You can grow healthy, nutritious food in even the smallest of spaces. When growing your own food, think of what you like to eat and try to grow that. If you don’t like radishes, why grow them? If you have a reasonable amount of space, think of creating four raised beds. Grow potatoes in one, root vegetables like onions and carrots in another, beans and peas in another and cabbages, sprouts and broccoli in another. Then rotate what you grow in each bed from one year to the next in the same order as listed here to prevent pests and diseases.
If you only have a tiny space, think of growing vegetables that cost a lot in the shops or are just fun to grow. Strawberries can be grown in a special planter, tomatoes are often happy in pots next to a sunny wall and even potatoes can be grown in large pots. If you have kids, pumpkins and squashes are fun to grow too.
Perhaps the most useful plants to grow in a small space are herbs. A few small pots near the kitchen will provide you with tasty treats, look and smell good and attract butterflies and bees too. Visit our Wild Gardens blog for ideas about what you could be growing now and explore this section for ideas on how to grow food in a way that will be healthier and wildlife friendly.
Pests & diseases
All vegetable growers suffer the disappointment of losing their crops to pests and diseases sometimes. Encouraging the right sort of wildlife to your garden can help reduce the numbers of pests and reduce damage to your crops.
Frogs from your wildlife pond will eat their way through your slug population and if you have managed to encourage hedgehogs, they will eat them too. Thrushes will eat snails and you can sometimes hear them smashing their shells on a stone. Many other birds, like sparrows, great tits and robins will eat caterpillars and other insect pests. So there more you can do to attract these creatures to your garden, the greater the chance will be that your vegetables will not be attacked.
Many insects will also attack pests. Ladybirds are famous for munching their way through aphids, while hover flies will eat many nasty insect pests. These will all be encouraged in to your garden by following the advice in the wildlife section of this site, but you can grow dill especially to attract hoverflies.
Many vegetable growers grow other plants among their crops because they know that these help their crops to grow better or deter pests. This is called companion planting and there are many great combinations to try. The important thing is to remember to grow your companion plant at the same time as your crop, or you won’t see the benefits.
Some classic companions include growing French marigolds with your tomatoes. The marigolds give off odour that blackfly and greenfly can’t stand. Plant nasturtiums close to cabbages, sprouts and broccoli. The cabbage white butterfly prefers to lay its eggs on nasturtiums and the caterpillars will munch through these instead of your precious greens. The caterpillars will also be food for birds and you can eat the nasturtium flowers. Grow carrots and leeks together to ward of the dreaded carrot root fly. The onion smell of the leeks disguises the smell of carrots which are what these flies are attracted to.
Other companions to try are sage with carrots and cabbages to ward off pests, coriander to repel aphids from most crops, sunflowers to attract pollinating bees to runner beans and yarrow to attract hoverflies and ladybirds. A compost made of yarrow will also be rich in nutrients.
Not that long ago gardeners would reach for chemicals at the first sight of a pest or disease. We now know that many chemicals are harmful to wildlife and pose a threat to our own health. So grow your food in a healthy way. As well as attracting wildlife and companion planting, you can replace chemicals with much safer options.
Slugs and snails can be deterred from attacking your crops with a barrier of dried egg shells or ground coffee. They just don’t like the roughness on their skins. Little yogurt pots sunk into the ground and filled with cheap beer or lager will attract them and you will be regularly disposing of drowned or drunk slugs and snails.
Many of our worst pests can be controlled with biological control. These are usually creatures which are parasites of the pest. For example, you can buy products containing parasitic nematode worms to attack slugs, while aphids can be attacked by lacewings or ladybird larvae. There is an ever growing range of biological controls to use, but if you are attracting wildlife to your plot, you should hardly ever need to use them.