Friday, 3 March 2017

Wise words for the Beginner?

Having been gardening in earnest for about 30 years now, it's always tempting to look at the efforts of new gardeners and say to myself "That's not the way to do it. That'll never work. They'll live to regret it" etc, etc. Do you remember the know-it-all Father-in-Law character from the Fast Show? The one whose catchphrase was always "You don't want to do it like that!"? I don't want to be like that person, so I strive to share whatever expertise I have accumulated over the years, in the hope that some Newbie Gardeners may thereby be able to avoid some of the pitfalls along the way. It has also always been a point of honour to mention my mistakes and failures as well as my triumphs and successes.

Winter 2010 / 2011

I don't know if you have noticed, but one of the Pages on my blog is one called "Resources". On this page I give links to some of the blogposts I have written in the past that might be considered "advisory" - the sort of thing that might be beneficial to someone new to this gardening malarkey. Hopefully there are a few things there that might be of interest to more experienced gardeners too.

Tomato "Sungella"

Today I'm going to invite you, my readers, to contribute some tips of your own! I would love it if you would leave me answers to the following 3 questions in the Comments box down below...

1. What one single vegetable would you recommend as being suitable for a Beginner? (Preferably something easy to grow, very productive and practically bound to succeed!)

2. What one tip would you give to a new gardener taking on a veg-plot or allotment for the first time?

3. What do you enjoy most about veg-gardening as a hobby / pastime?

If I get a good response on this I may collate all the feedback and publish it as a new article on my Resources page, so please do join in. Thanks!


  1. Single, most rewarding vegetable: tomatoes. If you can only grow two, make them "Sun Gold" for the sweetest out of hand eating tomato, and "Gardener's Delight" both for fresh eating and to roast, unskinned and tossed with olive oil and garlic, and pulsed in a blender with fistfuls of fresh basil for a fantastic freezable sauce or soup.

    Best Tip: Build raised beds and raise your veg in them. You'll make your life so much easier and your veg much more productive. They will also save you a ton of money in the long run. Second best tip: Feed your soil, not your plants. Enrich your raised bed soil with simple, well rotted manure and low cost mineral additives, and you're good to go. Alternatively, cover your beds with very well shredded leaves and sprinkle generously with coffee grounds every winter (your local coffee shop will give them to you for free if you ask nicely!) and your soil will be glorious come spring.

    What I enjoy most: Absolutely everything! From the amazing feeling of turning tiny seeds into glorious food, to watching the incredible life cycles Nature offers, to being out in the sun and warmth in summer and the brisk air in Spring and Fall. Plus, all the bending and stretching is better than any yoga class in some stuffy gym for keeping me limber and strong. get tomatoes, flowers, salads, fruit and a freezer full lovely meals to last all winter.

    1. Thanks, Tracy, I agree with most of that. The point about coffee grounds is a bit contentious though - some people dispute its effectiveness. I've never tried it myself, but at least it would make the garden smell nice!

    2. Hi Mark, I looked into coffee grounds in response to a post on the Never Enough Thyme blog, and found the consensus to be that they are good for soil structure, and will increase nitrogen, and acidity. Too much of either could have negative effects on some plants, so composting or limiting the amount spread raw seems advisable in some gardens, unless particularly alkaline. Personally I add them to the general compost rather than spread them alone, but they must be as good an addition to the compost heap as any other kitchen waste one would normally use.

    3. I too add my coffee grounds to the compost bin, not direct onto the soil. I think that is safer.

  2. When we first took our plot 'old hands' said "You'll not grow carrots on here" some still maintain this in spite of seeing us pull bucket loads.
    Single vegetable - runner beans as they are fairly easy especially if started in pots and not planted out too early i.e. after danger of frosts. Only issue is protecting from slugs. They crop prolifically over summer and surplus can be frozen. Runner beans are expensive to buy.

    Tip Don't be in too much of a rush. Skim off the weeds and cover with weed control fabric. The deal with the plot in sections. When one section is sorted, move on.

    Enjoy lots of things but one thing is looking at a plate of food and being able to say - we grew that.

  3. One vegetable: Snap beans. Easy and universally liked.
    One tip: Keep good records.
    Enjoy most: Both the work and the results.

  4. Vegetable: Onions! Assuming your family likes onions, they are very easy to grow. And they can be planted in early Spring before the weather is warm enough to plant other vegetables. If someone asks if you are planning to garden this year, it is very satisfying to say, "Oh, yes, I have already planted my onions." It gets the gardening year off to a good start!

    Tip: Get your soil tested. I don't know about Europe, but here in the United States, the County Extension Agent can get your soil tested for a small fee. Along with the soil analysis report, you will get advice on how to improve your soil for whatever you want to grow: vegetables, berries, fruit trees, etc.

    Most enjoyment: Harvesting and taking it straight to the kitchen to cook it. You can't get fresher vegetables than that!

    Happy Gardening!

  5. 1) Runner beans, easy, look good and taste delicious
    2) Don't do too much the first year and don't grow things you don't like
    3) Being outside in all weathers and feeling smug when eating your own produce

  6. If it's a single vegetable / plant rather than a single type of vegetable then Courgette because you get to eat a lot. A lot of food for a square metre. If it's a single type of vegetable then mange tout / sugar snap peas - showy, productive and can be successively sown from late winter to mid summer.

