Grow Your Own

The Trials and Tribulations of a First Time Vegetable Grower

A couple of years ago I decided to have a go at growing a few fruit plants and vegetables in containers, mainly from seed.  I thought it would be an interesting hobby, reduce food miles and be healthy and satisfying.

Mixed planting of marigolds and Maskotka tomatoes
Mixed pot of French marigolds and Maskotka variety tomatoes

I even thought it might save some money.  Ha ha – how wrong that turned out to be!  My vague interest quickly turned into a full blown obsession, and I dread to think how much I spent on pots, compost, growbags, water butts, tools, plants and seeds, a VegTrug……and eventually a greenhouse.

Greenhouse frame
Greenhouse in the course of construction

I did have a lot of fun, though.  As a complete beginner I made many mistakes, but also learned a lot.

Among the biggest mistakes were:

  • Starting too early – the seeds germinated fine, but we don’t have any south-facing window ledges, and many seedlings just became leggy due to insufficient light.
  • Watering too much – many seedlings and young plants rotted – I was just trying too hard.
  • Setting things too densely.  It is hard to leave sufficient room between seedlings when you have a limited number of smallish pots.  I find ‘thinning out’ hard – it seems such a shame to pull out seedlings that have successfully germinated.  It is also difficult to visualise just how much a tiny seedling will grow.
  • Trying to do too much.  I wanted to know how every vegetable imaginable would grow, and ended up with far more plants than I could actually manage.
  • Underestimating how much watering would be needed in the height of summer.  Some hot days I spent literally hours watering, and I was worried about being away from home  in case the plants wilted.  A Hozelock system is definitely on the cards for this year.


Grow Your Own with Harrod Horticultural


But I did have some successes.  The chilli plants did really well, and in addition to using them fresh I was able to dry and freeze enough to last the entire winter (Walt, my partner, absolutely loves chillies.   I have to be a bit more cautious – homegrown ones are seriously hot!)

Super Chili F1
Super Chilli F1

The blueberry bush was satisfyingly productive, and I was amazed how successful the broccoli plants were (until the caterpillars arrived and destroyed the crop).

Cabbage white caterpillars
Unwelcome visitors

And I was surprised and pleased to succeed in growing some lovely little Baby Belle aubergines, which were great in pasta dishes and stir fries (and very attractive plants).

Baby Belle aubergines
Baby Belle aubergines

I grew several varieties of tomatoes in pots and a growhouse (see photo of greenhouse above).  Despite doing nearly everything wrong I had a surprisingly good crop (and they tasted great).  I did make the mistake of growing too many bush varieties that produce their crop all at once, so for a few weeks we were completely overwhelmed.  We used loads in homemade pasta dishes, soup, salads and sandwiches, but still had to give a lot away.

Mixed tomato varieties
One of many tomato crops

Lettuces and salad leaves were also very successful – we didn’t have to buy any bags of leaves for months.  And we got a few decent carrots.

Nantes variety carrots
Nantes variety carrots

A few other things did grow really well, but I decided they were just too much effort for too little return.  Like beetroot, for example.  Plenty grew, but they were tiny and such a lot of effort to cook and prepare.   And I actually prefer the ones I buy in a jar for less than a pound from M&S.

I managed to grow a couple of cauliflowers, but these turned out to be huge plants which produced tiny loose heads.  This was probably down to my lack of expertise, but again it was just not worth the space and effort for me.

So now it is time to plan this year’s efforts, and start sowing seeds.   After learning from last year’s excesses, I will be more selective with what I grow, and will hopefully have learned from previous mistakes.

I will let you know how I get on.  And any tips from more experienced growers would be more than welcome………

Ring of Fire Chillies
Ring of Fire chillies

Tell us your thoughts