Have you always wanted to start your own vegetable patch? Well, you’re not alone.
Since lockdown, interest in gardening has skyrocketed. But instead of growing roses or planting geraniums, more and more people are turning to herbs and vegetables to fill their outdoor space.
In fact, according to Michael Kelly, founder of social enterprise Grow It Yourself, interest around food growing has spiked dramatically during the pandemic.
“People want to get back to basics,” he explains. “It’s been amazing to watch over the last couple of months. It’s kept people safe and sane during lockdown. It’s been brilliant.”
The benefits of growing your own food are obvious but as a beginner, where should you start? Well, the good news is there’s plenty of help out there.
This year, Energia has partnered with GIY through its Get Ireland Growing campaign. The partnership aims to make it easy for people to do something sustainable by growing their own food.
So far, they have given away 1,000 Energia GROWBoxes. The boxes are designed for all living situations: whether you are in an apartment or have a garden, everyone can still grow herbs and vegetables.
To find out more, we talked to GIY Founder Michael Kelly to get some of his top five hints and tips for getting started.
Growing your own food is relatively easy. You just need to follow the steps.
“Seed sowing is the first step,” Michael states. “Generally that’s about making sure you sow the seeds at the right depth.
“If you’ve got a really big seed like a bean or pumpkin it needs to be sown much deeper. If you have a tiny seed like a carrot seed or lettuce, that needs to sit practically on the soil. The sowing depth of the seed is the most important thing to learn.
“The general rule of thumb is to sow seeds twice the depth of the size of the seed itself,” Michael explains. “But you should always check the label on the seed pack to be sure. Generally, small seeds like carrots, oriental greens and basil are sprinkled into a pot or bed and some of the small seedlings will be removed later. Bigger seeds like peas and beetroot can be placed in an individual pot or at an exact spacing.
“Seeds need light and water in order to germinate effectively so you need to keep it somewhere nice and sunny and warm. You also need to use the right amount of water. You don’t want to swamp it with water but you don’t want it to ever dry out so you’re trying to keep it moist. Once you get those few things right, generally speaking, your seed sowing will be a success.”
Michael recommends doing your seed-sowing indoors. You can keep your veg in pots and containers for around a month.
“There are no pests or weather in the house,” he explains. “It’s a very controlled environment. Then, when you have a healthy little seedling in three to four weeks it will be ready to move on. You can then move it into a bigger pot or container outside or you might have a raised bed or veg patch that you want to put it into.
“This transplanting phase can be daunting to first-time growers, but as long as you handle the seedling carefully you should be fine. Just gently remove it from whatever type of pot it’s in, make a hole in the bigger pot or bed that it’s going in to the depth of the seedling, and then just tuck it in so the young plant is firmly established. ”
You can grow veg anywhere. So, whether you have a sunny windowsill or a huge back garden it doesn’t matter.
“There’s this idea that you have to have a big acre out the back,” Michael explains. “We’re keen to knock that on the head because it rules out a lot of people who could be growing their own food. We had a guy at a festival that we run a couple of years ago. He was from London and he grew 700 pounds worth of veg on his balcony in the city.”
You also don’t need to invest in fancy equipment or expensive gadgets.
“A little bit of ingenuity goes a long way. Use pots and containers. You can even upcycle things you might have around the house to use as plant pots and things like that. You can do an amazing amount of food growing in a very small space. The only thing to bear in mind if using containers is that the roots can’t go in search of nutrition like they can in the open ground, so you’ll need to use a plant feed after about 6-8 weeks.”
According to Michael, “Knowing what to do at different times of the year is half the battle when it comes to growing food.
“When I first started growing veg I was surprised. You tend to think that you sow in spring and harvest in the autumn whereas actually there’s far more sowing going on later in the year than you’d expect particularly for fast-growing things like salad leaves. You can sow them right up to September or even October.”
Thankfully the GIY website has a very handy grower calendar that can help you to plan for each month.
Growing your own food is a learning curve, but don’t think you need to become an expert overnight. There’s plenty of time to learn what you need to know as your plants are growing.
“Every year is different because the weather is different and the pests and birds are different,” Michael explains. “Everything changes so you always have to keep learning. You’ll never get it 100pc right. That should be a very hopeful thing for a novice. If something goes wrong for you, you’re not alone. Everyone else is in the same boat. You will always get stuff to eat which is the main thing. Your veg doesn’t need to look perfect in order to be delicious.”
For further information and growing tips and tricks visit the Get Ireland Growing website and share your seed growing pictures across social using #GetIrelandGrowing