garden run on permaculture principles is especially valuable to wildlife.
Butterflies, hover flies and other insects arrive to enjoy the companion plants and other edging plants. Birds can enjoy a harvest of seeds from intermingled plants such as sunflowers.
We also benefit from the fertility which birds and other wildlife bring to a rich, diverse eco-system in a garden.
If you learn how to grow a vegetable garden you are also helping to build soil fertility for plant and insect life and for future generations.
Picture above: An organic garden has lots of inhabitants, many of them beneficial, too. This lovely fellow turned up near some empty plant pots in a damp corner. Toads help control slugs and snails.
Growing some of your own vegetables and fruit is quite easy, but as with any skill there are lots of things to learn and if you dive straight in without advice the learning curve can be a bit steep and rocky.
Furthermore, you can waste your own time and money which is perhaps not very green at all. It is certainly frustrating!
So make sure that you have enough time to spare to make a success of it. While you do need to give it quite a lot of time, especially to begin with, once you get going you can usually fit it around your other activities.
One of the nicest things about growing some of your own veg is that it is a very relaxing and absorbing hobby.
When you are working with soil and growing things time seems to slow down. Your thoughts tend to slow down too and you can enjoy a peaceful and calm interlude in an otherwise busy day.
Picture: An allotment can be a good way to acquire land for growing.
However, you still need to be a bit organised: you need to follow growing instructions carefully and it’s a good idea to keep a notebook to record your plans and plantings. That way you have a record to learn from in future years.
So take your time with learning how to grow a vegetable garden - every year you will have more success.
First, it's really important to think about your climate and soil! A little contemplation of these things can make a big difference to your success.
Start with easy projects if you are new to growing. All the suggestions below are suitable for growing anywhere with a Mediterranean-style climate, or a cooler climate such as you find in England or Oregon.
Just make sure you take your local climate into account when you decide just what to grow. Even warm weather crops such as tomatoes and cucumbers now have varieties which are better adapted to cooler growing conditions and shorter summers.
If you are planting outside, check what type of soil you have. You might also want to check its pH value. You can buy inexpensive soil testing kits in most garden centres. These measure how acid or alkaline< the soil is.
Soil pH can vary even within a few feet, though not usually by much. Normal pH values range from 5 to 7.5. If your soil is within that range you should be able to grow most things.
The best pH value for growing vegetables is about 6.5 to 7.
Some soils are naturally very acidic.
Some plants like acid conditions but most vegetables and garden plants don't. If your garden soil is a little bit too acid then you can apply garden lime when you prepare the soil. Most big garden centres stock lime. Don't add lime at the same time as fertilisers. Preferably add it when the beds are empty.
Acidic soil can be corrected sufficiently for growing vegetables with a little time and patience. Strongly alkaline soil is far harder to remedy.
You can buy soil test kits in most garden centres or online. They are not expensive. You can also get an idea of your soil quality from what already grows there.
Buy good quality seed and use it while it is within the use by date.
Some seed does not keep well (carrots in particular). I like to throw my old seed all together into a seed tray to see just what does come up. I often get usable plants but they are extras, not the main crop.
It's best to buy fresh each year for most purposes. Or, learn to save your own seed. This can be a great way to save some extra money and have seeds to trade with friends and acquaintances.
Collect seed from mature plants that you have deliberately left to flower. This is worth doing only if you can spare the space as mature plants can take up quite a bit of room and you cannot do much else with the ground until the seeds have ripened.
I think it is worth avoiding F1 hybrid seeds in the main. These are seeds from plant hybrids between two varieties.
You can’t use them to provide seed crops for the next year because they don’t breed true. And they are often by-products of the horticultural industry which are bred for their uniformity and manageability with herbicides and pesticides. Having said that, many of them do crop reliably.
You can buy interesting varieties (non- F1 hybrid) from many of the smaller organic seed suppliers.
When learning how to grow a vegetable garden it's good to start with easy crops.
Cultivation tips for the more difficult organic crops are beyond the scope of this website. There are lots of websites dedicated to gardening, horticulture and organic techniques - there are a few listed in the Green Links section of this site.
