The last couple of weeks have brought unprecedented uncertainty.
In this scary new world of supermarket shortages, self-isolation and lockdown so many of the things we took for granted have been thrown into disarray – including the availability of fresh fruit and veg.
There is an alternative to scouring the freezer aisles for frozen peas, frozen Brussels sprouts, frozen anything – and that is to grow some of veg yourself.
The good news is it’s way more achievable than you might think – even without a garden.
You may not be able to grow avocados or loo roll but if you can grow a spider plant you can grow something edible.
What’s more, connecting with nature is hugely beneficial for our mental health. As any gardener will tell you, it’s an amazing way of relieving stress and anxiety – something we could all do with right now.
Amid the bewildering loss of normality and the awful loss of life, seeds still germinate, leaves unfurl, seasons change. In scary times, nature provides a quiet, reassuring continuity.
As Audrey Hepburn said: to plant a garden is to believe in tomorrow.’ So here are some easy crops for getting started, regardless of space or experience.
What to grow if you only have a windowsill
No outside space? Try sprouting seeds, aka microgreens, like alfalfa, broccoli, amaranth and wheatgrass. Simply line a shallow tray with wet kitchen roll, sprinkle the seed on top, and you’ll have shoots within days. Just don’t let that kitchen roll dry out!
Pea shoots are another great option. Use pea seeds or dried marrowfat peas. Soak overnight, then spread thickly over a shallow tray filled with potting compost, cover with a little more compost and leave to grow.
Herbs and spice
Basil, parsley, coriander and mint all love a windowsill – in fact, at this time of year they’ll do better indoors than out. Just sprinkle seeds into pots of compost, cover lightly with soil and keep damp.
Chilli plants deserve a space on the windowsill too, and what they lack in speed they make up for in looks.
Forget bags of slimy salad, you can buy a whole packet of seed for the same price as a single packet of mixed leaves. That’s more lettuce than you shake a French stick at.
Choose ‘cut and come again’ or loose leaf varieties, which form individual leaves rather than a central heart. Snip as needed and they’ll grow back.
It feels slightly gimmicky, but instead of throwing out the ends of celery, leeks, lettuces and spring onions, place the stumps inside a shallow dish of water and watch them regrow. For best results, transfer to a pot filled with soil.
What to grow if you have a balcony or a patio
If you only grow one thing, make it tomatoes. For containers and hanging baskets, choose an outdoor bush variety like Tumbling Tom (bush varieties don’t need pruning.)
Sow the seeds in pots indoors first, then in June plant outside in a sunny spot. Water little and often, and for best results feed weekly once the fruits begin to form.
As well as salad, spinach, rocket, oriental greens and watercress are all fast-growing and perfect for containers. Plus you’ll have the advantage of built-in slug protection.
Ridiculously healthy and surprisingly easy to grow. Sprinkle seeds into trays filled with compost, then transplant the strongest seedlings into large containers, or the ground, a few weeks later.
Water regularly and look out for caterpillars. Pick them off if you see them, or cover plants with netting.
Beans are brilliantly prolific and can be grown in large containers or the ground. There are dwarf varieties, which don’t need support, and climbing varieties, which are traditionally grown up tall bamboo canes.
For containers a wigwam shape works best. Sow the seeds in pots of compost from April, then place on a windowsill.
In late May or early June, place the seedlings outside for a few hours each day, bringing them in at night, to get them acclimatised. Do this for around a week, before planting them in their final growing position.
What to grow if you have a garden
If you’re blessed with borders, now is the time to clear out those weeds. If you’ve got space for a raised bed or veg patch, even better. Of course, container crops can also be grown in the ground, along with heaps more. Here are some of the easiest.
Remove stones and clumps from the soil, then sprinkle the seed into a shallow, pre-watered groove. Cover lightly with soil, then leave them to grow. Water during dry spells. You can harvest once they reach golf ball size – and the leaves are edible too. Beetroot could also be grown in large containers.
Lovely to look at and beautifully self-sufficient. Sow the seed into narrow drills about 2cm deep, then cover gently with soil. Water now until big enough to eat.
Just a couple of courgette plants can provide a ridiculous number of courgettes.
Sow the seeds into pots of compost indoors first, then transplant to a sunny spot outside in late May or early June. Keep well-watered and protect from slugs if necessary – a large transparent container placed over the plant works well and also provides warmth. You can take it off when the plant is big enough to withstand some damage.
Not just a pretty sight, flowers help increase biodiversity and attract pollinating insects – and that means more veg for you. The easiest option is a packet of wildflower mix. Sprinkle liberally wherever you have space. Plus, right now we could all do with a bit of colour.
For more advice on growing fruit and veg, How to Grow and Eat Your Own Super Foods by Becky Dickinson is available on Amazon.
You can follow Becky on Instagram under the handle @welliesinthekitchen.
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