Growing fruit and veg is becoming increasingly popular, especially in urban environments, with more of us falling in love with gardening and wanting to spend more time amongst nature. Eliza Nicholas from Rocket Garden Design talks us through her top tips for growing veg at home in an eco-friendly way.
Aside from sustainable gardening being good for our own physical and mental wellbeing, it can be positive for the environment too.
Growing your own food is sustainable
Growing your own food means buying fewer supermarket greens wrapped in plastic packaging, many of which have been flown thousands of miles from around the world.
You’ll also find yourself eating more seasonally, picking and eating fruits and vegetables as they grow throughout the year.
The abundance of greenery in vegetable patches and herb gardens also provides much needed pollen for insects such as bees and butterflies, supporting local wildlife.
If you’re keen to start growing fruit and veg and want to create a sustainable garden, these eco-friendly tips will give you some ideas of how you can look after the planet/
1. Sow seeds in recycled packaging
There are lots of alternatives to plastic plant pots and plastic seed trays (which usually aren’t recycled).
Growing vegetables from seed is extremely satisfying, helping you appreciate the plant’s lifecycle and the process of nurturing from a tiny seedling to harvesting your produce.
Avoid buying unnecessary plastic pots or trays by starting off your seedlings in recycled packaging from around the house.
Egg boxes, yoghurt pots, jars and clean ice cream tubs are just a few ideas that work well.
As long as you provide good quality compost with sufficient watering and drainage, seeds happily germinate in most containers positioned in a sunny spot.
2. Grow a miniature garden in a bath or basin
Once your seedlings have established and strong young plants are growing, you’ll need to transplant them to provide more space for roots and growth.
If you’re growing a selection of herbs, try creating a miniature herb garden in an upcycled sink.
Alternatively, a selection of salads planted up in a reused crate works really well. Compact ideas such as these are especially effective in small spaces that can’t accommodate a large veg patch.
You can get creative with upcycling other containers, vessels and furniture, as long as you maintain optimal growing conditions for each plant. Unusual ideas can add charm and interest to your garden, as well as saving you money and re-using items that might otherwise have been thrown out.
3. Garden vertically in small spaces
Gardeners without much outdoor space should consider plants that grow vertically, rather than requiring lots of ground space, to maximise produce.
Tomatoes, beans, peas, cucumbers and melons are all great plants that will grow vertically.
These plants often require supports or a structure to grow up, so try collecting the straightest sticks you can find and making your own wigwams, tied together with biodegradable twine.
It’s a great activity and gives a rustic look to your garden. If you’re keen on growing root vegetables, such as beetroot or carrots, try growing a small number in an old wheelbarrow or deep container.
4. Start a compost bin
The benefits of composting are endless, no matter what size your garden or balcony. Composting is the perfect way to reduce food waste, while producing a nutritious matter to help your garden grow well.
Larger gardens may have space for a compost heap, where vegetable peelings and swept leaves can be accumulated to break down over time.
Smaller spaces or city gardens, there are compact composting options available like this one, with kits and instructions to help even a high-rise home to create its own compost. You could even try a DIY wormery.
Vegetable peelings, fruit skins, plastic free tea bags, plant cuttings and even some types of cardboard can be composted, but most animal products should not be added.
5. Collect rain water
Don’t waste what we get naturally. Natural rain water is the best option for keeping your plants strong and healthy, avoiding the chemicals and minerals and microplastics that are often end up in to tap water.
Water butts are usually inexpensive and come in many sizes to suit all different spaces. Alternatively, make your own to collect rain water.
Needless to say, adding non-organic fertilisers to water and plants can increase the levels of chemicals going into the soil and consequently, your produce.
6. Be prepared to learn and grow (yourself)
It is easy to become disheartened if your plants die or don’t succeed first time.
However, once you accept that gardening and vegetable growing is a constant learning process, with inevitable ups and downs, it’s easier to see it as a journey rather than a ‘win or lose’ outcome.
Try experimenting with your vegetables, putting plants of the same variety in different places or containers to understand where they grow best.
It’s always good to sow or buy several of the same plant each season to allow for those that are weaker or are lost to slug or snail damage. However, take care not to overwhelm yourself by trying to grow too many things if you’re new to gardening.
Select a few vegetables and perhaps a selection of herbs, then work your way up with time and experience.
7. Design with plants that suit your space
Once you get to know the conditions your space provides and have a good understanding of vegetable growing, you can start to think more about the appearance of plants and how they fit into the style of your home and garden.
Think about the colours of flowers and leaves, and the impact each plant creates. Some types of cabbage and kale can grow to an impressive size, with attractive deep green or purple leaves full of texture and interest. In the herb garden, lavender and sage both have lilac flowers and silvery foliage.
You may like to match your plants with similar tones, or create contrast with the white and yellow of chamomile, the orange of courgette flowers, or the bright orange of runner bean blooms.
Some flowers are edible, while others are not, so always take care to research or ask an expert which parts of a plant are safe for human consumption.
For first time growers, there’s so much excitement and pride in growing and eating your own produce.
For more experienced gardeners, there’s always more to try, varieties to experiment with, and ways to improve the productivity of your space.
Whichever category you fall into, it’s magical to experience the gentle development of a garden, understanding nature on a new level and being mindful about produce and the part it plays in our wellbeing.
Gardening in a mindful and sustainable way will offer a wide range of benefits, from your own positive wellbeing to supporting local wildlife and playing a part in taking care of the wider environment.
Eliza Nicholas is the founder of Rocket Garden Design, an initiative prioritising wildlife and wellbeing. Based in London, she helps people discover their green fingers and create spaces that bring them closer to nature, as well as running workshops around the UK. Follow her on Instagram.