Eating five fruit and vegetables every day is essential for a healthy diet. But for those of us with a busy lifestyle, keeping the fridge stocked with a fresh selection is easier said than done. Plus, the costs can add up! Luckily, growing your own greens has a bunch of benefits - both for your family’s health and budget! We explore the eight steps to setting up a home vegetable garden.
Know The Basics
Whether you're a novice or not, you need to know the basics before you start. In a nutshell, different vegetables require different climates to grow: hence, you need to plan for this in advance.
Cool-season vegetables include carrots, lettuces, and beets; these are planted in early spring, and will be harvested in mid-summer. In contrast, warm-season vegetables include tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants; these are planted in summer, and will be harvested around the beginning of autumn.
Lots Of Light
All plants need sunlight to grow, so choosing a sunlight-rich spot to set up your vegetable patch is an essential step. Ideally, your growing veggies will be bathed in sunlight for around eight hours per day.
If you've got the luxury of a spacious garden, make space in the sunniest and most sheltered spot - and avoid any areas which are likely to fall into the shade as the sun moves throughout the day. For those without a spacious garden, select the sunniest wall and set up your vegetable patch against it using stacked crates or planters.
Gardening is associated with a sore back caused by constant crouching, which can be particularly challenging for more senior gardeners. To prevent this, plant your vegetables in raised beds or, for a true budget option, use large plastic containers instead.
Not planting your crops directly into the ground means you don't have to bend down so low when tending to them, enabling you to get green fingered without the back ache!
Whether you're planting directly into the ground or planters, it's important to prepare the soil before you start. Compost is an ideal fertiliser which will enable you to grow luscious greens, and the best thing is that you can make it for free using certain waste products from the garbage!
You can either make your own compost heap, or buy some from your local gardening centre. Alternatively, purchase some manure (unless you know a farmer who could offer you some for free!), which also works as an exceptionally useful fertiliser.
Though it may seem simple, starting out growing vegetables can be trickier than it sounds. Begin by working on a small patch - you'll be surprised by how much a 4-by-8 foot patch can yield each year. The key is to rotate which vegetables you plant according to the season, as mentioned.
Be sure not to over-plant the space, though. As they grow roots, your vegetables need room to grow. What's more, different veggies need different space, so be sure to check this before you begin. Eventually, you'll learn the spacing required!
The Pricier The Better
We all know that food shopping isn't cheap, so use this gardening venture to save as much money as possible! Check your shopping receipts to discover which vegetables are costing you the most each week - as well as which ones you buy most frequently.
If you're spending money on herbs, start cultivating them in pots; if you use carrots or tomatoes in a variety of dishes, grow your own to cut down your food bill. Remember, every little helps: it may not seem like a huge saving, but over time the pennies add up. Avoid growing super cheap veggies like cabbages, which are generally very affordable.
Time It Right
Lettuce and onions are a staple part of most people's diet. Early in the season is the ideal time to grow these - before you start growing tomatoes. If you start early, you can get two lots of these from your vegetable patch before you start growing others. This way, you're utilising the soil to it's fullest potential - and saving yourself money along the way.
As you nurture your vegetables, don't forget to utilitise rainwater to feed them to save money on water bills, too. A water butt is an ideal way to collect it, or just use cheap jugs!
Storing & Preserving Veggies
Unlike the vegetables you purchase from the supermarket, homegrown veg doesn't contain preservatives. Considering that these are chemicals, this is a good thing for your health! However, it does mean that the veggies won't last as long - even when kept in the fridge.
To avoid your yield going rotten, try to eat them soon after they are picked; the likes of carrots and broccoli can be stored in the freezer. Alternatively, you can purposely plant vegetables which have a naturally longer storage life. These include onions, potatoes and sweet potatoes.
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