“Sure I wouldn’t know where to start”, one of the most common reasons people give us for not growing food. And fair enough, where do you start with growing food? Right here, that’s where. Growing food takes a bit of knowledge and a bit of skill, both of which are easily acquired and available. There’s no secret trick, no innate green fingers, no inherited knowledge passed through the genes. Watch, read, listen, learn and do.
So, here’s what you do first.
- Decide what you want to grow. If you like lettuce, grow lettuce. If you like chilli peppers, grow chilli peppers, if you like spuds, grow spuds. No complicated algorithm required.
- Get the basics. Plants have varied, complex and mystical needs right? Wrong. Plants need soil, water and sunlight. They are individual and need it in different amounts but that’s their basic requirements in a nutshell. Head Grower in GROW HQ, Richard, gets so annoyed at anyone trying to mystify growing with talk of "Latin names and bulls**t terminology". Plants survived for millennia without Latin names. Your basil doesn’t care if you call it “Ocimum basilicum” or Harold, as long as you water it. If you take a plant out of the wild and stick it in a pot, or other confined space, you have to give it the stuff it can’t reach. Nutrients (soil), moisture (water) and the energy to photosynthesise (sunlight).
- Put seeds in soil, apply water, leave in the sun. We’re not even kidding. Yes, seeds germinate better at specific temperatures, yes some prefer shade, some full sun and others darkness, but honestly, they need soil, water, sunlight; we’re not overstating this. If you’re growing from seedlings (tiny plants) they can be planted straight out into the garden or wherever you want to grow them, seeds can be planted indoors, left to grow for a while after they’re sown to keep warm before planting out when they turn into seedlings. But nearly everything can be sown directly into the soil.
- Have a look at the GIY Veg Directory to see what your specific veg needs to thrive and when you can expect to harvest it.
- Buy high quality seeds, store in a cool dry place and use them within two years or they might degrade.
- Stay consistent, keep an eye on what you’re growing. Pull up weeds when you see them, add water if the soil is dry.
- Get your hands dirty. Yes, we grow to eat but growing has plenty of benefits as an activity itself. Get some fresh air, get your hands in the soil, maybe get active in the garden. Get up close and personal with your future dinner.
- Pest control. This is probably the biggest obstacle for outdoor growing. Pick off slugs and snails as soon as you see them (they’re nocturnal so go out late or early). Use soapy water to get rid of greenfly. Put a net over anything that the caterpillars or birds might attack. Put up a scare crow (to freak out the neighbours if not the birds), throw down some bark, stones, shells, coffee grinds etc. to deter slugs and snails (they’re delicate creatures, don’t like roughing it).
- Don’t forget to harvest your food! You may laugh, but not knowing when to harvest means sometimes food is just left to rot in the ground or forgotten about. Use plant markers so you remember where it is and set a reminder on your phone the day you plant it for roughly the day you need to pick it.
- Accept that plants die. Not the most motivational sentence but let’s face it, they will die, you may kill them, and that’s ok. Nobody has a hundred percent perfect record for growing. Sometimes it’s human error, sometimes an act of nature and sometimes there’s no good reason why the bloody thing died. DON’T let it get you down. That happens to even the most experienced growers. Enjoy eating the survivors and don’t dwell on their fallen comrades.