Grow your own: a beginner’s guide to gardening Nutrition If you have ever wanted to experiment with growing your own veg, spring is a great time to start. And the benefits can be plentiful. According to one study, students who had grown vegetables when they were young, or who were still gardening as students, were likely to eat more portions of fruit and vegetables than students who had never gardened. The key, however, was being actively involved. Students who had only seen their parents grow fruit and veg but not taken part themselves did not eat more fruit and veg in college. Other non-nutritional benefits include getting out in the fresh air, physical activity and lower stress levels. Some people have found that gardening, whether or not to grow produce, can also help to reduce anxiety or depression. When is the best time to grow vegetables? Huw Richards, author of Veg In One Bed: How to Grow an Abundance of Food in One Raised Bed, Month by Month says that whilst there are specific times to start off some plants, it can be more flexible for others. “The best months for sowing seeds range from February until August; but you plant garlic in November, for example,” he says. Many fast-growing crops such as lettuce, turnips and radish, he says, will be ready to harvest in less than two months from sowing. And if you have a busy schedule, you shouldn’t be deterred. Choosing easy growing vegetables and keeping it to a minimum will make your kitchen garden more manageable. “If you are just starting out, choose two to three of your favourite vegetables to grow and concentrate on those,” says Richards. “Vegetables like potatoes, spinach and carrots are very popular with first time growers.” Getting started is also a time to learn. “The first year of growing food is the steepest learning curve, but from then on you will even surprise yourself about how little time and effort is needed to grow plenty of delicious fresh food. Also never give up on a failure, there is always a lesson to be learned and another year to try it out.” Do you need a garden to grow your own veg? According to Richards, we don’t even need a large garden or allotment – or even lots of sunshine to be able to grow some kind of food plant. “If your garden doesn’t get much light, then concentrate on growing leafy greens such as lettuce, spinach and kale. These do very well with minimal light,” he says. “If you have very limited space then focus on growing salad crops as these are highly productive and hardly cost anything to grow.” For indoor veg, Richards recommends growing pea shoots in ice cream tubs on a sunny windowsill. “Poke holes at the base for drainage and fill a 5 cm layer of any multi-purpose compost. Then sprinkle dried peas from the shop over the top and cover with 1 cm of compost and keep moist like a wrung-out sponge. In two to three weeks, you will have 5-7 cm-tall pea shoots ready for harvesting, and if you harvest above the first leaf every time you can enjoy three to four harvests — delicious!” Richards believes that almost all vegetables are “very easy to grow”. But, he says, when you are starting out it is better to choose veggies that will grow in the same place where you sow the seeds. “This includes all your root vegetables, salads and potatoes. When you have tasted your first ever home-grown potato, you will be hooked — I can guarantee that!” Getting a head start If you don’t want to start growing from seed, Richards suggests buying seedlings cheaply at your local garden centre and planting them out in their final place — this could include leeks, tomatoes (only on a very sunny and sheltered location), kale and squash. “This saves you having to buy loads of seeds and starting them off in pots.” And if you are limited to a windowsill, you can still grow plenty of food items; the easiest being herbs. Most supermarkets sell herbs in pots, which can be a cheap and simple way to start an indoors kitchen garden. Enjoyed this article? Subscribe to our free digital version of Optimum Nutrition magazine for more research updates, features and recipes!