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 Growing Vegetables
There are many benefits of growing your own vegetables such as the cost, the non use of enhancements and chemicals and the satisfaction that what you and the family are eating is the product of your own work. Vegetable growing is a fantastic way of getting the whole family involved in the garden. Kids love to watch things grow and develop so when the time comes to pick the veg, wash it and eat it the joy of producing their own food just continues.

Home grown vegetables taste fantastic and are relatively easy and inexpensive to maintain. Vegetable plots are also aesthetically pleasing and planted correctly your patch can look just as inviting as a planted border. Vegetable gardens do not need to be large and extensive, a few simple pots and containers on a patio is sufficient if your garden is of a small size. Vegetables can even be introduced to existing flower beds if you do not have the room for a separate plot.

Growing Vegetables

Vegetable Plots

Vegetable plots can be all shapes and sizes. You can put vegetables in beds, raised beds, containers, grow bags, hanging baskets and flower beds. Generally vegetables are annuals and are rotated around the plots, ensure any perennial vegetables you grow such as asparagus and artichokes are separated from the annuals in different beds. There are a range of grow bags that allow you to produce vegetables on a smaller scale and the majority come with handy hints to get going.

Containers and pots on patios and roof gardens are a fantastic way of growing vegetables not only for the benefits of eating them but for admiring the foliage too. They can even be planted up with other plants such as dwarf ones to create striking displays. Traditionally vegetables were grown in rows in plots approx several metres wide with the plants spaced accordingly to allow access. Nowadays more and more of us are growing vegetables in beds that are smaller and more narrow. These beds can be square, rectangles, even circles to allow all round access to the plants inside, they can be decorative or formal.

The use of these beds allows us to maintain our plots without treading all over the soil. All work can be done from the outside.

Planting vegetables in flower beds is also becoming more common as more of us are finding the problem of space in our gardens for designated separate plots. Decorative vegetables next to annuals and perennials create a lovely and edible display. Just ensure soil control is maintained. As long as the planting is evenly spaced to discourage weed germination and plants fighting for nutrients any of the above methods can be used.


Vegetables for Nutrition

We all know about eating our 5-a-day to help us sustain a longer, healthier life but how many of us keep to it? In today's modern world of busy homes, work and social lives it can seem a trial to maintain a balanced diet. The high street is filled with fast food outlets and snack bars and 'wrong' food is available at every corner. We no longer use food for its basic use of preventing and treating illnesses due to our extensive catalogue of pharmaceuticals. It is also incredibly difficult to keep up with research into foods and we always seem to be getting conflicting advice as to what is good for us and what isn't.

It is a fact that smoking and alcohol can damage our bodies but what about the major food groups such as starch, fats, sugars, dairy, protein and fibre? How much do we need and how much is too much?

The human body needs a combination of food and water to refuel correctly and maintain its working order. Just how much food and what type will depend on age and how active you are.

A basic rule of thumb is not to only eat as varied a diet as possible but to concentrate on different coloured foods too. For example eating a portion of carrots daily will contribute to your 5-a-day but will not be as beneficial as rotating it with broccoli or cabbage.

Supermarkets offer a vast range of fresh produce and as a nation we are becoming more aware that maybe our diets do need attention. However there is nothing better than being able to grow your own produce and eating it. You will not only end up with food that tastes so much better than shop bought you will also experience a great sense of achievement. It is in our make up as humans to provide and nurture and there is no better way than growing your own food.

As the gardener you can choose which varieties to grow with emphasis on taste, you can pick as you need thus reducing the need to buy more than you will eat. You can also rest assured that no chemicals have been used as you have done the growing yourself. Home grown produce is fresh to your kitchen with no need for treatment in order to keep it looking fresh but can be frozen for use later at no damage to the food. Above all you ,as the gardener, will enjoy plenty of fresh air and exercise that will go hand in hand with the food you grow to help you maintain a healthy lifestyle.

Top Nutritional Vegetables

  Artichoke - Good for the gall bladder, liver and kidneys.

  Broccoli - High in iron.

  Cabbage - Antioxidants to increase disease resistance.

  Carrot - Raw carrot can kill listeria and other food poisoning bacteria. Can lower blood cholesterol.

