Want to grow your own veg? 7 tips for planning a vegetable patch
Whether to fuel your gardening passion, improve your eating habits or occupy some free time, vegetable patches can be a surprisingly fruitful (excuse the pun!) and rewarding endeavour. With spring here, you might be thinking about ways to spruce up your garden or spend more time outdoors, so here are 7 things to consider if you’re planning a vegetable patch so you can grow your own veg.
1. Sun – you need plenty of light to grow your own veg
Given that most vegetables want at least 6 hours of sunlight to grow well, you’ll want to find a spot with direct sunlight – it’s definitely a case of the ‘the more the better’ – with tomatoes and peppers especially.
However, don’t stop planning a vegetable patch if you live somewhere less sunny – while no veg will grow in complete darkness, leafy vegetables such as spinach, cabbage, lettuce and (admittedly, you may not want to know this next one) Brussels sprouts, can all grow with about 3 hours of direct sun, or obstructed light throughout the day. You can even grow multiple mushroom varieties from a log kept in complete shade.
2. Size – planning a vegetable patch that is right for you needs
How big a patch you create really depends on the purpose of your patch – for a beginner, a 2m x 3m patch should be more than enough to keep you occupied and the salad bowl full, while a 6m x 4m vegetable patch will feed the most veg-hungry of families.
Most vegetable patches are made up of multiple rows (running north and south for sunlight), and if you are unsure about sizing/future expansion, buying multiple raised beds can offer great flexibility.
You can find a good selection of smaller raised beds on the Green Fingers site, or if you are apt at DIY you could consider planning a vegetable patch that you can build it yourself.
3. Pest control – how to keep bugs off your precious veg
When it comes to pest protection, the best approach is often a natural, non-chemical one. Removing weak plants and weeds and keeping your soil moist and healthy can all prevent future pest issues whilst planting sunflowers attracts ladybirds who will eat small pests like greenflies.
Neem powder – a natural organic by-product from the processing of Indian Neem seeds for oil – is full of essential nutrients and is a natural pesticide (plus most cats don’t like it as well).
You could even install a pond – frogs and toads are great at keeping insect numbers down and can certainly liven up your garden!
There’s more info on ecosystem-based pest control on the Grow Veg website – a very good read if you’re planning to grow your own veg.
4. Drainage – getting the right moisture levels for your veg
Ensuring proper drainage is vital when it comes to growing your own veg – water should be properly absorbed by the roots but not drain away too quickly. Whether or not this happens largely depends on your soil type; for example, clay and silt-based soil tends to drain poorly, while chalk will clump.
If you’re not 100% sure what type of soil you have it is best to check.
As those articles point out, it’s not only the drainage of your soil that will influence your success at growing various type of plants (not just veg) but also the acidity and nutrients of your soil. If you’re serious about wanting to grow champion veg, then there’s a more detailed guide to soil preparation available here.
Once you’ve found out what type of soil you have in your vegetable patch, you should check that your vegetable wishlist is likely to thrive in it – for example, carrots are notoriously difficult to grow in heavy soil, and much prefer light sandy soil.
5. Organic – grow your own veg without the need for chemicals
Whether you make your garden organic – basically, where you don’t use any chemical or synthetic products in growing your patch – ultimately comes down to personal preference.
While an organic patch could be cheaper (if you don’t have to keep buying costly chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and generally better for your health and the environment, it can make heavier demands on your time.
If you want a higher yield for less time and effort, opt to spend money on organic supplements and fertilizer, or choose the non-organic option. Neem (mentioned above), liquid seaweed fertilizer, fish, blood and bone and wood ash are all available with organic certification, and all can significantly improve soil health, fertility and vegetable yields without the need for harsh chemicals.
6. Basic veg – keep it simple when it comes to planning a vegetable patch
Now for the most obvious part – what you actually grow! Herbs, Salad leaves, garlic, onions, leeks, peas and potatoes are all easy and something of a staple whilst of the root veggies, beetroots are also simple to grow; if you’re looking for more of a challenge, plant carrots. Tomatoes and cucumbers are useful in cooking terms as they can be harvested over a longer period, and a lot of varieties don’t require a greenhouse to grow well.
All the well-known garden websites sell a large selection of veg seeds, as will local DIY shops. When planning a vegetable patch also consider how you will store your harvest if it all needs picking at the same time. Leafy greens can be picked at throughout the season, but you may need space to store onions, potatoes, carrots, leeks and garlic.
7. Budget – how much does it cost to grow your own veg?
If you can go without planning a vegetable patch that requires raised beds, or already have the perfect patch, moving into DIY veg production can be done for an extremely low price. For a 2m x 3m patch, expect to pay about £25 for all your seeds; compost shouldn’t be much over £20; your fertilizer or pesticides bill will depend on your approach to organic vs inorganic.
Raised bed are very convenient, but will set you back around £50, and the more complex your design or rows you have, the higher the price tag. All in all, though, it can certainly be a cost-effective endeavour – over time the vegetables pay for themselves (as long as you don’t count the cost of your time!) and your costs will dip after the first season (especially if you make your own compost and harvest your own seeds).
Lastly, don’t forget how convenient it can be to have a little potting shed to work in during the spring and summer (and to store your harvest in autumn).