Start your own kitchen garden today

Why is gardening proving so popular during lockdown?  Leading psychiatrists have the answer.

According to Dr Alan Kellas of the Royal College of Psychiatrists, 120 minutes’ exposure to nature a week is a key factor in maintaining positive mental health. And a Danish study in 2018* found that 10 weeks of gardening produced similar benefits to 10 weeks of cognitive behavioural therapy.

Now that garden centres are open, we can all immerse ourselves in our outdoor spaces and feel the benefits.  And to help you start your own kitchen garden today, gardening columnist and broadcaster Martin Fish shares some invaluable tips.   

·        If you don’t have an established veg plot, a wooden raised bed is an ideal way to start. Fast to install, raised beds come in a range of heights and sizes to suit all situations. They can be positioned on soil, gravel or a hard surface, such as a patio. Forest Garden’s Bed Builder Pack costs £83.99, holds 380l of compost and arrives flat packed with fixings and easy to follow instructions. It also has a 15-year anti rot guarantee, so will stand the test of time.

·        The old saying, “the answer lies in the soil” is very true, so make sure you fill your newly installed raised bed with a mix of good quality topsoil and compost to give the plants a good start.

·        Plan what you want to grow before rushing off to buy plants and seeds and only grow what you like to eat!

·        There is still plenty of time to start many vegetables off from seed such as lettuce, salad leaves, spring onions, radish, mange tout, dwarf beans and spinach to name but a few. The secret to having a succession of fresh produce through the summer is to sow little and often.

·        If you intend to grow root crops such as carrots, parsnips and beetroot, they always grow best when sown directly into the soil to avoid root disturbance. Take out a shallow drill around 1.5cm deep, sow the seeds thinly and cover over with soil.

·        Many young vegetables plants such as courgettes, sweet corn, salads, lettuce outdoor tomatoes and members of the cabbage family are available from garden centres to plant directly into the raised bed to give you a head start.

·        If growing blueberries they should be planted in ericaceous compost as they prefer acid soil conditions.

·        Strawberries are perfect for growing in raised beds and when planted along the edge the fruits will cascade over the side making them easy to pick!

·        Watering to maintain moist soil is important, especially to aid the germination of seeds and establishment of young plants. Ideally water using a fine rose and test the soil is moist with your fingers. Water early morning or late evening for best results.

·        Although the compost will have nutrients in it, as plants grow and develop, they will need feeding. This can be done by sprinkling a little general fertiliser such as Growmore, blood fish and bone or pelleted poultry manure on the soil surface, or you can give a weekly liquid feed with a seaweed or other liquid fertiliser.

·        Keep an eye out for pests than can damage your crops. Slugs and snails can be a problem on seedlings, so be prepared to control with nematodes, gritty barriers, beer traps or animal/bird friendly pellets.  Covering crops with fleece or insect proof netting helps to keep off cabbage-white butterflies and other insect pests.

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