I include tips on how to grow a vegetable garden for mainly for common easy crops. This is because I believe that learning how to grow a vegetable garden is a good thing to do if you are interested in becoming a bit greener. If this route to greener living appeals to you, you will search out the finer points once you have got started!
Many salad crops such as lettuce and other vegetables can be grown in boxes and planters - see How to Grow Lettuce for example (below). One of the easiest things to grow is a "cut-and-come again salad crop". You can do this in the soil of your garden or yard or you can use a large planter or window box.
Growing organic potatoes is reasonably easy and not too time consuming if you have space. They can be grown in open ground, or more intensively in containers such as old tyres or barrels, or potato bags. They are a breeze, provided you don’t mind a bit of spade work to earth them up as they grow.
Radishes have to be one of the very easiest of crops to grow. Children love growing these because the results are so quick. They do need watching as they can easily run to seed.
Beetroot and Swiss chard are both easy and nutritious and very rewarding to grow. Swiss chard will keep you in greens for most of the winter when other greens are scarce. Beetroot are quite easy to store for winter too.
The onion family has some very easy to grow members. Leeks are probably the easiest and onions and shallots can give good results.
Garlic is not especially difficult. This page gives basic cultivation tips.
Herbs can be a great addition to a wildlife garden as well as being great for the kitchen. Here are some tips and cultivation notes:
Carrots are fairly easy, though carrot fly (an insect which burrows into the root) can be a bit tricky to avoid.
Parsnips are one of the easiest crops and are really very little trouble.
Peas are moderately easy to grow provided that you keep them covered with netting to begin with (pigeons love ‘em!) They are rather time consuming but the "mangetous" varieties are well worth the trouble and usually prove very popular.
Many kinds of beans are really quite easy to grow. Runner beans need poles or nets to climb and so do some of the French beans (but not all). That said, they are some of the most trouble-free plants and very beautiful too.
Broad beans, in my book, are a bit trickier but their amazing taste justifies the time and effort. They also freeze well. The page on beans gives basic cultivation notes for all these major types of bean.
Broad beans - a little tricky but they are definitely worth it!
Cabbage family plants – cabbage, calabrese, sprouting broccoli, kale and cauliflower and others – are a bit harder in the main, particularly cauliflower. I’ve always found broccoli to be fairly easy provided that you protect them from the birds and keep a look out for pests.
Cucumbers are quite easy if you live in the right sort of area. They can be grown under cloches and in the greenhouse but if you can grow them outside without protection, so much the better. Time was you had only one main type available – the ridge cucumber – but now there are more varieties which can thrive outside.
I love growing tomatoes even though they are quite labour-intensive. They are just so tasty straight from the garden. If the weather is kind (if!) they are not really hard, just fiddly. There are also quite a lot of ways you can use them, such as making soups and chutneys.
Parsley is another "essential" herb which is in constant demand in the kitchen. Perhaps not strictly a vegetable - but How to Grow Parsley Outside and In gives a basic growing guide and lots of reasons why it is a great plant to grow.
Watercress can be quite easy to grow at home. Lots of herbs are actually easy to grow, too.Here are the articles.
Salad crops and root crops
Growing your veg in containers does have its advantages. Many salad plants can be successfully grown in containers, too.
You can also consider growing some things in cold frames. Where I live, in sometimes windy and chilly East Anglia, it is a good idea to start most things off under cover, indoors or in a green house.
Using Greenhouses explores some ways to use your greenhouse to extend the growing season and grow more varieties of plants.
See also the section on Organic Gardening for more possibilities, including instructions on how to make a wooden cold frame.
You can also get by with windowsills and propagators.
Books on growing vegetables
If you want to try your hand at growing natural and organic food and you haven’t done it before I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised at how easy it can be.
So learn how to grow a vegetable garden – just follow the links for particular crops above. It is a bit addictive and you may even discover that you have green fingers!
If you already experienced in how to grow an organic vegetable garden I hope you will still find the odd useful tip that you can use to add to your success.
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