How to grow dinner
For the tastiest salad and the freshest veg, first plant your seeds…
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Digging it: with a small amount of effort you can provide your family with fresh produce from the garden
We brits are proud of our gardens. It is part of our national heritage to keep our grass perfectly manicured and our blooms good enough to be shown at the Chelsea Flower Show.
However, now there is a new movement taking root. What we want is to be able to taste the fruit of our own labour (or the gardener's).
Now that spring has sprung, growing your own is on the menu, and what better way to impress your dinner party guests than with a home-grown salad or an apple crumble made with apples that you have picked from your own tree.
In an age of worry over pesticides, food miles and ever increasing food prices, the good news is you do not need an allotment or even a garden to grow your own food.
So if you would like your children to understand that fruit and vegetables have to grow and do not just magically appear in Waitrose, follow our guide to enjoying the good life.
WINDOW BOXES AND CONTAINERS
V Many vegetables can be grown in containers such as a window box. You will need to consider carefully which vegetables and herbs to choose, depending on space - for example dwarf varieties of carrots, tomatoes and peppers take up little space but still have a high yield. If you want to grow several varieties, choose crops that have the same water and sun requirements and then they will grow successfully together.
Make sure your window box, or container, is light coloured so it does not absorb the heat, has holes at the bottom for suitable drainage, and is big enough to allow for soil and roots.
Ask advice from your local garden centre - they really do know their onions and they are there to help you choose tools, potting mix, fertiliser, and tell you which crops to plant at which time of year.
Window boxes and containers need more watering than fruit and vegetables grown in the garden, so do not wait for your plants to wilt; they will need a daily check up.
THE VEGETABLE PATCH
V You do not need a large area to have a vegetable patch, but what you do need is great soil. Soil changes the quality and the taste of your crop, therefore invest in a soil testing kit. You can purchase these from as little as £5 to see what sort of soil you are dealing with. Then you can take advice from your garden centre or gardener about what you will be able to grow, or how you can change the soil to maximise its growing potential.
Do not hide your vegetable patch away at the bottom of the garden. Choose a sunny spot where your hose can easily stretch to - if you are going for a prize-winning crop, you could even invest in a drip irrigation system.
Many herbs, fruits and vegetables need six or more hours of sun each day; otherwise the crop will not ripen. However, the good news is if you have a more shaded garden, there are herbs, fruit and vegetables that do not need so much sun to survive, once again check at your local nursery before you go digging up your land. Also consider mixing and matching, for example if one vegetable needs a lot of sun and another does not, plant them accordingly, so that one is shading the other - just check you get them the right way round.
If you only have a small space, consider which herbs, fruits and vegetables you love to eat most - there is no point having an abundance of aubergines if nobody actually likes them. Maximise your growing space by using pole growing varieties - for example beans and cucumbers.
If you only have one bed, plant flowers and vegetables together, for the best of both worlds. In fact, planting marigolds into your vegetable patch works as a natural pesticide.
Speaking of pesticides, you can use a homemade recipe of approximately a litre of water mixed with a few drops of mild washing up liquid, and a tablespoon of cooking oil to enable the mixture to cling.
Place in a spray bottle but do not spritz when it is shvitzing, or you could scorch your crop. And do not forget to pull out all weeds, as these sap the nutrients and water from the soil. For pruning advice check out internet sites, for example www.gardenseekers.com gives you an A-Z list of when, what and how you should prune.
So don your gardening gloves, go outside and get going. Before you know it, your crop will be ripe and at last you can enjoy the pleasure of harvesting and bringing your own tomatoes to the table.
For further inspiration spend a day at Gardeners' World Live in association with the Royal Horticultural Society from June 16-20 at the NEC. There will be a Grow Your Own Area sponsored by NS&I with an interactive vegetable garden where you can watch the experts and pick up even more handy hints.
Serves 4. A fabulous way to use all your home grown vegetables and herbs
● ½ French bread or ciabatta (preferably stale) cut into 10 slices and then quartered to make large cubes
● 2 tbsp virgin olive oil
● 4 spring onions, chopped
● 4 celery sticks, chopped
● 6 ripe tomatoes, chopped
● 1 pepper, chopped
● 2 tbsp red wine vinegar
● 4 tbsp virgin olive oil
● 1-2 teaspoons caster sugar
● 5 capers, rinsed and chopped
● 10 torn basil leaves
● Salt and black pepper to taste
● Heat oven to 200°c gas 6
● On a baking tray drizzle the olive oil over your bread and place in the oven for 15/20 minutes until golden.
● Remove and leave to cool.
● Mix the salad ingredients together. If you have any tomato juice left over from chopping the tomatoes pour into the dressing ingredients.
● Mix the dressing ingredients together and pour over the salad. Leave to marinate preferably for a few hours.