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How to grow your own fruit and veg - 9 top tips from Diarmuid Gavin

My top tips will help you get the most out of your garden during lockdown

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Diarmuid Gavin's top tip for growing your own veg.  Stock image.

Diarmuid Gavin's top tip for growing your own veg. Stock image.

Green Beans

Green Beans

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

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Diarmuid Gavin's top tip for growing your own veg. Stock image.

Have our current challenging circumstances made you consider growing your own? Home-grown fruit and vegetables are the ultimate in creative gardening - they taste great, they're cheap to produce and the act of growing your own is so satisfying. So here are my tips for getting started!

1 If your soil is really poor, build raised beds with scaffolding boards or clean railway sleepers and fill with quality top soil and well-rotted manure, if you can get that delivered. If not, petrol stations around the country are selling garden compost so load up there. Raised beds are much easier to weed and maintain as they required less bending - you can perch on the side and use a trowel to plant and weed.

2 Plant low-maintenance crops. Potatoes are great at cleaning up soil, while onions and shallots are very low-maintenance. Other easy-to-grow crops include salad crops, spring onions, broad beans, carrots, spinach and chard. Buy plug plants online if you're starting now and want to skip the seed-sowing stage.

3 Plant perennials such as rhubarb, globe artichoke and gooseberry, as these only require one planting and keep coming back year after year.

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Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

Swiss Chard

4 Use mulches to keep down weeds - even cardboard helps suppress weed growth. Weeds harbour disease and take valuable nutrients and water. Mulches also help keep the soil moist, reducing the need to water.

5 If your soil is poor and during these times of restricted movement you've no way of enhancing it, try growing hardy herbs such as rosemary, sage, chives and thyme which will keep going year round and require little maintenance. They don't even mind a bit of drought in the summer and just need some clipping back when they get too big.

6 Mind your back. Remember to stretch regularly and swap around activities - a bit of digging, a bit of pruning, a bit of watering. Invest in knee pads or a kneeler that will provide some comfort.

7 Long-handled tools such as forks and spades will mean less digging. And keep your secateurs sharp for easy snipping.

8 Sink plastic bottles with their ends cut off near the root of plant for easy watering - fill the bottle and the water will travel straight to the roots.

9 Fruit bushes and small fruit trees can be very productive. But plant only what you will enjoy eating.


A closer look at French beans

If you'd like to grow something that is quick, easy, ornamental and edible, now would be a good opportunity to cultivate some French beans. Its a half-hardy annual so it is only after fear of frost has gone that it can thrive outdoors.

The beans are thought to have originated from South America and were introduced to Europe by the Conquistadors in the late 16th century. Their place of origin explains their tenderness and if you plant them too early or in cold, wet soil, they will rot. In cooler parts of the country, you're better off growing them in a polytunnel or greenhouse.

Beans which were planted under glass in April can be planted outdoors now - but if you didn't get round to that, you can sow directly in the ground now.

Germination takes one to two weeks but you may be able to purchase young plants when garden centres reopen, then get those planted straight away. You will be able to start harvesting your crops in just a couple of months.

Dwarf or bushy types will crop sooner than the climbing varieties and they don't need any support so are the easier option. However, their season is shorter than climbers which will keep cropping to the end of summer. For an extended cropping season, grow both types.

Climbers will need support - this can either be against a trellis or a simple bean pole or wigwam made with bamboo supports tied at the top with some twine. It's possible to do this in a container if you're a balcony or courtyard gardener and it makes good use of vertical space.

Sow into well-prepared fertile soil and sow more seeds than you need so you can thin out the weakest. Choose a warm, sunny sheltered position for best results. When they germinate, tie into the support. As the climbing beans reach the top of the support you can start pinching out the growing tip to stop it getting taller and toppling over.

Consistent watering is the key to good root development and a long cropping period. Mulching around the plants will help conserve moisture during dry periods and keep the plot free of weeds, which compete for water and nutrients. Harvest once the pods reach four inches in length and pick pods regularly to keep the plant pushing out more flowers.

The main pest to look out for is slugs and snails - young seedlings are particularly vulnerable so set up your beer traps or other preferred methods of control. Birds can also be a nuisance but a fine netting or horticultural fleece will protect your crop. Regularly inspect for aphids and just remove by hand or hose off.

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