Lockdown has given me more time at home and the chance to try my hand at growing some of my own food. I live in a small terraced house in south Manchester, so am not blessed with a big garden. I am lucky enough to have a small one though and an alley behind that, both of which get plenty of sun in the summer.
It turns out you don’t need to have lots of equipment or space to have a go at growing some tasty veg! If you live a flat, you don’t need any outdoor space - just a sunny window, a container, some soil and some seeds.
Here are my tips for growing some of your own food. Disclaimer: you probably won’t grow mountains of food but it’s great to have a go and learn something new.
1. Find plant pots and make sure they have good drainage!
If you already have some plant pots that’s great! Most will come with holes in the bottom, but you’ll want to make sure this is the case. If not, then get an adult to help you make some small holes in the base. Depending on the thickness of the pot you may need a drill or knife - always make sure you ask an adult for help!
If you don’t have any plant pots, don’t worry! You can repurpose plastic storage containers. I am growing cabbage in this old blue one. It’s best to have something to line it with, I cut up an empty compost bag (we will get on to compost soon). Cut it open along one side and the bottom. Then make cuts along each red line (see picture below), which will allow the bag to overlap and fit into the corners of a rectangular box.
If water pools at the bottom of the container it means it can’t drain away and may water-log the soil which will stop your veg growing. I made holes at the bottom of each side and in the corners (in the red circles on the picture). Again, get an adult to help you do this with a drill or a screwdriver. This box was quite brittle so splintered a little, which is fine. Just try not to make the holes too big. Make sure that the compost bag has holes in the same places.
Whether you are using a pot or a repurposed container, you can improve the drainage by putting in a layer of stones or rubble at the bottom before you put in the compost. You don’t need loads, just enough so you cover the bottom.
2. Fill your pots with compost
Once you have sorted your drainage, you can fill your containers with compost! You can get ahold of bags of compost from garden centres (lots of them are still delivering in lockdown), DIY shops with garden sections or even some larger supermarkets!
When looking for compost, make sure it is ‘peat-free’ or contains ‘naturally filtrated peat’. Most peat in compost is taken from of peat bogs, which are rare and valuable habitats for biodiversity and carbon storage.
3. Sow your seeds!
Once you have your containers full of compost, you are ready to sow your seeds. Sowing is simply the gardening term for ‘planting’. Even though lots of garden centres and shops are closed right now, you can get seeds delivered from online shops. Many of them will have a variety of plants that do well in containers inside by windows.
Tomatoes, salad greens and herbs like mint and sage do well by windows and are a great place to start your growing journey. Do some research and decide what you would like to grow and, more importantly, eat! Seed packets come with instructions on the back that tell you when you can sow them and how to do it. They are usually easy to follow but if there are any terms you don’t understand a quick internet search should help.
When you open the packet, there will be another smaller sealed packet inside. This is to keep the seeds dark and dry so they can be stored. If you have some left after you have sowed your first batch, then tightly fold over the packet to keep it safely sealed. Make sure you put the right seeds back in the right packet, so you know which is which! If you keep the seeds in a cool, dark and dry place you should be able to sow then later - but they do have expiry dates.
4. Position your pots – beware of the birds!
Once you have sowed your seeds you need to find a place to keep your pots. I am growing tomatoes and salad next to my desk and basil in the kitchen behind the drying rack. If your plants are indoors, they will need watering often. It is best to do it little and often - every other day should be good. Make sure that there is something under the pot to stop the water that drains out going everywhere. I am using some old plates for the small pots and a rolled down bin bag for the salad.
If you do have some outdoor space, then find a sunny spot and let your veg grow outside! Luckily, I have a small gated alley behind my house where I can grow some veg next to the wheelie bins. This is south facing so gets plenty of sun throughout the day. Pigeons can be a bit of a pain and eat seedlings, so I managed to find some netting and used bamboo canes (you can use any old sticks) to keep the birds off. Cutting drinks bottles or using upturned cans (once you have rinsed them out) allows you to hold up the net and keeps you safe from getting poked by the top of the sticks!
5. Sit back and watch your seeds grow
So, there you have it! There is my very simple guide to growing a small bit of veg at home. I would say that the very easiest way to start is with some tomatoes by a sunny window. All you need is a pot, some soil, some seeds, tap water and time and you should be able to eat your own delicious tomatoes in a few weeks!