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How to grow vegetables and herbs

Quick growing food

Growing your own organic food is much easier - and quicker - than you think. All you need are a couple of pots or a small patch of weed-free ground, and you’ll soon be harvesting fresh, chemical-free produce with a tiny carbon footprint and no packaging involved.
Lettuce growing in wheelbarrow
Quick-growing crops like lettuce will provide you with food on your plate in just a few weeks and can be grown in any setting

There are lots of quick-growing crops that can provide rich pickings for the kitchen. Cut-and-come-again salad leaves are ideal for a new grower. Lettuce, mustard seeds, oriental salad and rocket will provide you with tasty leaves in just a few weeks and can be grown in any setting, from a single pot on a windowsill to a large allotment.

Here’s how:

Growing salad leaves on a windowsill or container

  • Fill your chosen container with a peat-free compost. If you don’t have any flower pots or seed trays to hand, don’t worry. A yogurt pot or fruit punnet, with holes punched in the bottom, works perfectly.
  • Water the container and gently firm the compost down. Then sprinkle over your seed, don’t worry too much about spacing as they are easy to thin out (remove any weaker seedlings) as they germinate.
  • Cover with a light sprinkling of compost and place in a sunny spot.
  • Water little and often, and turn the container if you find the seedlings are growing at an angle towards the light.

Growing salad leaves outdoors

  • Prepare the bed by removing any weeds and raking the soil to a fine tilth. Gently firm it down.
  • Water the area gently, so as to moisten but not compact the soil.
  • Sow your seed into shallow drills (lines) about 1cm deep or broadcast (scatter around) and then cover over with a light sprinkling of soil.
  • Water little and often, and keep an eye on any weeds that appear amongst them - hand remove any you spot between the lines of your seedlings.
  • When the leaves are young but big enough to eat, harvest just what you need, ideally with a pair of scissors to make a clean cut of the outer leaves. The stems will grow new leaves, hence the name ‘cut-and-come-again’. As the leaves get older they will start to get bitter or attempt to flower - if you spot this happening now is the time to compost them.

These seeds can be sown continuously throughout the summer. We recommend sowing at weekly intervals to keep you in fresh leaves for months. This is called successional sowing.

Other simple crops

Radish is quick and easy. Follow the instructions for growing indoors, but spread the seed out roughly to the size you want the radish to be. You may need to find a bigger pot to make sure there’s room for growth.

If you’re growing radish outdoors, start with a weed-free patch of fine tilth, watered soil and sow in a shallow drill approximately 2cm apart. You can re-sow every 3-4 weeks.

Did you know you can also eat young leaves as greens? Radish seed pods can also be eaten, so if the plants 'go-to-seed' early you can still get an edible crop!

Microgreens are great to grow with children. They're essentially green vegetable leaves, harvested when very young. Most brassicas such as chard, cress and spinach are tasty and easy to grow. They are best grown indoors on a windowsill that gets at least four hours of natural light a day. Use a container that’s 5cm deep, moisten the compost and gently firm it down, then sow the seeds evenly and cover lightly with more compost.

If possible, mist the soil regularly to water, anything else risks dislodging the small seeds and stems. You’ll see signs of life within just a few days and you can cut and use when the first leaves appear.

Quick tips…

  • With all quick-growing crops, consistent watering is key. Little and often is best.
  • If you’re growing outdoors, look out for slugs. Non-organic slug pellets are dangerous for hedgehogs, birds and other animals that may visit your garden so use an organic slug control method instead - we have plenty of options here.
  • Always harvest your salads frequently to prevent them flowering, or ‘bolting’.