Total novice, lots of questions!!

(9 Posts)
NickyEds Wed 20-Apr-16 13:52:26

We rented our house last year and it's got a lovely garden. It's mostly mature, established plants but I'd like to grow some veg. We have some space but it's mainly gravel and paving that is available. We have;

- a little pond, this was drained when we moved in and is a sort of quarter circle but only about 1m at its widest.
-A long gravel area, this is about 6/7 ft wide and runs alongside the house. It gets quite a bit of sun.
-Some paving stones running around the conservatory. This bit gets lots of sun.

I'd quite like to grow some courgettes, salad leaves, peppers, chilli, herbs but I really don't know where to start! Do you just shove seeds in pots? Can you just use cheap compost? The pond needs filling, what with?... Is anything else good in pots? What is really achievable in this space?

Any advice gratefully received!

shovetheholly Wed 20-Apr-16 15:13:36

OK, let's start with seeds! To sow seeds you need special seed compost (John Innes 'seed' is the classic kind). You get a pot, fill it with this (you can mix in a bit of stuff called perlite to improve drainage) and bung in the seeds. For something like courgettes, where the seeds/plants are quite big, I'd start with four seeds per 15cm pot. For tomatoes, where seeds are small, you can sow more in the same sized pot. Water, and then leave them in a place where they will get light and a steady temp of 18-21 C - so an inside windowsill is ideal. Often the seeds need to be covered with a clear plastic bag (I use sandwich bags) to keep moisture in.

Then, when they have sprouted and are a few cm high, you pot them on. For this you use potting compost (I mix mine with perlite again)! It contains more nutrients than seed compost and gives the seeds a boost. You basically gently lift out the seedling with as much of the roots as you can, and repot it into an individual small pot or a module (you can buy trays of these). Water, leave in a warm place again.

Any seedlings that will be living outdoors need to be hardened off. This means putting them in a fairly warm, fairly sheltered place for a week to 10 days - but exposing them to slightly lower temperatures. However, most of the things you want to grow will die if they go below 5 C, so be careful to bring them inside if it's going to be freezing. After the last frost in late April/early May, you can think about planting them out.

However, chillis and peppers will only do well outdoors in the UK in a very hot place. Ideally you need a greenhouse or to keep them inside. This is OK for chillis as they are mostly not gigantic plants, but peppers are bigger. So if you don't have a greenhouse and you don't live in a massively sunny part of the UK, maybe think about ditching the sweet pepper plan, because they are quite big plants and a real risk in our climate outdoors!

Then you're ready to plant out! Tomatoes, courgettes like lots of sun. Tomatoes can be grown in a growbag against a really sunny wall - sounds like you have a good spot on the gravel against your house. Courgettes prefer it in the soil - they will like a LOT of manure dug in and plenty of water.

The exception to all of the above are 'direct sow' things like salad leaves - these are brilliantly easy. You dig/rake the soil to a fine texture, then you just sow the seed directly. Another easy, direct sow thing that is low maintenance is pole beans, e.g. runner beans, borlotti beans, french beans - you should get a really big yield and they look pretty too. Potatoes are also worth doing (but hurry - it's time to get them in now) as they help to break up the soil.

Most herbs need less rich, more well drained soil than most veg - you could use some of the gravel you have dug in and create a separate bed. Bear in mind that some herbs are perennial, and others are annual. It's often easier and cheaper to buy the perennial ones as plants (around £1.50 for a small one in the garden centre) than to try to do them from seed. However, annuals like basil, dill, parsley are easy to grow from seed and really great to have in a large supply.

NickyEds Wed 20-Apr-16 15:40:02

Thank you so much! So would I have time to do courgettes by seed if I sowed them this weekend? I have two very sunny windows I could start them on? We have a sort of summer house style shed (it has bottom half wood panel and top half windows) would that be okay for hardening Off?

So I'm thinking courgettes in the filled in pond, maybe tomatoes and chillis alongside the conservatory as it's sunniest and perhaps beans and herbs alongside the house. Would they be ok in big pots?- I don't really want to dig up under the gravel as it's a rental.

