Tips for the first-time food grower

Spring has finally started to arrive! For the keen gardeners among us, this means it’s time to come out of our winter hibernation and get ready for the growing season.

Whether you’ve got an outdoor space to grow, or only have room for a few pots on a windowsill, it’s well worth having the experience of growing your own fresh produce at home.

We know that starting out can feel a bit daunting, so we’ve pulled together some key tasks tips for getting started. We also “bust the jargon” by explaining the meaning of useful gardening terms.

Jargon buster! Gardening terms and what they mean…

Sowing = this means putting seeds in the soil

Germination = this is when a seed starts to grow into a plant

Planting = putting a plant with leaves into the soil

Sowing undercover = sowing seeds somewhere warm (like a windowsill, greenhouse or polytunnel) before they are planted outside. This means the plants can get a head start when it’s too cold for them to grow outside, and means they are protected from pests who like to eat young plants.

Sowing directly = sowing seeds where the plant is to grow, instead of sowing it undercover first. Some vegetables (like carrots and beetroots) grow better if they are sown directly.

Seedling = a young plant (a few weeks old)

Planting out = moving a seedling that has been grown undercover outside into the ground or a raised bed.

Hardening off = plants that have been sown undercover should be “hardened off” before they are planted outside. This means acclimatizing them to the cold by putting them outside for a few hours at a time for several days before planting out.

Potting on = moving a plant into a bigger pot

Hardy plants = plants that can survive frost / freezing temperatures

Tender plants = plants that are killed by frost/ freezing temperatures

What do you need?

Here is a list of 10 tools it’s useful to have. If you can’t afford new tools, have a look at your local group as people often give gardening equipment away. We also have a guide to growing your own on a budget!

You’ll also need seeds, of course! Avoid seeds in supermarkets – these may been sitting around for a long time and might not grow as well. You can buy seeds online from shops like Suttons, Organic Gardening Catalogue, Real Seeds and Tamar Organics.

When should you start growing?

Some heat-loving plants take a long time to grow, so need starting off as early as March. This includes tomatoes, chillies, peppers and aubergines.

In the UK, many plants can wait until April or even May. As there will be more sun and warmth, they will quickly catch up and there will be less risk that they will be killed by a surprise frost.

What containers to grow seeds in? Most seeds are best started off in modules, seed beds and pots and “planted out” outside once they are around 4 weeks old.

We love Charles’ Dowding’s sowing timeline for vegetables.

Growing in containers

No garden? No worries! Many plants can be grown in containers and kept on a sunny windowsill or outside.

Making your own containers: Buckets, old bins and even beer kegs can be used! Make holes in the bottom with a screwdriver (use a mallet to hit the end of the screwdriver). Bags of potting soil with holes poked in the bottom work well for vegetables with shallow roots like salads and tomatoes. 

Filling your containers: Fill containers with peat-free potting soil. Adding homemade compost is a good way to save money on soil and give your plants a nutrient boost.

Sowing in outdoor containers: Some plants can survive a light frost so you can sow the seeds directly into outdoor containers this month. This includes most salad leaves, broad beans, swiss chard, perpetual spinach, carrots, beetroots and potatoes*.

*’First early’ and ‘second early’ potatoes are best for containers, rather than ‘maincrop’ potatoes.

Sowing in containers indoors: Chillies, peppers, aubergines and tomatoes need warmth and should be sown inside now. They can be moved to a warm and sunny spot around May.

Growing herbs is easy! Check out these Herb Growing Cards to help you get started.

Making compost

Home composting is the most environmentally-friendly way to deal with kitchen and garden waste. Known as black gold by gardeners, compost is a nutrient-rich product that your plants and flowers will love! How to make your own compost.

A tasty winter broccoli harvested in March.

Want more tips? Check out our other grow-your-own guides or follow us on social media!

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