2: Episode 2 – Starting a vegetable garden – which plants should I grow first?

I go through a run down of the top ten plants I recommend to start out your vegetable garden, along with some planting and growing tips

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Starting a Vegetable Garden – Which
Plants Should I Grow First?

We're going to be talking exclusively about growing your own food. So in my previous posts, I
mentioned that there are three arms towards our food self-security and one of those was plants.
And the biggest part of plant production in the food that we eat is our vegetable garden. Now,
it's not the only part. It's also supplemented with edible perennials that we have growing here,
for instance, our fruit and berries and also some foraging, but it's the most important part to get
right because it's the part you can rely on not letting you down. But it's also the part that you
need to put the most work into.
So it's definitely the place to start. It's the only part of our food self-reliance puzzle where we can
actually put the pieces in place today and be reaping the rewards of that in just a few week’s
time. There are some vegetables that go from seed to harvest in less than six weeks. So it's
absolutely the place to start if you're just starting out in food self-sufficiency now.

Which Plants You Should Grow First When Starting a Vegetable


So what I'm going to do today is I'm going to run through just several of the vegetables that I
personally feel are the most important ones to get you going. And we're going to start with

Why potatoes? Well, potatoes make up a huge part of our diet in my family, and if we are going
to move towards complete food self-sufficiency, which we currently are, (what I mean by that is,
due to the current state of supermarkets and supply chains here in the UK. We're not planning
on getting any food from any outside source for the foreseeable future). Therefore, we're having
to rely even more on potatoes than we already did. Potatoes make up a massive part of our
diet. They fulfill the starchy carbohydrate part of our diet in most meals. So potatoes are also,
fortunately, one of the easiest things to grow. Now you can buy seed potatoes but really all seed
potatoes are, they’re just potatoes that have been left to sprout. So get your hands on any
potatoes that are ready to plant (and they can be ones that you've had in your cupboard for a
little bit longer than you would have liked), and once you see those little shoots coming out,
they’re ready to go in the ground.
Now every potato you plant is going to give you upwards of between 6 and 12 new potatoes. So
obviously I could do a whole episode just on potatoes just like I could any of these vegetables.
But today it's just an overview of the ones you need to be thinking about getting in and potatoes
for me is top of the list. It's the one plant I'm going to talk to you about today that we literally
couldn't do without.
Now, the easiest way to plant potatoes is you just dig a small hole in the ground, literally just
enough to put the potato in, and then we cover that over with some mulch. That could be almost
anything. We use wood chips, compost, straw, and anything that we've got lying around. We
tend to mulch our vegetable beds quite heavily and that mulch is what breaks down into next

year's compost. So we literally cut a slit in the ground deep enough for the potato to grow in and
then we cover it over with some wood chip and wait to see what happens.
And what will happen is the potato plant will shoot up. We'll get lots of leaves. And what you
want to do is you keep adding whatever it is that you're using to mulch with. You keep adding
that and covering over, covering over, covering over, and what will happen is your new potatoes
will actually grow in that loose mulch on top, so that when it comes time to harvest you don't
need the back-breaking job of digging down a spades depth cutting through potatoes with your
fork and all the agonizing work that's involved in that. All the potatoes are going to be in that
loose stuff straight on top. They're super easy to harvest that way. There are lots and lots of
information and videos online about no-dig gardening and I strongly suggest you have a look at
those because It is by far the easiest way to grow potatoes.

Beans and Peas

The next thing I'm going to suggest is beans and peas, but particularly beans. Beans because
they go in super early. They can go in before the last frost has gone and they're also super
reliable. We like broad beans. We always plant a few broad bean plants, but we also plant
runner beans and French beans, and we find the best thing about beans is once you get them
in, they’re super easy they’re super reliable, and they're going to crop for a long time. We've got
a family of five here: me, my wife, and my three children. And we will probably have somewhere
in the region of six broad bean plants, maybe 10 French bean plants, and six runner bean
plants, and that will pretty much give us all the beans we need to get us through the summer
and an excess that will freeze and keep for the winter, so they're just a great plant – really easy.


The next one I want to talk to you about is beetroot. Now when I was growing up – I'm 41- and
when I was a child, beetroot meant pickled sliced beetroot. It was not nice. No one liked it. I
don't know anyone that enjoyed it. It was this horrible bright purple sickly mess of a food. But
that's not what beetroot is. We grow our own, and everybody in my family myself included
absolutely loves it. We love it raw in salads. We love it baked, as a regular vegetable to go with
the roast dinners., It really is worth it. If you have only had as I had only had until fairly recently,
that horrible pickled beetroot – or if you've not had beetroot before – make sure you grow some.
They're a fantastic plant.

Another thing with beetroot, again they’re super easy and they're quite a quick crop. What we
do is literally just, with a hoe, pull a very shallow line in the soil of the vegetable bed. We cover
that over with a layer of compost, I'm talking maybe an inch thick. And then we cover that over
with our mulch. That's it. And in eight to 12 weeks our first beetroot will be ready to crop. They
are a really easy plant and super tasty. I highly recommend them.


