How to grow your own produce (when you don’t have a garden)
For most Londoners, the only green space we enjoy is the nearest park – if it recovers from the summer’s scorching – while the majority of fruit and veg comes from the local supermarket. Being green-fingered is a luxury many people simply don’t enjoy… or so we think.
In fact, learning how to grow your own organic produce in a city is not that hard, so long as you have a sunny spot and a bit of patience. A kitchen windowsill can provide herbs, tomatoes, salad and more. Just think: no more last-minute dashes to Tesco for rosemary for the Sunday roast – you have a whole forest right in front of you.
By learning how to grow your own you have complete control over how it’s done. Without fertilisers or pesticides it’s completely organic, plus there are myriad nutritional benefits to picking and eating straight away.
Decide what you use the most, what’s expensive to buy in a supermarket and what doesn’t take up too much space, then you can Alan Titchmarsh with the best of them.
From an indoor windowsill or balcony to a patio or allotment, these are the plants best to start with – and how you can help them flourish.
An indoor herb garden is a great starting point if space is scarce
1. Pot luck “Regular harvesting keeps herbs compact,” says Nicky Roeber, horticultural expert at Wyevale Garden Centres, “but some fast-growing species, such as basil, need a little more space than others. Pots with a diameter of 10-15cm work well.”
2. Sunny side up “Most species prefer around six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day, so a south-facing window is best,” advises Roeber.
3. Choose wisely Jez Taylor, Head of Market Garden at Daylesford Organic recommends basil, mint, thyme, coriander and flat parsley. “Ideal herbs are those which you use just the tips. These ‘bush out’ and present more for the following harvest.”
4. Rain it in Be careful not to leave your herbs in waterlogged soil and allow them to dry out. “You can check this easily by using your finger to see if the first two inches of soil are dry,” says Roeber. Don’t expect to keep herbs indoors for longer than a few months, as there is only a fraction of the daylight available compared to outside.
5. Bean counter If you want to grow veg (and your windowsill enjoys plenty of sun), radishes, chillies, dwarf tomatoes, peas and broad, French or green beans all work well.
Often associated with Romeo and Juliet (and drying laundry), balconies are great kitchen-garden spots
1. Wind farm Remember it will be windy, and it’s hopeless to grow plants that aren’t suitable for these cramped, exposed conditions.
2. Take direction Veggies need full sun. There’s no way to get around this, so check your balcony isn’t north facing.
3. Repeat business Look for plants that produce over and over again rather than one-hit wonders like radishes, potatoes and cabbages. “Lettuce varieties and french beans are wonderful because they keep giving,” suggests garden designer Jack Wallington. “Brussels sprouts and kale are large plants, but will produce enough for a good number of meals throughout winter.
4. Fruits of your labour Apples and pears can be grafted into rootstocks, which allow fruit trees to grow in small spaces. “Look for M27 rootstock apples and Quince C rootstock on pears.”
5. Looks good “The vast majority of herbs will love balcony life, especially rosemary, sage, fennel, basil and thyme. They look beautiful, too.”
6. Room to manoeuvre Pots over 35-40cm diameter retain moisture and give space to form good root systems. “Fill with a peat-free compost and add slow-release fertiliser like blood, fish and bone. For fruit and veg, feed weekly with seaweed fertiliser.”
PATIOS OR ROOFTOPS
With a bit more space to play with, you can branch out to growing vegetables in pots, troughs and grow-bags
1. Best of the best According to the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), beetroot, broad beans, carrots, dwarf French beans, herbs, peas, potatoes, radishes, rocket, runner beans, chillies, peppers, salad leaves, salad onions, salad turnips and tomatoes are best for container cultivation.
2. Feeling fruity If you’re after fruit, RHS Chief Horticulturist Guy Barter suggests potted blueberries and raspberries. If you have a sunny wall or fence, consider grape vines, bramble fruits and trained fruit, edged with alpine strawberries.
3. Looks aren’t everything While you might be tempted by terracotta pots, they will need more watering due to their porous nature. Make sure containers have a depth and width of at least 45cm (18in) and use multi-purpose, peat-free compost for best results.
4. Take care “Regular and even watering is key, especially in pots,” says cook and kitchen gardener, Kathy Slack. “I water pots every other day in the height of summer, and if you have time to apply a liquid seaweed feed every week during the summer months, that will really help, too.”
Traditionally the preserve of middle-aged men in flat caps, city-dwellers of any age and gender can reap rewards from having an allotment, including a consistent source of year-round organic food
1. Time management Keeping an allotment is time-consuming, so it’s best to grow plants you know you’ll use. “Plot to plate provides added freshness, especially for tomatoes, courgettes and sweet corn,” suggests Jeff Barber, London Regional Representative of The National Allotment Society.
2. Return on investment “Beans, courgettes and soft fruit will give a greater financial return. Radishes are often seen as the easiest crop as they need little attention and are ready to eat in a short space of time.” Asparagus, leeks, spring onions, leafy salads and Little Gem lettuce are also fairly expensive to purchase, but easy to grow.
3. Find your happy place Remember to
space crops out so they’ll have more root room to find their own moisture. This means natural rainfall will go further and watering can be less of a problem.