Black Friday All Week

Starting A Veg Garden During Quarantine

By Sally Nex

So here we all are, stuck at home with time on our hands, chaos in the supermarkets, trying not to think about an uncertain future.

What better time to start growing your own food!

Judging from the unprecedented demand reported by mail order seed companies for veg seeds, seed potatoes, onion sets and compost we have all had the same thought.

You can get some pretty fast results if you start now: in fact I can promise you pickings within about three weeks for the fastest-growing veg.

Snip peashoots at 15-20cm tall for a crisp, sweet salad ingredient within weeks
Snip peashoots at 15-20cm tall for a crisp, sweet salad ingredient within weeks

But you’ll also want a veg garden that lasts, one that will see you through the coronavirus crisis. A well-stocked veg patch will feed you when the supermarkets can’t, and gives you that little bit of reassurance just when you need it most.

So come with me and via this blog I will take you through the coronavirus shutdown week by week, explaining what to sow when, how to look after it and most importantly, how to plan your coronavirus veg garden so it provides you with a steady flow of food until the crisis is over.

Right, the sun is shining, we’ve got the whole day ahead of us – what are you waiting for? Let’s garden!

Getting your veg garden ready

As students on my Self-Sufficient Veg Gardening course will know, I am big on basics.

Whether you’re setting up your veg garden from scratch or scaling up an existing plot, you get far better results if you lay good foundations, with good soil and a favourable spot in your garden. Get this bit right, and the rest follows much more easily.

Raised beds slot in just about anywhere in your garden

Raised beds:

You can get raised bed kits mail order (try harrodhorticultural.com or woodblockx.co.uk). Or if you’re handy with a hammer and some nails, make your own by nailing 15cm planks to four uprights made of 5cm x 5cm wood. One layer of planks will do, though two is better. The smallest useful size for a raised bed is 1.2m x 1.2m, though make them bigger if you can (1.2m x 3m is a good workable size if you have room). Start with one and you can always add more later.

You can place your raised bed direct on the grass (no need to remove the turf) or onto your patio. If you do install a raised bed on your patio, you’ll need to stop water leaking out the bottom. To do this, line your raised bed with strong plastic (open up old compost sacks and use those if you like), then put in an 8cm layer of gravel and cover that with geotextile membrane or weed suppressing fabric to keep gravel and soil separate.

Finally, add the soil. A 50:50 mix of garden soil and home-made garden compost, or if you’re buying in your ingredients, topsoil and well-rotted manure or green waste from the council, all available via delivery – try local DIY stores which are still allowed to open during lockdown.

Existing gardens:

You can grow veg among your ornamental plants, but if you’re serious about feeding yourself it’s better to clear a proper veg patch or set aside a corner of your garden specifically for growing food. The best veg grow in sunny, sheltered spots; if your garden is exposed, put up a fence (temporary will do for now) on the windward side to keep the worst off.

Once you’ve cleared your site of weeds and large stones, tip on a barrowload per square metre of home-made garden compost, well-rotted manure or bought-in green waste from the council. Fork this lightly into the top layer so it’s ready to plant straight away.

Veg grow well in containers as long as you spoil them rotten

Containers and windowsills:

Growing your veg supply in containers is quite possible but they do need extra mollycoddling to give of their best. You can increase your chances of success by choosing your largest containers – 35cm diameter is a minimum to keep even smaller veg happy, as anything less dries out too quickly. If you haven’t got a large container to hand, make your own: wooden boxes, old bread bins, even household furniture can be upcycled into veg gardens with a little imagination.

On windowsills, it’s even easier: repurpose takeaway trays and household waste like plastic fruit cartons, yoghurt pots and icecream tubs, punch a few holes through the bottom and you’re good to go.

Whatever your container, fill it with the best quality compost you can buy. I like Melcourt’s peat-free multipurpose compost, Sylvagrow, widely available online for delivery.

Lettuces raised from plug plants are ready to pick in about three weeks

Something to sow now: I know you’re itching to get sowing, so here are my top five quick-hit veg to start today for your first coronavirus harvests in as little as three weeks’ time:

Peashoots: sow thickly into takeaway trays on the windowsill or seed trays in the greenhouse, cover with more compost and within three weeks you can snip sweet pea-flavoured shoots for salads.

Rocket: the clue is in the name: sow direct into pre-watered drills in sun or shade, keep damp and they’ll be up within two weeks - pickable as baby leaves within four.

Radishes: famous for double-quick results, sow classic red-rooted radishes like ‘French Breakfast’ or ‘Cherry Belle’ today and you’ll have seedlings by next week and roots in four weeks’ time.

Cress: Worth growing just for the feel-good factor of watching your efforts pay off so quickly. Sow densely on to kitchen towel or compost and you’ll have a harvest within a fortnight.

Plug plant salads: Cheating, I know, but don’t believe those who tell you you’ll have baby-leaf salads in four weeks from seed: it’s six to eight weeks minimum. So fake it and buy in plug plants – easy as pie and you’ll be eating lettuces from your back garden within the month.

Next week: How to sow seeds to keep your coronavirus veg garden cropping into summer…

Sally Nex

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