  Lettuce & Green Salads - Antioxidants to combat a multitude of ailments and illnesses.

  Onion - Combat infections and increase disease resistance.

  Garlic - Antibiotic properties against infection.

This list is not exhaustive and the actions mentioned will vary for each individual according to lifestyle habits etc. Simply by eating a varied diet and getting enough exercise you should be able to maintain a healthy lifestyle that will be beneficial to you and allow you to enjoy life to the full.


Choosing the ideal site for your vegetable plot

Choose a site that is open to sunlight away from trees and tall buildings.

Your vegetables want to be sheltered from the wind, if no natural shelter is available consider planting a windbreak like a hedge, open trellis or fence.

The soil should be well drained and fertile, if not use raised beds.

Your vegetable plot will need a water supply in the form of irrigation or water butts.

If your site is exposed too much or you live in a coastal area there is a possibility of your crop being damaged by winds or sea spray so adequate wind breaks must be erected to prevent this from happening. The best windbreaks to use need to have 50% permeability to allow some of the wind to get through. Solid windbreaks cause the wind to swirl around the edges thus creating more damage on the other side. Use hedges around a large plot or netting around a small one for best results.

Sloping sites are a bit harder to use than flat ones due to the heavy rainfall that may cause soil erosion, if you have a sloping site set the plot across it. When positioning your vegetables ensure to place the taller ones where they will not cast shadows over the smaller ones. South facing plots may need added watering in the hotter months to ensure the soil does not dry out. Try to plant sun loving vegetables in south facing gardens and shade loving plants in north facing ones using added shade if needed.

Generally vegetables prefer temperatures to be above 6C, obviously the amounts of days that the temperatures reach this in your garden depends on your situation and aspect. Choosing vegetables that are more suited to your climate might be more beneficial as some prefer colder or warmer climates.



Decide beforehand the vegetables you would like to grow. Before sowing divide up your beds into groups such as brassicas, legumes and tubers. Then when you come to sow ensure all the vegetable seeds are separated into these groups. That way when it comes round to crop rotation it will be more effective. It is advisable to list all the vegetables you have in each group in each plot so that you can monitor them throughout the year. Choose varieties suited to the climate and conditions you have. Choose good quality seeds from reputable seed suppliers to ensure decent germination. Seeds can either be direct sown or indoor sown to be transplanted when they are established.


Sowing Seeds Indoors

This is a good way to beat the weather and give your crops a head start.

Hardy plants like onions, cabbages and lettuces can be grown indoors from January to March and then planted out under cloches. A warm start indoors is advisable for tender plants such as tomatoes, courgettes, peppers, and cucumbers.

Fill seed trays or pots with good propriety seed compost. A good compost provides moisture, air and food. All you need to provide is warmth.

Firm the compost down lightly and thinly scatter the seed across the surface. Fine seed can be mixed with sand for easy distribution. Cover the seed with a thin layer of compost and stand the tray in water. Watering from the top can displace seeds. When wet, take the tray out of the water and store somewhere warm. Cover the tray with glass or cling-film to prevent the compost drying out. When shoots appear remove the covers and store in a warm, light, airy position, ie: windowsill.

When two leaves appear lift the seedlings taking care not to damage them, an old fork is ideal for this job. Transfer to pots or trays with fine potting compost. Use a dibber or your finger to make a hole, pop the roots in and then firm around the seedlings.

(Note: If you smoke, wash your hands before handling tomato plants).

Grow them on in a temperature of around 60 F until seedlings are ready to plant out. Harden off your seedlings by letting more air into your greenhouse or cold frame or popping them outside on mild days.


  • Grow in a greenhouse or on a cool windowsill.
  • Sow in a seed tray in compost. Once germinated keep at a low temperature in light and protection. 
  • Prick out into a seed tray with potting compost when the seedlings have a couple of leaves. 
  • Keep them warm, well lit and free of draughts.
  • Grow in a module that can be clay, plastic or biodegradable.
  • Sow a couple of seeds into separate modules then thin out the weakest seedlings leaving one strong one in each module.
  • This will produce healthy root balls making them adapt more easily to the climate outside. 
  • Grow in a container if space is limited or your soil is pest or disease ridden.
  • Ensure drainage holes are in place before putting in the compost. 
  • Choose fast growing vegetables that are not deep rooting or large.
  • Plant containers with vegetables from modules or cuttings you have taken from your existing crops.


