Real Men Sow

This is a repost from January 2011. I've been getting a few nice questions asking for beginner advice recently, so now the sun is out and we're all starting over, I thought it a nice time to dig this post out again. I've learned even more since I posted this originally, so I'm going to share ten more tips for beginners tomorrow. Hope you find them useful. :)

Ten Tips for Grow Your Own Beginners

As a kind of beginner-turned-improver at allotmenteering, people often ask me what to grow first, where to start, what can they do in a small space etc. Well, if I was digging a veg patch or taking on an allotment all over again, this is what I’d do:

1. Don’t throw anything away.
Become a hoarder. If I had a pound for every time I said ‘damn, I wish I hadn’t thrown that away,’ I’d have enough money to buy a greenhouse. When I got my plot, I came in, all guns a blazin’, and threw out a big metal barrel because it had a load of muck festering in the bottom. It would have been perfect for bonfires. I miss that barrel.

ten tips for grow your own beginners2. Nurture what you inherit.
If the previous occupant had already planted anything on the allotment, take care of it. Sounds obvious, but I had an overwhelming temptation to rip everything out and make my own mark from the start. Thankfully, I left well alone and got oodles of purple sprouting broccoli and an early crop of onions. I also pruned some ropey old gooseberry bushes which subsequently cropped heavily, as well as getting a bag full of plums from a dead-looking tree I was ready to hack down.

3. Don’t plan
Just plant. Plans are for next year. Buy some seeds, follow the instructions on the back, and get it planted. Some worked for me and some didn’t, but I got a great idea of how to grow vegetables, what area of my plot gets the most sun and other knowledge that proved invaluable in my second year.

And boy was I proud of what I did manage to grow.

4. Plant easy to manage stuff
Ease yourself in gently. I grew cauliflowers and aubergines, which all died pretty quickly, leaving me deflated. Fortunately I was saved by the onions, curly kale, garlic, lettuce and perpetual spinach. These all grew well without having to spend every waking hour watering and tending them.

5. Grow tomatoes and strawberries
If I ever needed convincing that your own food dramatically outstrips the taste of shop bought alternatives, then toms and strawbs are the crop to do it. The tomatoes are like sweets, and there is a divine taste to homegrown strawberries that can’t be matched unless freshly picked from the plot

Even if everything else failed, it’d be worth it just for these.

ten tips for grow your own beginners6. Grow veg that’s expensive to buy
I’ve been working out how much money I save growing my own using my Veg Savings Spreadsheet, and one thing I’ve noticed is how cheap some veg is compared to others. If you’re short on space, a butternut squash at £1.67 a kilo is a bargain hunter’s dream when considering most packets contain about 10 seeds, while potatoes take up a lot of room for a 40p saving every 500g.

7. Talk to the old boys
There’s every chance that the same people have been working your neighbouring plots for years. They’ll be the ones who can tell you what grows well on the site, what to avoid, and all the other tricks that will get you on your way. From my experience, allotmenteerists are a lovely bunch, and they’ll only be too happy to help.

Mind you, they did let me grow my sweetcorn and not tell me about the badgers.

8. Join a web forum
Need help and don’t know where to go? Online web forums are full to bursting with knowledgeable gardeners. Register, post a question, and an hour later you’ll have several suggestions on how to solve your problem. www.growfruitandveg.com/grapevine is a nice, easy to use forum with lots of friendly, experienced posters.

9. Grow veg you like
Again, sounds obvious, but if you fought with your mum over eating sprouts, then don’t bother growing anything you’re not going to eat – as tempting as it is to deck the whole plot out with every vegetable under the sun!

10. Start a blog and take lots of photos!
This didn’t help me learn what I was doing, but my plot has changed so much over the last four summers that it’s incredibly rewarding and entertaining to look back at the differences. Starting a blog is a great way of sharing that with other growers from all over the world, as well as keeping a record of things that worked, and things that didn’t.

Of course, these are only my experiences, based on nothing but trial and error, but hopefully they’ll be of some use. If you’ve got an allotment, let me know what helped you, and if you’re just starting out, I’d love to hear how you’re getting on!

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7 Comments

  1. Chris TMay 1, 2013 at 8:28 pmReply

    Okay – on your head be it – I’ve joined twitter

    • Jono

      JonoMay 1, 2013 at 9:08 pmReplyAuthor

      haha, excellent. Look forward to reading some tweets.

  2. RobAugust 17, 2013 at 7:04 pmReply

    Hi,

    I have in the last fortnight taken on a sizeable allotment. My first one. The plot had been tented by a lady that passed away. The allotment people sprayed it with strong weed killer so now everything looks dead. I was going to dig it all out and start from scratch… having now seen your blog about leaving things to grow I am left wondering what to do. My plot is a plot near the allotment path and a farmers field and is very over grown and in need of a fence at least. I know I have red and white potatoes but the rest is a mystery. To clear or not to clear… That is the question?

  3. LorraineSeptember 21, 2013 at 9:09 pmReply

    Hi,

    Jus started growing on my balcony and am a bit scared with all the info that’s out there, especially fertilisers. I don’t know which ones I need to use and when to use them.

    On my balcony I have jus planted peas, broad beans, chilli, broccoli, spring onions and some herbs. They seem ok at the moment.

    Another thing is the cold season we are going into. Any help or info would most be appreciated.

  4. JamesDecember 6, 2014 at 3:15 pmReply

    One of the best tips I think is to consider a Raised Bed Garden. They are easier to operate for the beginner and the chances of success are in general far better.
    A little more expensive to set up than conventional gardening – but worth it in the end.

  5. LilyFebruary 3, 2015 at 11:18 pmReply

    Hey,

    Just taken on an allotment..it’s covered in manure…. My flat is covered in propagators… And my blog should be starting tomorrow… If I’ve downloaded everything correctly…. I look forward to reading more of your blog.

    I think I’m just going to throw as much at it and see what sticks although I’ve been told it’s good soil by others… Note to self… Investigate what good soil is……

    Thanks for the info

    Lily

  6. Grass TigerJanuary 19, 2016 at 2:25 pmReply

    Very useful advice. Its good not to overcomplicate things, otherwise it can lead you down a path of confusion. Like you said, best to start with the simple stuff.

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About Real Men Sow

meIn 2007, I took on a redundant allotment plot with my gardening-mad mum Jan. As all good mums do, she went along with it, but I don’t think she held out much hope.

However, three years on, and she now lets me do stuff without watching over my shoulder, so I must be doing something right. [ read more ]

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