    Best tip would be to get a load of horse manure, the more the better, it's normally free and can be used as a mulch, soil conditioner, fertiliser and grass suppressant. Good for starting new beds, pile it on top of grass, wait a couple of months and then dig over or with many crops plant directly into as a no dig quick solution.

    Enjoyment has to be the fact that with veg growing you get to do it all over again each year. Always something to do every season. Many hobbies don't allow you to start from scratch each year, nor do they give you something to do every day if you want to.

  7. I'd have a very hard time picking just one veggie, but if you only have space for one then go for a great tomato. The taste of home grown heirloom is no comparison to anything you get in a store.

    Compost is your best friend in the garden. You can't have too much of it.

    Everything is great in gardening, even weeding as you get to get all your frustration out on the weeds while enjoying the sun and fresh air and piece of mind.

  8. Only had my allotment a year as I retired and always liked gardening.
    1 I found runner beans and courgettes easy growers.
    2 compost is your best friend if like mine your soil is rubbish
    3 it's great just to go and relax down there, take things easy, do what you can and don't over do it as it will still be there next year!!!


  9. 1) In the US...pumpkins. Who doesn't love pumkins and they are easy to preserve or..just enjoy them at the front door at Halloween.

    2) One tip? Consider raised beds. You can start growing earlier and it's easy to utilize a smart spacing method like 'Square Foot' when you are just beginning to grow veggies.

    3) What do I enjoy most? I enjoy losing track of time and just having a reason to be outdoors after a long work day inside. The simple act of growing things is a stress reliever.

  10. Single Vegetable for a new start - potato. Not only do you get reliable tasty results to eat you also get one area under control from the start! There's going to be plenty of weeding required in the rest of the plot!

    Single Tip Use nets fine nylon on your carrots, normal on your brassicas (OK like a lot of people above I have squeezed in two tips for the price of one)

    Enjoy: Year on year improvement. A bad experience in one year can lead to success in the next. Eg The pigeons ate all my brassicas just when I was going to harvest them - I've left the nets on right through the growing season and we got to eat them ourselves.

  11. Andrea Randall4 March 2017 at 10:02

    1. First veg, courgette, very easy to grow, great harvest and so satisfying.
    2.Raised beds, much less daunting than a big plot.
    3. Starting the process anew every Spring.

  12. One veg - Snap or snow peas during cool weather, beans during warm. Easy to sow, easy to tend, easy to harvest, very productive, minimal pests and diseases (relative to other crops). And to top it off, they improve the soil - you can't go wrong!

    One tip - Start off slow and don't bite off more than you can chew. It's so tempting to load the cart with seed packets for every veg you love with visions of all those glorious harvests. But nothing dampens one's spirits more than the frustration of being faced with an overgrown, weedy, disease & insect ridden garden that you can't keep up with. I've seen gardeners simply give up, thinking it's "not their thing" for this very reason. On the other hand, picking a few easy to grow veg and planting up a small area that 1st season often results in increased enthusiasm for gardening and growing your own food.

    Most enjoyable aspect? That's a hard one - I love the entire process. So that's probably the answer...the process. I take a tiny seed and nurture it. The transformation is amazing - how is all that info stored in such a tiny speck? Watching every step - and having the ability to manipulate things such as soil, location, etc. and see how these changes impact on the plants. And then, of course, picking and eating the delicious, fresh, wholesome food at the end, this being the ultimate reward.

  13. Vegetable - In my part of the US (midwest zone 5), tomatoes. We generally have good tomato weather and you can't beat the taste of a tomato from the garden.

    Tip - I agree with Margaret that starting small is the way to go.

    Most enjoyable - Eating fresh vegetables and finding new ways to enjoy them when you have more than you expected.

  14. Love that you're doing this, Mark - I totally agree, it's good to share knowledge.
    One veg: I look forward to tomatoes, peas and beans but easiest to grow is surely beetroot or chard?
    One tip: Totally agree with Sue. Dig over plot bit by bit to eradicate weeds, then cover until you can sow. Take your time, visit regularly - even half an hour a day makes a difference.
    Most enjoyable - Being occupied in a productive and mindful activity with the bonus of fresh air, exercise and delicious food to eat all year round!

  15. I would advise potatoes followed by leeks…you cannot go to far wrong with this.

    Make raised beds where every possible. Maybe a bit of work to start but I find that it makes less work in the long term.

    Make sure you have somewhere to "sit and be"

  16. For me the first thing to grow would be snap peas or mangetout. They're pretty easy, you get plenty and they taste great. Plus you can eat them as soon as you pick them - before you even leave the plot!
    The one tip when starting out would be protect your crop. Whatever you plant will want to grow, but something will want to eat it, whether its slugs and snails, pigeons, mice, flies or butterflies. Its really disappointing to lose a crop so find out what they are susceptible to and guard against it. Its usually as simple as a net!
    The most enjoyable thing is being able to pick something and have it ready to eat just minutes later, knowing you grew it yourself and it's the freshest of whatever it is that you've ever eaten.

  17. 1. Radish. They grow quickly.
    2. Start small. As Margaret said easy to get overwhelmed and quit.
    3. Satisfaction, fresh air, exercise.

  18. 1. Radish. They grow quickly.
    2. Start small. As Margaret said easy to get overwhelmed and quit.
    3. Satisfaction, fresh air, exercise.


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