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Growing easy edible plants

with Jack Wallington

Growing your own herbs, salad, edible flowers or vegetables is incredibly satisfying, and helps reduce food waste, food miles and plastic packaging. What’s not to love?

Whether you have a small patio, balcony or even no outdoor space, it’s possible to grow your own edibles. You may not produce enough to be self-sufficient but the reward of crispy lettuce and sweet tomatoes you’ve nurtured from seed is life enriching. 

The key is growing the right edible in the right spot; tomatoes won’t grow in shade, but mint will, for instance. I’ve grown herbs, cherry tomatoes, radish, chillies, peas, french beans and even aubergines in my small one bedroom ground floor flat and patio in South London. It’s all possible with some nifty thinking.  

To get you started, I’ve picked some easy to grow edibles that grow well in small spaces.

Over the years I’ve grown vegetables, herbs and fruit in the smallest, most unlikeliest of spaces from my tiny one bed flat in Clapham. As an urban garden designer, I’ve found most existing advice for growing produce totally disconnected from the realities of London life. To help, here are some of my top tips for growing your own, even with no garden at all!
 
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Herbs

Herbs grow well indoors, can be grown year-round and yield results quickly.

Think about your space when deciding what to grow. Thyme loves full sun and is small enough to grow in a window box, with pretty little flowers in early summer. For shade, mint is perfect in a large pot that never dries out; mint comes in lots of flavours, such as peppermint for teas and mojitos.

Note that mint has a tendency to take over, so plant it on it’s own. Rosemary, thyme and sage will grow well together in a large 40cm diameter pot.

Most herbs can be grown indoors or outdoors, in pots, window boxes or containers, and can be grown from seeds or bought as young plants. If buying young herb plants, get these from a local garden centre where they are grown to last, rather than from supermarkets.

If growing herbs outdoors remember that rain doesn’t water pots. Lack of water is the number one reason that plants in pots die, so keep an eye on them.

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Micro-leaves

Micro-leaves are a good place to start and are proof that anyone can grow something.

Micro-leaves are edible plants grown from seed and harvested shortly after they’ve started growing, when they have 4 - 6 leaves and are filled with flavour. As the mini suggests, they’re small and don’t need a lot of space.

If you remember growing cress as a child in trays or eggshells with faces on, the principle is the same: grow fast and sow regularly.

Top chefs around the world all grow them for the freshest tastes, including kale, mustard, pea shoots, basils, amaranth and coriander; check out Marshall Seeds for more.

 
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Chives

Chives are one of the easiest plants to grow indoors year-round as they tolerate lower light and change in temperatures.

Both the leaves and flowers are edible with a mild oniony taste for giving salads and other meals flavour.

Chives can also be grown directly outdoors and as larger plants.

The flowers give a lovely dash of colour to your home or garden.

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Lettuce

Green and purple ‘cut and come again’ lettuce works well for small spaces as you can keep picking leaves around the plant and more grows.

Seeds can be sown in trays or window boxes, inside and out, in direct sun for some or all of the day.

If you don’t have enough direct sunshine you can buy grow lamps from Ikea.

The lettuce will need replacing eventually, but will give you lots of joy before then.

 
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Edible flowers

Grow white and purple violas to brighten up your planter and your plate; their edible flowers are a perfect garnish for any meal or cool summer drink.

They can be grown in part shade (where they receive only a few direct hours of sunshine a day) though the more hours of sun they have, the happier they’ll be.

Keep them watered, never letting them dry out (though not sopping wet) and feed each week to ensure they grow for longer. As a seasonal planter, eventually the viola will run out of steam and replacements can be picked up easily from a local garden centre.

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Vegetables

Growing vegetables works best in a sunny spot outside, although there are a few vegetables that can be grown inside too.

I’ve grown cherry tomatoes, aubergines, peas and french beans in 40cm diameter pots on my small patio, by choosing dwarf varieties and having only 3 plants in each pot.

These need direct sun so if you don’t have much of this, try growing chard and dwarf kales, both are amazing for their look, taste and longevity.

Chillies can be grown indoors in pots on a sunny windowsill and strawberries do well in hanging baskets.

 

My final tips to get you growing

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Know your soil and choose peat free compost.

Read the plant label or seed pack for handy info on what type of growing matter your plant favours. Avoid peat compost which destroys natural peat wildlife habitats.

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Water well.

Both too much and too little water will kill your plants. There is no magic formula but learn how to water and you can grow anything.

Click here for more tips on clever watering. 

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Feed your plants.

Most plants will be grateful for a bit of feed once in a while. I use organic seaweed fertilizer but remember that this is strong so use only once a fortnight. 

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Make the most of your space.

If you have a tiny but sunny balcony or patio you can use hanging baskets or build a living wall. Why not make your own plant pot to create something unique that works for your space? Click here for inspiration.

 
 

Watch how it’s done