First some facts
According to Professor Dave Goulson, author of The Garden Jungle: or Gardening to Save the Planet, we have enough land in our back gardens to produce more fruit and veg than the U K consumes every year.
Giving over half of the average garden to growing crops would produce 7 .5 million tonnes of fruit and veg a year in the UK. With national consumption at 6 .9 tonnes, 77 % of which is imported, the benefits of engaging us individuals with this national challenge are obvious.
Now add on the studies that show positive links between spending time in nature and improved mental wellbeing, and the proof is there to see – as individuals we can actually make a difference to ourselves, our communities and our future. And it all begins in our own backyard. Or balcony. Or window box. Let us explain.
There’s no place too small
One of the misconceptions about growing edibles at home is that you need a generous garden. Not true. Small spaces lend themselves to herbs, which can be grown on balconies and window sills.
Although they don’t take up much space, herbs go an extraordinarily long way, enlivening home-cooked dishes with distinct flavour as well as making soothing and restorative herbal teas.
Try growing strawberries in hanging baskets, chillies in plant pots that clip to drainpipes (self-watering!) and salad leaves in loaf tins on the windowsill. For those with their sights set a little higher, contact your local council to find out about allotments in your area.
With over 300,000 allotment holders in the UK (and another 100,000 on waiting lists), you could tap into a community of friendly gardeners, many of whom are happy to show you the ropes and to trade produce when glut season comes around. Who didn’t get offered courgettes last summer?
If you miss out on one of those infamously tough-to-secure allotment spaces, don’t despair. Cinead McTernan is a garden writer and author of several books, including One-Pot Gourmet Gardener. “There are plenty of great books that show how just a one-metre square garden can provide veg for a family,” she says.
“But obviously, the bigger the better! Don’t be despondent if you don’t have acres at your disposal – containers are great for veg, you’ll just need to have a priority list and decide which ones you’d most enjoy harvesting.”
And if you do have a decent garden, what are the first steps? Cinead advises noting whether the spot is sunny or shady, as well as what the soil is like. “If it looks dry and crumbly or lumpy with clay, you’ll need to add organic compost to improve the nutrients in the soil.
Depending on the above, you can start with whatever crop excites you. Think about what you like eating. There’s no point growing varieties that you don’t normally enjoy!”
If you’re clever with timing, you could plan a harvest throughout the year so think seasonally. “It’s also worth thinking about buying plug plants (small seedlings) rather than seeds,” suggests Cinead, “unless you have space for seedlings to grow, as well as the time and enthusiasm.
Plugs are a beginner’s best friend because they’re more likely to establish and grow, rewarding your efforts with a good harvest. Seeds are great fun to grow, especially for speedy crops like salads, but they can be tricky to raise and the key to growing veg is to be able to enjoy freshly picked crops. It can be disheartening if seeds fail.”