For the reluctant gardener, there is no finer moment that tasting the very first vegetable from their own plot. You don’t have to be fabulously green fingered to turn out something that tastes a million times better than anything you can buy in the shops. The sense of satisfaction you get when you pop that first pea or pull a baby carrot, sweet as honey and a pale gold so far removed from the supermarket bright orange is amazing. Heaven!
Growing vegetables from seed could not be easier. As with any gardening project you have to follow a few rules, but rules are sometimes made to be broken, so if you don’t have an enormous plot, don’t despair. Many seeds these days are bred with the smaller garden in mind and by reading the labels with care, you can choose vegetables which crop at different times of the year, so you can have a summer full of fresh salads and a winter of fascinating vegetables for stir fries, Sunday lunch and hearty stews. You don’t have to have row on row of leeks or cabbage; by sowing the seed in squares at the corner of a flower bed, or alongside a path, you can make all but the largest brassicas part of your herbaceous border.
Salads are a great way to start your vegetable growing career and if you have children who don’t like eating their five a day then getting them to grow their own is a really good way of getting the veg down them. Choose a lettuce which you can pull leaves from and leave growing – Salad Bowl is a good one – and some radishes, little round carrots and perhaps a tomato which you can grow in a hanging basket – Cherry Cascade is great for the kids as the fruit is small and sweet and you get loads – and the children will be eating their vegetables in no time.
Once you have the bug, the vegetables you grow will become more of a challenge and so that much more delicious when you pick them. Things like sweetcorn, broad beans and peas take a little more room and planning, but look good in the back of the border and a bonus with broad beans is the incredibly sweet smelling flowers. Growing vegetables from seed is not necessarily a cheap way of providing food for the family, but you will know exactly what conditions they grew in and nowadays you can buy seeds in quite small packs, so there is no waste. It isn’t really very good practice to use old seeds because they might not come up very well and so a lot of effort will be wasted.
The ultimate grow it at home vegetable has to be the potato. Everyone waits for the first Jersey Royals to come into the shops but even these lovely little new potatoes can’t hold a candle to ones you grow at home. You can prepare a bed if you like, but an old dustbin will do just as well and some people have even grown quite decent crops in the supermarket ‘bag for life’ type carrier bag, with holes for drainage. The secret is to buy top quality seed potatoes - some garden centres sell them loose, so you only buy what you need – and plant them quite shallowly, topping up the earth as the shoots show. The stem that you cover with soil is where the potatoes will grow, so be vigilant because when the plant goes green in the light, no more tubers will grow. This is called ‘earthing up’ in bare earth and has to be done quite carefully with a hoe. Things are easier in a bag or dustbin as you just have to add more soil to cover the growing shoots. The final stage is burrowing down and harvesting the potatoes. You can buy earlies or main crop but if you want a taste explosion, go for earlies and give yourself a treat.
In the main, you won’t save a fortune growing vegetables from seed, because you will have to buy the seed in the first place – although frugal friends with the same taste can share – as well as feed the plants and prepare the soil, not to mention the time you will have to put in. The advantage in growing vegetables from seed is the taste – there is quite literally nothing like it. In your first season you might struggle to get more than a few servings of any one vegetable from your plot, but it would be worthwhile for just one mouthful! Nothing says summer like new potatoes and peas and when it comes to a warming vegetable soup in winter, it is all the more delicious if the carrots and onions have come from your own back garden. So, for a rewarding and delicious hobby, try growing vegetables from seed!