Planting: Pick your plot

Even if all you have is a window sill, you can still try your hand at growing fruit and veg. As part of our planting month, we look at three common types of plot.

Allotments in Edinburgh. Photo: embra

What you can grow mostly depends on two things: the amount of time and effort you’re prepared to put in; and the kind of space you have available, including how much sun it gets and what the soil is like.

Allotments

British law requires local authorities to provide residents with low-rent plots – allotments – for growing fruit, vegetables and flowers. In the first half of the twentieth century, more than a million active allotments provided a significant slice of the UK’s fresh produce. After World War II, numbers fell rapidly right through to the turn of the millennium, since when they’ve made an impressive comeback.

Today, some councils have waiting lists running to many years, but in other places you might be able to secure an allotment in a matter of weeks or months. Even if you have to wait more than a year, it can be well worth it, as an allotment will give you enough space to grow a large proportion of your fruit and vegetables in return for a rent as low as £20 per year. Contact your local council for info on allotments in your area.

allotments-uk.com has lots of advice and a discussion forum for those just getting started.

Gardens

If you have a bit of outside space, a decent kitchen garden can be even better than an allotment. Having your plants just outside the home makes it much easier to look after them and helps reduce your car use. Even in smaller gardens, you can get a surprising amount from a  mini vegetable patch or a couple of raised beds.

When deciding which bit of your garden to dedicate to vegetables, the first thing to think about is sun. The more sunlight your plants get, the better they’re likely to turn out. The best plots get sun for most of the day, though you can achieve a lot with a few hours of uninterrupted sun in the growing season. West-facing plots are better than east-facing plots, since plants receiving limited light tend to prefer it in the warm afternoon rather than the cool morning.

The next consideration is the soil. If your garden already has rich, fertile, moist but well-drained earth then you have a huge head start. If the ground is sandy or rocky, dry or waterlogged, then it might be worth building a couple of raised beds and filling them with fresh compost. If you’re buying compost rather than making it yourself, stay climate friendly by choosing a variety that’s peat free.

Small gardens, patios, balconies and windowsills

Tomatoes growing on a patio. Photo: Bashed

If you’re limited to a patio, balcony or even a windowsill, you can still grow some fruit and vegetables. Even a humble windowbox can provide an impressive crop of herbs and cherry tomatoes.

If you have a patio with space for larger pots then you may get good results with peppers, chillies, aubergines, courgettes, beetroot, carrots and potatoes. Salads are well suited to containers of all sizes – particularly the “cut and come again” varieties that allow you to harvest just a few leaves at a time. As for fruit, strawberries can thrive in pots, and so can some fruit trees, including peaches, apricots and nectarines. Most of these plants will do perfectly well with peat-free compost, though it’s a good idea to add water-retaining crystals. If you’re using terracotta pots, water retention can be further improved by lining each pot with polythene, though don’t forget to make some holes at the bottom for proper drainage.

Adapted from The Rough Guide to Green Living by 10:10’s resident carbon expert Duncan Clark.

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