The fourth one on my list is carrots. Now carrots will basically take the route of least resistance,
so my top tip for planting carrots is to get yourself a crowbar, and when you're planting your
carrots, you just push the crowbar down into the soil. And you basically make a pilot hole for
your carrot. And you go down as far as you expect the character grow, plus a bit. Then you fill
that hole with really uncompacted compost and then you put your carrot seed on top. And then
your carrot will form this beautiful round long shape and you won't have any of the problems
associated with hard ground that you can have with carrots.
Another great way to grow carrots, I found, is we use a large plastic container with holes in the
bottom. You could use just a regular bucket, and we sow carrot seeds on the top and we fill that
with just loosely-packed compost. And again, because it's so loose, the carrots are quite happy

to just mow down through there. They form great shaped plants and I thin them out as I go. So
we start with baby carrots and then as we go through the season the remaining ones get bigger
and bigger.


The next crop I've got on here is turnips. And again, the purpose of turnips is they're just such
an easy thing to grow. You plant them in much the same way as you do beetroot. They are a
super quick crop, super easy. I've never had any problems growing turnips. The downside is
they're not as appetizing to me and my family as most of the other vegetables. We still grow
them because they make great fodder for our animals, but we also Harvest them when they're
young (like golf-ball-sized) cooked whole, when they're actually nice and tasty.


The next crop I've got on here is kale. And kale is slightly unusual compared to everything else
I'm talking about today in that it can be grown as a perennial. So once it's planted in its row, it
will just grow year on year and it's a cut and come again crop that you can Harvest all year
round. And so again, it's super easy to grow and it can be used as a salad or as a leafy
vegetable like spinach.


Next, we've got lettuce. Now, lettuce I have found aren't quite as easy to grow because they are
more frost-sensitive than some of the other things I've mentioned but also, they've got more
pests. They are the caviar to anything that you imagine would eat grass or leafy vegetables. Any
of the pests that you have – so caterpillars, bugs – they're going to love your lettuce, so they do
need protection. There are several ways you can do it. We tend to just use a little net that we
put over our row, but the reason I've included lettuce here is that if you can keep the pests off
them and you get your timings right, so you avoid the frost, they're a great crop and quite easy
to grow. But also, they're so versatile. They make up a massive portion of our salads.


The next plant is another very very special one. And that is courgettes. Now courgettes are
another easy-to-grow plant. We start them in our polytunnel in little pots and then plant them out
when all the risk of frost has gone. But the reason courgettes are so great is that they are such
a prolific plant. We planted just four courgette plants last year and that gave my family of five all
the courgette we could eat in the summer along with all that we’d need to freeze to get us
through the winter. And we also had spare that we sold at our little shop on the side of the road
just from four plants. I've planted six this year and that is based on the current world climate and
the fact that we're expecting to have quite a bit more demand at the side of the road than we
usually do. So we've planted a few extra, but there's no way in the world we'd be able to eat that


The next crop is tomatoes. Tomatoes make my list because they're such a useful plant. They
are great for making sauces. They're great in salads. If you want that sweet flavor. They're a
great vegetable all around and they're actually quite easy to grow. Once you get them going,
they're really easy to grow. Now, there are several varieties of tomato, so look out for what
grows well in your area. Some will grow outside, and some will need to be protected. We tend to
grow ours in our polytunnel purely because we just get such vigorous cropping from them that

Now you don't need a polytunnel, but if you did want to get one, the one I've got is only small.
It's about 4 or 5 meters long, a couple of meters wide, and I can just about stand up in it. And I
don't know how much I paid for it, but it was certainly under 200 pounds. I think it was around a
hundred pounds. You don't need one of these vast commercial Polytunnels. You really don't.


The last crop I've got is leeks. Leeks I've got on here because, once you've got them
established, they're really easy. They take care of themselves and it's a long season crop. So
you get your seeds in now and you're going to be cropping them at the other end of the year, so
it's good to give some thought now to the long-term cropping plants.

Final Thoughts

So that's my list of recommendations. If you're only going to plant 10 plants, plant those 10. And
hopefully, you'll see some really good results. It's not too late. It's a perfect time. Please get
them in.
There are a couple of side issues whenever we're talking about vegetable plots and that is
having some protected space – so a polytunnel or a greenhouse – and the second one is
compost. We’re always talking about compost. Now, we're going to go into those categories in
more depth in subsequent blogs and podcasts, but I just wanted to say, you need to start
making your own compost.

It's the easiest thing in the world. No one should be putting food waste out with their bins. No
one should be wasting grass cuttings or ash from their fire. When they clean their animals out,
all these things make great compost components whenever you're trimming your hedges, etc,
etc. So we'll go into that in a lot more detail in subsequent blogs and podcasts, but please do
start thinking about a compost pile and also start thinking about whether or not you want to
invest in a polytunnel or some greenhouse, or better still, make your own. Again, we'll talk about
that in a future post.