Embark on the adventure of a vegetable patch
Many of us dream of having our own little vegetable garden: eating our home-grown tomatoes and strawberries, adding a few delicious herbs from the garden to the meals we prepare... All of this is possible, even for those who live in flats !
Have you always secretly dreamed of growing your own vegetables, though never dared make the first move? Why not take the opportunity to try your hand at growing vegetables? If you’re lucky enough to have a garden, now is truly the right time to root out those gardening gloves that have been hanging about at the bottom of the drawer for so long. If not, don’t despair: a little spot on your patio or balcony and a few containers or even some geotextile bags are all it takes to get started. And even those with no outdoor space can join in! That’s right - some vegetables and herbs thrive in a corner of your kitchen or living room... Read on to discover all our top tips and before you know it, you’ll be enjoying your own healthy, flavorsome produce! Ready, steady, grow !
1 - How much space do I need for planting?
Deciding where to grow your vegetables, and how big the surface area should be, these are the questions you need to ask yourself before getting started. The first pitfall to avoid is an over-ambitious approach. Start with a 6-square meter patch.
If you’re gardening on your balcony, a wooden kit around one-meter long is ideal for trying out a few combinations of vegetables. Even windowsills are great places for growing plants, and handy for grabbing a few home-grown nibbles to accompany your early-evening drink!
Always choose a sunny spot (with at least six hours of sunshine a day) to offer your plants the best possible growing conditions and make sure they are sheltered from the wind. If need be, protect them by erecting a small trellis panel.
2 - Good vegetables grow in good soil
If you have a garden, it is really important to thoroughly weed the vegetable plot. On the other hand, no need to plow the soil with a big spade! In fact, that can be counter-productive, because the best approach is to preserve the fertility of the soil, with its natural concentration of fungi, bacteria and worms.
In a raised garden bed, plant pots or containers, start by putting down a drainage layer (made of clay pebbles, for example), then add some high-quality potting soil with a good water-holding capacity, at least 20 cm deep. In all cases, to obtain even richer soil, add a final thin layer of compost or organic matter.
3 - Choose the right plants
If you’re a beginner, start with easy-to-grow vegetables! As time goes on, you’ll get more confident! But to begin with, radishes are the go-to vegetable. Plant the seeds in rows from March to August, and they’ll be ready to bite into in just a few weeks. Remember to thin your seedlings once they start to grow, because radishes have trouble maturing if they are too tightly packed.
Cherry tomatoes and lettuce are also easy to grow, especially if you buy them as young plants. Plant them in rows, 20 cm apart: 3 to 4 weeks later, you’ll be able to tuck into your first spring lettuces. You can also plant Mesclun, a mix of small young green salads, that don’t grow into a head of lettuce, and whose leaves grow back every time you harvest them. You can plant them in a window box on your kitchen window ledge and pick the leaves off one by one.
Invest in a small cherry tomato plant: you can plant it in your vegetable garden, but it will be equally happy in a pot. The pot should be at least 30cm in diameter, leaving it enough room to grow on your balcony or in your kitchen. Opt for a small seedling rather than a tall one, and make sure the potting soil is still very moist. Do the same with a couple of strawberry plants, which are easy to grow and will re-flower from one year to the next.
Great for seasoning your salads, stock and marinades, as well as adding a twist to your cocktails, aromatic plants will liven up your cooking. Here again, they are easy to grow, even for beginners. Basil, chives, mint, thyme and sage need nothing more than a patch of rich soil in which to thrive. Parsley is so easy to grow that you can buy it in seed form. Once you’ve sown the seeds, cover them with one centimetre of fine potting soil and water them. Once they start to grow, remember to thin them.
4 - Always water your future vegetables carefully
Once you’ve planted your seeds and seedlings, lightly moisten the soil and add a layer of mulch made up of grass clippings, shredded straw or dead leaves. This protective layer should be about 5 cm deep and will prevent the spread of weeds, meaning you don’t have to weed so often - the same goes for vegetable boxes! Mulch also helps the soil remain cool and hold its water. If you’re growing vegetables indoors, remember that the air is drier and your seedlings won’t get any rain or dew. .
In the heat of summer, watering your tomato plants three times a week is enough. Using a watering can with a spray sprout, pour on the equivalent of around 10 liters of water per square meter and avoid watering the leaves, on which diseases can develop. Radishes require watering twice a week. However, if their leaves start to wilt, give them a bit more water, otherwise your radishes will be prickly and stringy. Lettuce needs to be watered twice or three times a week, only at the bottom. If the leaves start to wither, your lettuce is thirsty! And lastly, your aromatic plants - parsley, chives, mint and basil - will thrive in soil that is kept cool. Make sure it stays moist but don't go overboard, or your seedlings will rot, especially if they are indoors in pots.
5 - Try your hand at permaculture
Permaculture is based on interactions between plants, and one of its aims is to improve harvests by planting the right combinations of plants. The most well-known winning combinations? Alternate basil and tomato plants. Basil deters insects and enhances the flavour of tomatoes. Another good example of companion planting: borage and strawberries. This pretty blue flower will improve the flavour of your fruit and repel slugs and pests. The icing on the cake? It is also a great addition to salads with its surprising salty taste! There are so many advantageous associations; talk to a horticulturist about them and they will be delighted to share advice and suggest new combinations of plants.
And there you go: you’re a gardener! Why not try out a new vegetable every year, to diversify your range? How about trying beans, peas, fava beans, carrots, beetroot...? Once you’ve got the bug, there’ll be no stopping you! And how proud you’ll feel, serving up your home-grown vegetables!