Planting Veg for Beginners - Part 1

Eight years ago I bought a little cottage on the edge of the Peak District, Derbyshire. Part of the reason I fell in love with the house was its garden. Owners Nick & Tracy had built these beautiful raised beds, it had the prettiest Victorian looking greenhouse with a curved glass roof, I could absolutely see myself living here, working on an eco-friendly, self sufficient life.

The sale completed late summer so I didn’t really have chance to plant anything that year. Tracy was pregnant at the time, so knowing she was going to sell the house she hadn’t planted anything either. But the following year I got started and without really knowing what I was doing chucked in carrot seeds, mixed salad and potatoes. The potatoes worked pretty well but everything else got enthusiastically demolished by slugs. Growing veg was harder than I’d anticipated.

For the next five years work took over. Each year I vowed I’d make an effort with the garden, but the top bed got massively overgrown with thistles and the other two desperately needed some nourishment in the form of compost or manure. I had no idea where to begin.

My dad sold his house last year to downsize into an apartment. Knowing how much he loved his gardening I voiced concerns that he’d get bored without veg beds to tend and a lawn to mow at weekends. “I’ll come and do yours” he said. I’m not one to turn down help and besides, last year was so crazy with Dragons Den I would never have got anything planted. He set to work.

Seeing the difference my dad was able to make to the first bed encouraged me to get out there in my spare time. I dug the thistles up, built new wooden borders where the old ones were rotting and diligently watered the seeds we planted. We grew pumpkins, squash, runner beans and peas and it was fantastic watching the garden spring back to life! It was lovely taking my godson Jack outside to pick food too. His little face when shelling peas or breaking open a runner bean and seeing the shiny pink butter beans inside! By autumn we had two beds growing a decent amount of veg and one bed of chopped down thistles. Before winter kicked in we rotivated the final bed and added a ton of soil + a ton of manure to it. I’m excited to see how well things begin to grow in the replenished soil.

March and the beginning of a new growing year, so I’m getting started early this time. Seeds can be sown directly into the beds, but starting them off indoors means you can begin early - just in case we get any late frosts which might kill off new seedlings. This is a whole new learning curve for me, so I’m excited to begin and to share with you along the way.

When it comes to deciding what to plant, pick veg you enjoy! It might seem obvious, but it’s pointless planting something you’re not going to eat. When you look on the back of a seed packet you’ll also see when seeds can be planted. That’s important because you don’t want to begin in March with something that can’t go outside until June. Different varieties of the same vegetable have different growing cycles. For example, some types of pea can go out now, whereas others will fair better in summer. Always check the packet.

The other thing I’ve struggled with in the past is damaging seedlings when transplanting them to the veg beds. So, I have a clever solution! This year I’ve opted for these brilliant little biodegradable pots, which can go straight into the soil. It means I don’t have to disrupt the roots and hopefully minimises disturbance to my seedlings. Because I know I’m not going to be around each day and the temperature in my home fluctuates wildly between igloo and sauna - thanks to 19th century stone and a Norwegian wood burner - I’ve opted for plastic trays with a foam, water retaining pad to sit the seedling cups on. I’m a nightmare for over or under watering things, so I hope this helps me keep the seedlings alive! I bought a regular bag of seedling compost and that’s it, good to go. I filled each cup with compost, popped three or four seeds in and gently covered them with 1cm more soil.

So far so good. The seedling packet will give you an idea of germination time - that’s the time it takes to see your first shoot signs of life. My broccoli seeds were first to pop up, followed by kale, peas, beets and now 15 days later I’m just seeing life from carrots.

At the moment my seedlings are taking up every ounce of space along the lounge and kitchen windowsills. My plan it to transport them out to the greenhouse to acclimatise to the cold (it might be a bit of a shock for them at the moment!) and then transfer them to the veg beds once they’re looking strong in the greenhouse. The good news is, if I mess anything up it’s still so early in the season I can always plant more.

Please bear in mind I am completely new to this and excited to learn along the way. I’m sure I’ll make mistakes but we can’t get better unless we make a start, right?! Friendly advice is always welcome and if you’d like to ask me any questions I can always pass them on to the experts (my dad and my lovely gardening friend Vix!!)