Grow Your Own

Minimise food miles & eat organically for free

written byMatt Davies Co-Founder, Mossy Earth

Matt Davies

Before planting my first veggie patch, I stumbled across an article titled “8 no-nos in the vegetable garden”, which quickly prevented me from making all the fundamental mistakes I would have otherwise made. Here is an extended list of no-nos, as well as top tips to grow your own vegetables. Avoid these pitfalls, and you’ll be on track to growing an abundant garden of Eden.

Preparation

Thinking too big

Don’t get overwhelmed and overworked tending to a giant vegetable patch. Start small and with just half a dozen different vegetables. if you cultivate everything at once without experience, you could be setting yourself up to fail.

Not preparing the soil

If your soil is infertile, your plants won’t thrive. Preparing the soil must be done before you start planting, once the seeds have started to root, any changes to the soil may cause them to die. The best time to add compost, organic matter, or manure is in spring. Contact your local stables for free manure, they are often more than happy to offload their surplus horse poop.

Over or under fertilizing

Using too much, too little, or no fertilizer at all will result in sickly, slow-growing plants. Plants need nitrogen, and a good organic fertilizer will help them grow tall and strong. However, too much nitrogen and their growth will be so intense that they’ll take longer to be ready for eating. Also, avoid synthetic fertilizers. Although cheaper, they are chemically based and therefore harmful to health and the environment. A good rule of thumb is a 50:50 ratio of fertilizer to the soil.

Companion planting

Certain plants, when planted in tandem, can be beneficial for one another in as much as deterring pests, protection from the elements, and enriching soil fertilization. Conversely, some plants don’t grow well together and should not be planted in close proximity. Potatoes do particularly well next to coriander, beans, corn, or cabbage, but wreak havoc on pumpkins, cucumbers, and tomatoes.

A spade in the soil of a raised vegetable bed. A raised bed is an easy first step to growing your own vegetables
A small to modest raised bed is an easy and managable first step to growing your own vegetables.

Planting

Where’s the Sun?

Plants need sunlight to grow, however, different plants require different amounts of sunshine, which must be considered when planning your veggie patch. Make sure you know how much direct sunlight each plant needs, and plant accordingly. Seed packets will often include such information to help anyone growing their own vegetables.

Planting too close together

If your seeds are too close to one another, they will compete for resources, which means weaker and smaller plants. Read the instructions on the seed packet to know what the recommended planting distance is.

Planting too deep or not deep enough

When it comes to seeds, the bigger the seed, the deeper it should be planted. However, planting a seed too deep will prevent it from growing due to a lack of sunlight. While seeds too close to the surface, can dry out or culminate into a plant that cannot stand because its root system is too weak.

A handful of freshly pulled organic radishes. Growing radishes is an easy win when embarking on your grow your own vegetables adventure.
Consuming more fresh organic fruits and vegetables is one of the most important things you can do to stay healthy while also reducing your food miles and plastic packaging from your weekly shop.  There's no better time to start growing your own vegetables!

The Upkeep

Over or under watering

Like sunshine, different plants require different amounts of water. Too little can result in wilting and dying, and too much can kill the plant by rotting the roots. Most plants need to be watered about 1-3 times a week.

Not getting on top of pests and weeds

There is a long line of insects, rodents, and birds waiting to feast on your yield. To avoid using pesticides, consider using a scarecrow, or hanging old CDs on strings to scare away unwanted guests. Weeds compete with your plants for resources, so they should be uprooted as soon as possible. Try and stay on top of the weed situation, or surround your plants with a mulch to keep weeds at bay.

Watering lettuces with a watering can. Most lettuce varieties can grow in under 50 days. Planting lettuce is an excellent first step to growing your own vegetables.
Most lettuce varieties can grow in under 50 days. Planting lettuce is an excellent first step to growing your own vegetables.

Mulching is the key to success when growing your own

A mulch is a layer of material applied to the surface of the soil. Reasons for applying mulch include conservation of soil moisture, improving fertility and health of the soil, and reducing weed growth. A mulch is usually, but not exclusively, organic in nature. It may be permanent (e.g. plastic sheeting) or temporary (e.g. bark chips). It may be applied to bare soil or around existing plants. Mulches of manure or compost will be incorporated naturally into the soil by the activity of worms and other organisms.

Straw mulch around strawberry plants. Mulching makes growing your own so much easier by keeping weeds away and moisture in.
Mulching makes growing your own vegetables so much easier by keeping weeds away and moisture in.

Learning more...

Don’t be shy!

Talk to local gardeners young and old about how they tend to their allotments. They hold a wealth of knowledge specific to your area. Pepper your local garden centre with questions, no question is a silly question. Also, don’t be afraid to make mistakes, experimentation is the fun part.

Get inspired

I was inspired to grow my own vegetables by watching Fergal Smith’s Growing Series. Coincidentally, some seasons and many ripe tomatoes later, Mossy Earth partnered with Fergal to create our Foraois reforestation project in Ireland. There is a treasure of videos, blogs, forums, and free online courses available on the internet about gardening, so get online and get inspired!

Rewilding your garden / open space

If you’d like to attract more wildlife to your garden or open space, check out our Rewild Your Garden guide.

An organic farmer looking over his vegetable crop with three beetroots in his hand
Local growers and farmers are a wealth of information. Don't be shy to ask!

Anyone who has time for drama, is not gardening enough.

Unknown

Safety Hand

Top 10 tips to grow your own

Start small and modest
Prepare the soil
Avoid over or under fertilizing
Consider companion planting
Consider sun and shade
Avoid planting too close, too deep or too shallow
Get on top of weeds and pest
Try not to over or under water
Get mulching
Talk to local growers and get inspired

Sources & further reading

Peer Reviewed Research Section
  1. Practical Permaculture For Landscapes, Your Community and the Whole Earth - Workman PublishingExternal link
  2. Earth User's Guide to Permaculture - Permanent PublicationsExternal link
  3. Allotment Month By Month: Grow your Own Fruit and Vegetables, Know What to do When - DK PublicationsExternal link
  4. Veg in One Bed: How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month - DK PublicationsExternal linkIcon Peer Review
  5. Fergal Smith - Growing - YoutubeExternal link

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