National Gardening Day
Spring is a beautiful time of year when nature awakens and life is in full bloom. Seasonal chores come back, too: mowing the lawn and trimming the bushes.
But gardening does not need to stop here. Why not try to plant something every year? It could be flowers, a new berry bush, a fruit tree or some vegetables. Gardening doesn’t need to feel like a chore. Let’s plant some beautiful vegetables and enjoy the process.
Whether it's a source of self-sustainability or just a hobby, the sunshine is inviting you to go outside and dig. There is something quite remarkable about watching your plants rise from the ground and reach towards the sun. Let’s embrace the simple pleasures of getting our hands dirty and planting some flowers, herbs or vegetables.
It's also much simpler than you might think. Not only can it be good physical exercise, but it’s good for our mental wellbeing, too – a perfect activity right now to get us away from our couches and TVs. Think how proud you will feel when you make tasty, organic dishes from your own garden produce. You can’t get fresher vegetables than those picked straight from the garden and made into a lovely meal.
Are you in? Where do you start?
If you do not have much space or experience in growing vegetables, they can be grown in flowerpots or wooden boxes filled with soil. Or you can buy growing bags filled with soil for growing root vegetables; perfect if you don’t have much space.
If you don’t have a garden, you could look into getting an allotment. You can find available local allotments here.
If you would prefer to stay at home, you can even plant on your windowsill. Tomatoes, radishes, lettuce, peppers and herbs will happily grow in a small, sunny space. It can be even easier than planting outside because of lack of weeds and pests, and the produce will be just as good!
I planted a few vegetables indoors in mid-March. I used small yoghurt pots and other similar plastic containers that I collected throughout winter. I bought a bag of compost, available in local stores early spring, or garden centres will sell them all year around (subject to pandemics, of course!) Now that my seedlings have become strong enough to resist wind and rain, they’ve been planted outside.
Where do you get seeds from?
You can save seeds from vegetables that you buy, such as bell peppers, aubergines, tomatoes, pumpkins, squashes or even potatoes. If you don’t want to collect and dry your own seeds, there are many different seeds available in the shops. Most of the seeds have the best sowing and harvesting dates written on the packaging, and instructions of how to look after the seedlings.
For example, to help the seeds to germinate it is advised to soak them for 24 hours in lukewarm water. When sown, the pot can be covered with a plastic bag to create a greenhouse effect, which will speed up the germination.
When the seedlings start to grow, remove the bag and place them in a sunny place. Some of the more delicate plants need to stay indoors for longer until they can be planted outside.
Vegetables, just like humans, have likes and dislikes. Sowing them with a neighbour that it will get along with will help with fighting pests, with no need for pesticides. It will also provide benefit for the soil and increase garden yield.
Cruciferous family vegetables such as kale, cabbage and broccoli like to grow with beetroots and leafy greens. Beans can grow with most things, and especially with spinach and tomatoes. Nasturtium flowers help to prevent bugs on squash and cucumber vines. Carrots benefit from growing with tomatoes, and tomatoes work well with cabbage. More information about companion planting can be found here:
What if you have more seeds than you need?
It’s not advised to keep your seeds for next year because they might not germinate successfully.
If you are worried about too much produce, consider sowing them at different times. For example, if you have just sown ten green bean seeds, wait a week until you sow another ten, and repeat until you run out of seeds. It will achieve a more even produce and you won’t have a too many beans at one time.
If you have too many of the same type of seedlings you can always trade (from a safe distance) with your fellow gardening friends who are planting this year as well. If you would like to have some produce all year round, consider sprouting your grains in jars, which takes very little space and can be eaten all year round. Growing herbs such as basil, rosemary and even mint on your kitchen windowsill will bring fresh flavours to your meals any time of the year.
If you have too much produce in autumn, don’t worry, there’s no need for it to go to waste. Just praise yourself for being an awesome gardener!
You can look into different ways of preserving your vegetables. Vegetables such as pumpkins, carrots and potatoes will keep for a long time in a cool and dry place. There are many different ways to store your vegetables, including old-school methods such as storing them in a pit of dirt!
Find the one which works the best for you. Delicate vegetables, such as tomatoes, courgettes and cucumbers need to be preserved. Methods and ideas for garden crop preservation can be found here.
You can also freeze surplus produce, cutting into smaller chunks ready to cook with, or share it with your relatives and friends. Sometimes it’s best to cook some of the vegetables before freezing, such as squashes or sweet potato. There are plenty of recipes available online using seasonal vegetables. Check out our recipes here.
So why not start today? It’s always good to try something new and get out of your comfort zone. For some extra encouragement I have included photos of some of my vegetables to be: spinach, cucumbers, pumpkins, and also roving chef Alex’s cabbage. Happy National Gardening Day!
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