THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED
Everything in the garden is growing full pelt at the moment. We can almost hear it growing sometimes! Now's the time to get planting to enjoy a season of home-grown edibles. We caught up with garden writer, Cinead McTernan, to share her tips on how everyone can enjoy fresh veg even if they only have a tiny space. And to help you feel inspired, we have Cinead’s latest book, City Veg to give away, plus a bundle of our grow-your-own gardening goodies.
“My city plot measures a compact 4.5m by 3.5m, or approximately two classic 1970s VW camper vans, parked side by side, if you, like me, struggle to visualise spaces. I fancifully think of it as a miniature walled garden, and while it has all the charm of this traditional type of veg plot, the same can’t be said for the expanse of beds I have at my disposal.
The truth is, when it comes to growing fruit and vegetables, there is a direct ratio between space and yield: The more space you have, the more you’ll have to eat. However, I would venture that a few sides of corn or a handful of beetroot, a scattering of fresh salad leaves throughout the year and a party’s-worth of strawberries for a sensational Eton mess, aren’t the only rewards to enjoy when you grow your own. The American poet Ralph Waldo Emerson summed it up perfectly when he wrote, ‘Life is a journey, not a destination’. So often, arriving ends up being less of a reward than the process of actually getting there.
Growing your own produce on any scale is well worth it, perhaps even more so if you have a tiny plot, a balcony or just a windowsill. True, you’re not going to reap the same bounty that a lucky so-and-so with a bigger veg patch will enjoy, but trust me, the sense of satisfaction from producing a modestly sized harvest in restricted conditions will be greater.
How to get the best from your pint-sized plot:
At some point every growing season, I’ll find myself staring at my online shopping basket, which has been impulsively filled with varieties that hadn’t even made it onto the ‘maybe’ wish list. This is all part of the fun of growing your own, but it can be equally satisfying to show a bit of restraint and stick to the varieties that ticks all your boxes. Are you experimental and interested in trying more unusual crops that are hard to buy in supermarkets and shops? Or perhaps you hanker after the taste of home-grown tomatoes – a flavour that is hard to find from intensely farmed crops, which are either firm and tasteless or soft and overly sweet. Does a weekly harvest appeal to you or are you looking to pep up home-cooked dishes with fresh herbs and spices?
Once you’ve drawn up a wish list of crops – mine usually comes in at around 65 varieties before I have to ruthlessly cull it – you can start to whittle out the ones that won’t do well in your particular location (too sunny, or too shady, etc.). This advice should be on the seed packets or plant label, but if not, a quick google should provide the information you need, or feel free to contact me via Instagram, @thesociablegardener.
Then think about its growing habitat – if you only have room to fill one border with crops, you’ll have to prioritise from the types that won’t appreciate being grown in containers (asparagus, millet and raspberries, for example), or vice versa if you don’t have veg beds, you’ll have to choose the crops that like their leg room to be snug, like tomatoes, chillies and even potatoes.
And, finally - although perhaps most importantly - consider the crop itself. There’s nothing like reading the descriptions in the catalogues, and I often find that my wish list grows again at this point, as I can’t resist a tomato with a sweet, honey flavour or a nutty-tasting kalette (a cross between kale and Brussels sprouts), but there’s no point growing courgettes if you recoil at thought of ratatouille or have upsetting childhood memories of chewing spinach for hours before you were allowed to leave the table.
Cinead's fab five
If you need a bit of inspiration, here are five fab crops that suit tight spots or containers, and will produce a decent harvest:
Top tips for growing in containers:
The trick to successful container growing is being realistic about which plants you can grow in them and how they need to be looked after – namely feeding and watering during the growing months. Container-grown plants aren’t able to put down their roots to reach a natural water source and the level of nutrients and minerals, which are in abundance as a result of the natural life cycles of the soil, are eventually depleted in a container unless we replenish them. Having learned the hard way, I would urge you to incorporate the two vital tasks of feeding and watering your container-grown crops into your weekly schedule, and if you’re away, make alternative arrangements.
THIS GIVEAWAY IS NOW CLOSED
Win a copy of Cinead's book City Veg to inspire you in your veg-growing this year, plus a selection of our GYO essential tools. There's an RHS-endorsed container scoop and container weeder, specially designed for faster filling and small-space weeding without damaging prized plants. And for harvesting, there's an RHS-endorsed flower and fruit ship. Together it's a bundle worth £63!
How to enter
To win, all you need to do is leave a comment on this blog. Scroll to the bottom of this page to comment (your email address won't be published). You could tell us which edibles you're growing this summer, for example. You’ll also need to be a subscriber to our monthly email newsletter to be a winner, so if you're not already signed up, fill in your email address in the grey band right at the bottom of this page. It’s easy to unsubscribe at any time if you don’t enjoy our monthly updates.
The small print
City Veg prize draw, 2022