Sowing Seeds Outdoors

A good crumbly, weed free soil is essential for easy sowing and successful germination. Digging the soil well over winter will ensure this. If you have a clay soil it is important to prepare before the autumn. Over winter the alternating freezing and thawing of the soil breaks up any hard clods.

Freshly dug soil may be firmed down by treading along the sowing surfaces ('the gardeners shuffle') and a good raking down will help. After this try not to walk on the soil instead use timber or scaffold planks that distribute your weight.

Use a corner of a hoe or a sharp stick to to draw out a shallow drill (groove) using a piece of string or a cane to get a straight line. Make sure there are no over compacted areas as these tend to harden off making roots difficult to penetrate.

Seeds may be scattered over a prepared bed but seeds sown in drills look neater and help harvesting. The distance between the rows and seeds are different for each vegetable.

Once the seedlings emerge thin out to the recommended distances.


DO NOT sow vegetables onto cold soil.

DO NOT rake down or firm clay soil when the ground is wet.

DO NOT sow too deeply.


  • Dig the soil and remove all debris and stones by raking. Rake in good weather not wet or too dry.
  • Ensure soil is relatively warm as many seeds need this to germinate, although do check individual needs as some vegetables prefer cool soils.
  • Check instructions for sowing individual seeds as they may require different depths. 
  • Sow thinly so as not to overcrowd.
  • Ensure surface moisture is retained. If sowing in hot weather cover the soil to prevent from drying out and remove once the seedlings are up. 
  • Once the seedlings are up thin them out to create spaces by nipping them from just above ground level so the roots of their neighbour are not disturbed. Do not thin out the entire plot as you may have a few losses and will need spares to move around to fill the gaps.
  • Seeds can either be sown in ridges in uniformed lines, scattered over a plot, or sown individually into the ground using a dibber or your finger. Cover tender plants with plastic bottles or jam jars to protect from the elements.



The ideal soil for growing vegetables is well drained but will also hold moisture. Its pH should be approx 6-6.5 which is slightly acidic. The majority of vegetables will thrive in this sort of soil. Of course with a wide variety of vegetables out there to grow you will almost certainly find one to grow in whatever soil you have. Sandy soils heat up in the sun rapidly and are good for growing early crops but they do not retain nutrients as well so may require added feeding. Clay soils are heavy and slow to warm up but they are nutrient rich. Make them work to your advantage by digging in organic matter as this will make them more fertile and moisture retentive. Lay out the beds in small rows to prevent any damage caused by having to walk or kneel on the soil when tending to your crops. 

More information about soil


Crop Rotation

Crop rotation simply means not growing the same crop in the same place each year, thus reducing disease build up.

For example, if cabbage, sprouts and cauliflower (all members of the brassica family) are grown year after year in the same soil there is a possible chance of the disease "club root" appearing. This can reduce the size or kill the crop.

Another important reason for rotation is to make use of fertiliser left over from the previous crop. For example, follow potatoes with peas. Peas are greedy feeders and they will benefit from the well manured potato soil.

Pro's - Vegetables are able to be grown in different areas of your plot if you rotate them. The majority of pest and disease problems can be combatted by rotating your crops. Certain pests and diseases attack certain types of vegetables and if they are left in the soil for more than a year in the same place the number of attacks will increase. If the crops are moved and replaced by a vegetable that the pest or disease does not like they will not attack it and will cease to live. Certain types of vegetables will alter the soil making it more rich in nitrogen for example so when rotation comes around replace these with nitrogen loving vegetables. Some plants will not need rotating such as the perennials or salad plants. Salad plants grow very quickly so are useful for filling in any gaps for short periods of time.

Con's - Certain pests and diseases are not fazed by rotation and will simply follow their vegetable of choice to wherever they have moved. Others stay in the soil for long periods of time and will not die so the problem may still be there even though the vegetables have been moved.


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