Last year I did some herb pots as soon as we moved in. It was a disaster! I put them under a gutter that over flowed and water logged them and they washed away!

How much is normal for plants/seeds? My lovely village shop has rosemary (it looks to have about15-20 "sprigs"and is in a 20cm ish pot) and sage plants at £8.99 each?

shovetheholly Wed 20-Apr-16 16:01:53

Yes, very much so! You don't need many plants - they are heavy croppers!

I think your summer house sounds ideal for hardening off. Hopefully by that point we will be well past frost <crosses fingers> but keep an eye out that they don't fall below 5 C.

Put tomatoes and chillis in your sunniest place (chillis may be better off actually in the conservatory), then courgettes and herbs in your second sunniest (a dug out pond will need a good mix of topsoil, well-rotted manure and compost to fill it). Pole beans can tolerate partial shade, but prefer sun and I'm afraid that they tend to be happier in the ground than in pots - but you could try a really big, wide one if you're prepared to keep watering. A better idea might be to put them into the established borders - you can get some very attractive varieties with lovely flowers/colourful pods that don't look out of place in a flower garden.

I think £8.99 is a lot for a herb plant - they are probably quite big ones, but they do grow quickly. If money is tight, then I would go for small pots from the garden centre that you can grow on and invest instead in some lovely pots to put them in. Mine does 10 plants for £10 or about £1.50 each. You only really need one rosemary, one sage plant for a family - they both get quite large after a few years!

Seeds - normal price is £2.50 a pack, but you can get really cheap, really good ones from places like Aldi, Lidl, Poundland. Look out for varieties that have the RHS's Award of Garden Merit or AGM as these tend to be higher yielding.

LikeASoulWithoutAMind Wed 20-Apr-16 23:19:18

I got 8 herb plants for £10 yesterday and a rosemary in a bigger pot for £5.99 if that helps to gauge prices.

You'll get a much better courgette crop if you have 2 plants rather than 1. They get pretty big though so give them plenty of room and unless you really really like courgettes you probably won't need more than 2 or 3 plants. smile

How far North are you? Depending on where you are/how rural, the last frost might be more like late May.

Ifailed Thu 21-Apr-16 07:49:38

Just a thought, but before you spend a lot of time and effort, does your rental agreement allow you to do anything to the garden?

NickyEds Thu 21-Apr-16 12:43:16

The rental agreement insists on it! Well, we have to maintain it and keep it tidy. The only thing that will affect the actual garden is the filled in pond. The landlady drained it with a view to renting specifically to a family with children and she asked if we wanted to do something with it. Tbh I was 8 months pregnant and then had a new born and a 19 month old so nothing except lawn moving and some very half hearted efforts at herb pots got done! I want most stuff in pots so that if we have to leave they can come with us.

The conservatory would make an ideal impromptu greenhouse but we use it as a play room so the entire contents of toys r us is in there!

We're in Yorkshire, right at the top of a valley side so I'm guessing it might have late frosts. Wold that kill any herbs I plant! Should I wait until June?

If I want to do some lettuce/rocket type things and I sew everything together will they all be ready for eating at the same time? Do you have to stagger them?

LikeASoulWithoutAMind Thu 21-Apr-16 13:09:31

I'd probably leave it towards the end of May in that case - what do you think shove ?

With stuff like rocket ideally make smaller sowings every few weeks or so. In reality I never manage this though! Perhaps you are more diligent than me though. I tend to get distracted by flowers smile

I never managed to get a decent tomato crop outside in rural Derbyshire but it might be worth a try if you have a sunny south facing wall you can put them against? Or you could try in the summer house possibly if you make sure they are well watered.

shovetheholly Fri 22-Apr-16 16:56:55

I'm in Yorkshire, also on a hill! (Northfacing for my back garden, south-facing for my allotment). I just planted out a load of perennial, hardy herbs - rosemary, sage, that sort of thing. However, I would absolutely not even think about planting out tender annual herbs like basil, parsley and other stuff that will be killed stone dead by a frost until May! (You can start the seeds off now indoors, though).

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