How to start growing vegetables: Start small

A lot of people think they don’t have anywhere to to grow. The truth is you don’t need a big garden to grow your vegetables. If you are quite new to growing or if you only have a small space available I’d recommend starting small. One or two raised beds is a great start, as you can experiment with what will grow well in your area and microclimate, and also it is a much less daunting prospect than starting a vegetable plot. And remember anything you grow however small will make a huge difference to you and the way you think of and appreciate food. All of a sudden you will think twice before you buy and throw away those bags of salad. Because growing your food takes a lot of effort. But the the rewards are far greater. So get growing this year.

Traditionally, vegetables are grown in long rows on flat soil with space between the rows for access. A raised bed is a concentrated growing area, higher than the surrounding ground, and its sides are usually constructed of wood. Or you can even set up a vegetable border that is every bit as attractive as a flower border.

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There are many advantages to growing your crops in raised beds:

– if your soil is poor or indeed if you lack top soil, which can be the case in some areas, you can fill your bed with good quality soil or garden compost appropriate for your crops.

position – the ideal vegetable growing area is south-facing and sunny without too much shade. With a raised bed you can find the best position in your garden.

drainage – this can be a real problem in our area so you can add some gravel to the bottom of your raised be to ensure it is free draining.

depth – you can decide how deep you want your raised beds to be which is particularly useful when growing root vegetables.

yield – in a small area you can grow small numbers of different crops and generally the yield his higher than from a traditional plot.

maintenance and weeding – due to easier accessibility weeding and looking after your bed should be really straightforward. Remember little and often is the trick.

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Building and maintaining a raised bed

You can buy a ready-to-assemble DIY raised beds but generally they are quite expensive and it is not difficult to make your own. We usually use 6″ x 2″ pressure treated timber and the ideal width of your bed is no more than 1.2m for easy access. The length is entirely up to you.

There are also many alternatives to raised beds like fish boxes, any kind of larger shallow containers or tubs. Growbags are a cheap and effective way of growing tomatoes or strawberries but they will soon run out of nutrients so a good quality fertiliser is a necessity. I only use organic fertiliser or quite often I’d make my own from seaweed, comfrey or nettles. Or you can try growing potatoes in special potato sacks.

One disadvantage of raised beds or containers is that they dry out more quickly than open-ground beds you will have to keep watering them regularly. Mulching helps to prevent evaporation and it is also a good way of suppressing weeds.

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The raised beds above are in our garden. Sadly the photos below are not but they are a great inspiration. They show a vegetable garden at The Royal Highland Show in 2013.

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So will you give it a go?  Let me know how you get on or if you have any tips. Happy growing!

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Inspired… and in awe

Yesterday we spent a most enjoyable afternoon in Shetland’s Westside – namely in Sandness. Transition Turrifield held their third open day this summer and they also put on a small farmers’ market and teas, soup, bannocks and homebakes in Sandness Hall. A perfect reason for a little drive West, I thought, especially since the weather was lovely too.

It’s always great exploring different areas and corners of Shetland but the Westside must be my favourite as the lanscape is really beautiful. There are miles of quiet single-track roads with many hidden lochs that shine like gems, nestled in the hills. And sheep roam free. The vistas are juxstaposed with peatbanks with lovely dark peat and white crofthouses, dotted in the landscape. It feels like the Westside is Shetland in miniature. And then there are the egg and veg boxes beside the roads… it’s so exciting buying local produce and having the element of surprise as sometimes there can also be homemade cakes, jams or preserves. The whole experience feels like a little treasure hunt!

So after a plate of tasty soup and a spot of shopping at the hall (we bought some veg, Shetland cheese, pork, beer and fudge) we set of to the croft at Turriefeld. And what a busy place it was! Cars and people everywhere. It was great being back again and seeing how everything grows as the season progresses. In June we spent an ejoyable day with Penny and Alan learning how to build a polytunnel from discarded salmon cage pipes and plastic sheeting. Back then it was a cloudy day with a lot of wind so we didn’t get a chance to finish the tunnel and put the sheet on. (I’ll write about that experience another time.)

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This time the weather was just perfect, it was sunny, warm and there was very little wind. Everything looked green and lush. When we arrived we were given a lovely guided tour of the croft’s growing areas by one of the volunteers and in a few words I have to say I was in awe… Yes, it was amazing to see big juicy tomatoes, beans, courgettes, aubergines… but there were also pumpkins, corn… and melons too! All these were in the tunnels. Outside all sorts of brassicas, peas, carrots and tatties are thriving. And then there were the animals – hens, turkeys and ducks… and the pigs that help to work the ground.

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I could keep going on but basically visiting Turriefield and seeing the amazing work that Penny, Alan and their volunteers do is simply amazing and utterly inspiring. Visiting their croft is real eye-opener and it shows how with a bit of knowledge, some shetler and a bit of digging (or a lot) it is possible to grow many things in Shetland. And do so in a responsible, sustainable way.

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I’m totally inspired and next year I’m planning to reduce the lawn area even more to make space for a few more raised beds… just a shame we don’t have more space as I would love to have one of thoose big tunnels too… (the one pictured below is the one we built in June and it currently used for drying a great crop of garlic before it is used in the new season).

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Find out about my previous visit to Turriefield here. For further information and recipes click here.

More photos here.