Growing your own fruit and veg is one of the most rewarding things you can do in the garden. There's nothing quite like a delicious supper made from tasty seasonal produce you've planted and tended yourself. Getting started is easier than you think with our 10 easy steps to growing your own food.
Allotment gardening has enjoyed a real resurgence in recent years, but you don't have to rent out a dedicated plot right away - or ever - to grow your own. Start smaller by sectioning off an area of your back garden, or installing a couple of raised beds. Start even smaller by picking yourself up a couple of containers from your local garden centre.
Most fruits and vegetables have a natural season - a time in the year when harvests will be at their most ripe and delicious. What this means for you is that there's also often a best time to plant them. Get yourself a diary or calendar, and pencil in appointments with yourself for sowing and harvesting your plants.
Even if your vegetable garden is smaller, or you're going to be growing food in a couple of small containers, try to vary what you're planting. Your first bumper crop of green beans will be exciting, but several smaller crops of different fruits and vegetables over the course of the year will keep you enthused - and you'll learn so much more.
A simple squeeze test will give you an idea whether your soil tends towards clay, sand, or loam. It will also help you establish whether you'll need to prepare the soil before you start sowing your produce. Potatoes, carrots and onions will fare well enough on the ground in a clay soil, but for strawberries you might be better using a raised bed or container with a shop bought topsoil.
If you're using compost, add a generous layer to the soil before planting. Alternatively, fertilizer can be added to help nourish your new fruit and vegetable plants - you can find organic varieties suitable for edible crops in your local garden centre.
The most appropriate planting method will vary depending on the type of food you're growing. Bulbs and some seeds can go straight into the ground, but more vulnerable varieties can be started off in seed trays, hardened off and transplanted later. Novice gardener? Lots of vegetables are available as plug plants - already partially grown - so that you can just transplant them into your plot and then focus on keeping them happy until they're ready to harvest and enjoy.
Plants need water for photosynthesis - the process that enables them to transform sunlight into food, and makes them grow. Some plants can thrive with less water than others, so keep an eye on the plants themselves for signs of dehydration - and be extra vigilant during times of drought. When you do water your plants, stick to the early morning or late afternoon/early evening when the sun isn't so strong.
Some fruits and vegetables are particularly vulnerable to frost or to pests like birds and insects, so it's a good idea to reduce the potential threat by providing them with appropriate cover. Polythene will protect against harsh weather conditions and pests, so it's ideal for crops that need to retain heat or are vulnerable to frost. A fine mesh cover won't provide the same protection from the weather but will ward off creepy crawlies. If your plants are subject to a feline threat, try chicken wire - cats will give it a wide berth.
Once ripe, some crops are happy to wait in the ground or on the plant a little while longer, until you're ready to eat them. Others will be tastier if harvested quickly. You're on the home straight, but this is a crucial time - so keep a close eye on your ripening plants. If you think a crop is ready but you're not sure, let your tastebuds decide.
Much of the supermarket bought food we eat has travelled a long way to reach our table. The food you grow will be super fresh and in season - which means it's likely to be incredibly tasty. The fact that you've grown it yourself will be all the more satisfying!