The country may be making its way out of recession (slowly…), but money-saving is still high on the agenda for most people. The cost of living is up, so maybe we should think about weaning ourselves off expensive food bills and start looking at being more self-sustainable.

Maybe it’s time to leave our wallets inside and get out the old gardening gloves from the back cupboard. Forget using the garden for barbecues and sun-bathing – it’s time to turn that space into something useful. You don’t need to go out and buy giant herds of cattle and endless chickens – just start with the basics. Transform your garden or allotment into your own vegetable patch and provide yourself with a consistent rota of fresh home-grown vegetables on a regular basis.

Sounds good, right? But where do you start? Which vegetables are best to plant? When is best to plant them? Our thoughts exactly.

Helen GazeleyTo get some background on planting yourself a new vegetable garden, Wilko had a chat with Helen Gazeley, organic gardening expert and writer for GrowVeg.com and Kitchen Garden Magazine:

Q: How difficult do you think it is to become self-sufficient (in terms of vegetables) with a vegetable garden?

A: There’s a huge difference between growing vegetables to supplement your meals and becoming self-sufficient. It’s not going to happen with a couple of beds and a windowbox. You need space, application and time. It’s not an easy option. Having said that, if you wanted to become self-sufficient in one or two vegetables – say, salad leaves and tomatoes (both quite expensive in the shops) – that is much more doable.

Q: What are the major vegetables you would need to do this? What time of year is best to plant them?

A: Think what do you eat most. Those are the ones to grow if you want to be self-sufficient. Sowing generally starts in spring, though many crops need to be sown several times through the year.

Q: What’s the most common mistake you see when people start their own vegetable garden?

A: Taking on too much at once. Start slowly with a small area and grow just a few different vegetables to get yourself started.

Q: Do you have any tips for anyone who wants to be self-sufficient and provide themselves with their own home-grown vegetables?

A: Don’t forget you’ll have to store the harvest if you want to be self-sufficient in winter as well as during the rest of the year. Think about whether you have the room and the facilities to store a lot of vegetables.

Wellies & rake

Getting Started

Planting vegetables is not as much of a specialist activity as some people believe – anyone can do it. All you need is the right amount of space, equipment and time. And, of course, the knowhow.

First on the agenda are the tools: essential tools for vegetable gardening include a rake, a spade, access to water (hose etc.), a hoe, fencing, a broadfork, and preferably a pH testing kit.

Next you need to decide on space: any vegetable garden bigger than 16×10 feet should be large enough to house the veggies you’ll need to get you started towards the goal of being self-sufficient. Be sure to choose an area that gets long hours of sunlight – more than six hours a day.

Before you try to plant anything you need to check your soil: use a pH testing kit to check the acidity of the soil – it should read around pH 7, as anything lower is too acidic and anything higher would be too alkaline.

You also need to check whether your soil is heavy on clay, sand or silt, or if it’s happy medium of these. You’ll need to know this later on as some vegetables prefer different soils.

You then need to get hold of some vegetable fertiliser to help your veggies grow. There are many different types of fertiliser that you can use and the debate on which is best still rages on – so it’s your choice!

Now go out and choose the vegetables you want to grow! As Helen says, it depends entirely on what you want to eat, but if you are aiming to be self-sufficient you’ll need a good range of vegetables to cover all the bases. To help you choose, we’ve put together some info on a few key veggies and when to plant them. Have a look at the image below and hover your mouse over the icons to find out more about each vegetable:

Extra Tips

Be sure to space your vegetables – this will give them room to breathe.

Water roots directly – wet leaves can cause disease.

Keep your patch free of weeds – these attract pests and take up nutrients.

Keep realistic goals – don’t expect to be free from reliance on the super market straight away!

Start small and build over time – it’s going to be a slow process, so don’t attempt too much at once.

Make sure your garden is clean – dead leaves left around can cause disease.

So what are you waiting for? Get out the spade and start growing some veggies!

Sources: BBC; Thompson-Morgan; Grow Organic; Almanac; Garden Planning Tips; GrowVeg; RHS; BHG

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