Everyone can grow food for themselves no matter what kind of home you live in!
How much will it cost?
Less than you might think! Pots can be used time and again and are often available second hand either online or from local nurseries. You can improvise your own by poking holes in the bottom of containers or cartons. Window boxes and planters can be knocked together from timber or plywood – just be sure to put drainage holes in the bottom! Seeds will generally only cost a pound or two at the supermarket or garden centre. Or you can plant vegetables from your cupboard! If want to get more involved in the hobby you could easily splash the cash on fancy tools and equipment but most of these are optional (and often unnecessary)!
What kind of space do you have?
The more room you can give over to growing your food the more you’ll be able to produce. This doesn’t mean you need to live on a farm to be able to get started! Pots and window boxes are perfect for growing tasty herbs, salads or berries. These are also generally low maintenance! If you want to take the next step consider turning over a patch in your garden to growing vegetables, or renting an allotment.
Where to get seeds?
You can buy seeds in supermarkets or garden centres but they won’t always be best suited to the Scottish environment. If you can, why not get in touch with neighbours or local groups and see if they have any seeds they’re willing to share? Some plants grow better from a bulb or tuber – like potatoes and garlic. Luckily you can use the ones from your cupboard!
Once you are set up and have grown your first crops, it’s not a bad idea to let a few plants go to seed and save some for next year. That way, you could organise a seed swap and help someone else get set up!
What’s the best thing to grow?
This is really the same as asking what you would like to eat – although some plants are easier to grow than others! Good starter crops are:
Salads (plant during Spring or Summer, harvest after two to 3 weeks). These are perfect for adding a bit of green to your diet. Leaves from plants like rocket and baby lettuce can be continuously harvested for a supply of fresh salad throughout spring, summer and autumn.
Potatoes (plant February/March, harvest July – September once leaves begin to die back). If you leave a spud in the cupboard for too long and find its sprouting, pop it in a deep pot or vegetable patch. Tatties are well suited to the Scottish climate and you’ll get 5 – 10 back for each one you plant!
Spring onions (plant March – April, harvest after 8 weeks). Spring onions can actually help keep insects and pests away from your other crops! You can either grow them from seed or plant the roots of shop bought spring onions. Save the bottom 10 cm of root/bulb. Place them in a shallow pan of water with the roots sticking up in the air for 2/3 days. Then plant them in a deep pot or in the ground. If you let a few go to seed, they will re-sow themselves meaning all you have to do is harvest the following year!
Peas (plant March – June, harvest after 2-3 months). Peas love the cool weather so they’re well suited to Scotland. They’ll do well in a deep pot or vegetable patch. Once you notice them sprouting, they will need some sticks for support but other than that you can just sit back and wait until they’re ready to pop!
Obviously, there’s thousands of other options so have a think about what you might fancy for dinner in a few months’ time and get planting!
How to look after my soil?
Different plants strip different types of minerals from the soil. Plants like potato and carrot use up a lot of nitrogen whereas legumes, like peas and beans, put it back in. You’ll find swapping what you grow in each patch of soil year by year will help keep your ground healthy and productive. So, if you grow potatoes one year and lettuce the next, growing some peas will top the soil up with nutrients and get it ready to go again! Rotating your crops like this will also stop bacteria and fungi that might hurt your crops from building up.
Consider starting a compost heap to provide yourself with a constant supply of high nutrient soil! Mix compost in with soil or sprinkle it over the top before planting. This will also reduce the amount of waste you generate in the kitchen or while gardening.
Do I need to water my outdoor plants?
The Scottish weather should take care of that for you during all but the hottest summers! If it is a particularly hot month and salad plants start to look a bit wilted, a gentle sprinkle from a hose or watering can should keep them going.
Do I need fertilizer?
This really depends on your soil. Most people will be able to get a fair bit of food without needing chemical fertilizer. By adding compost, you can avoid it altogether! If your plants are really struggling, why not use a natural fertilizer like horse, chicken or cow manure. Local animal enthusiasts will often be more than happy to part with their pet’s poo! Note: never fertilize your soil with cat or dog poo as they can contain dangerous bacteria.
How do I control pests?
Pests shouldn’t be too much of a problem for small scale growers. Before resorting to chemical pesticides – which can harm non-target species and damage biodiversity – I’d encourage you to try some natural alternatives. If you can, plant a few lavender bushes, spring onions, chives or garlic in with your vegetables – they will help deter pests!
Slugs/Snails: These guys love to chow down on leafy plant but they are an important food source for hedgehogs and birds. Poisoning them can cause the toxins to be transmitted up the food chain. They can be discouraged from crops by scattering a perimeter of sawdust or eggshells around and making sure leaves are tied up off the ground.
Aphids/Greenfly: Not the nicest thing to find on your plants but they feed spiders, ants and ladybirds (our natural allies in pest control!). In fact, if you have a greenfly problem and find a lost ladybird in your house, be sure to pop them on your crops! Before reaching for the chemical spray, try either a dilute mix of soap and water or water with 4/5 drips of essential oils (lavender or clove works).
Fungi, bacteria and viruses: These will show up as patches of discolouration or black spots on your crops. Often, they’re blamed for problems that are actually the result of overwatering or low nutrient soil. If you find a diseased plant be sure to remove it and compost it. With a healthy soil microbiome – thanks to composting and crop rotation – your plants should be pretty resilient!
Growing Food at Home is great for creating a Circular Economy. We can disrupt the amount of food plastic packages going into our home and lessen our carbon footprint even more! Growing food will make a difference in sectors such as the food industry where plastics are used all the time! This will also reduce the amount of green house gases emitted when transporting these goods from various places. This ultimately means, we can be responsible for our intake and waste too! Check out our how to compost article if you end up making food waste. This shall have a lesser impact to our environment than by buying packaged fruits and vegetable all the time.
Article Written by Daire Carroll