Keen to grow your own fruit and veg? These gardening books should help you get started, says Ella Walker.
The garden can be a bewildering place if the last thing you grew from seed was a straggly tray of cress on a bed of cotton wool, back in primary school.
Starting again from scratch may mean you don’t have the kit, don’t really know a seedling from a sapling or a weed from something edible, and the chances of you planting and harvesting your crops at the correct time of year, on the first attempt at least, is next to nil.
Even if you have a little snatched knowledge gleaned from your green-fingered parents or Monty Don on Gardener’s World, it can take a frustratingly long time to get your bearings, let alone become a master at evading slugs, or making the black gold that is compost.
And what if you don’t even have a garden? What if you’re limited to a blank square of concrete balcony, or a skinny kitchen windowsill? Can you still grow your own, even in such a limited amount of space?
Of course, you could just ask the internet all these questions, and let the ether tell you exactly when to sow, pot on and plant – but have you ever tried unlocking your phone in the glare of the sun, while wearing compost covered gardening gloves? It’s really not that easy.
So instead, pore over one of these illuminating veg guides, and may your patch of green be forever more filled with slug-free courgettes and hot pink radishes…
1. Grow Food For Free by Huw Richards (£16.99, DK)
Bargain hunters will appreciate this thrifty book. Organic veg champion and former child YouTuber Huw Richards explains how to build up your stash of gardening equipment – be it tools (milk bottles can become incredibly helpful scoops), your compost bin (make one out of wooden pallets), or fertiliser options (manure can often be picked up for free from farmers) – through bartering, borrowing and making do. He’s got nifty tips on propagating and taking cuttings to create brand new, totally free plants, and still gets you up to speed with the basics of fruit and veg growing.
2. Grow & Cook by Mark Diacono (£10.99, Headline Home)
This handy paperback is colour and picture-free, but author Mark Diacono – who’s a food writer, farmer, cook and photographer, as well as a River Cottage alumna – has a straightforward style that’s easy to follow, and peppers his instructions with snippets from his own veg growing adventures. He talks you through more than 180 varieties of fruit and veg – from when to start them off, to how to space them, and when to start picking and eating them – and mixes familiar staples, like squash, chilli peppers and blackcurrants, with the much more exotic, like pineapple guava, boysenberries, small-leaved lime and Tasmanian mountain pepper – whatever that is.
3. How To Grow Stuff by Alice Vincent (£12.99, Ebury Press)
If you consume most of your greenery content via Instagram – think architecturally magnificent cheese plants splayed against white walls, artfully posed herbs in old tinned tomato cans, and ferns suspended in macrame hangers – you’ll appreciate How To Grow by Alice Vincent (find her at @noughticulture). Ideal for urban gardeners with little space to play with, it offers a crash course in nurturing herbs, salad leaves, tomatoes, chillies and courgettes (as well as a few flowers for your window boxes). They’re ingredients that will pep up your lunch but won’t require much digging, and helpfully, Vincent is all for making the most – and extending the lifespan – of seeds and plants that are readily found in the supermarket (looking at you, basil and mint).
4. The Ten-Minute Gardener by Val Bourne (£9.99, Bantam Press)
This little book has the power to encourage you to take the 10 minutes you were going to spend scrolling on your phone, and apply it to the outside world. Author Val Bourne – writer, lecturer and organic gardener – breaks down the swift jobs you can do month-by-month, and cheers you on to exploit every last usable scrap of daylight, by making even the smallest outdoors jobs seem achievable, and worth being proud of. The Ten-Minute Gardener should provide inspiration for those just starting out, and help those with much too busy lives – but hardy green fingers – to maximise every moment they have to plough into their fruit and veg, without becoming overwhelmed by all there is to get done.
5. Veg In One Bed by Huw Richards (£14.99, DK)
Keen to ‘grow an abundance of food in one raised bed’? You’re not alone. This manual from Huw Richards (the man’s a veg growing wunderkind) is a massive bestseller, and could be the nudge you need if you have a raggedy-looking veg bed, or a suitable slice of earth that’s desperate for attention. Learn what plants should fill what gaps when, and how to cycle through different veggies as the seasons progress, so you stay consistently well fed throughout.
6. RHS Step-by-Step Veg Patch: A Foolproof Guide To Every Stage Of Growing Fruit And Veg by Lucy Chamberlain (£16.99, DK)
If there’s one thing a newbie veg grower needs to know, it’s that the RHS is about to become your most trusted resource and beloved touchstone. Guaranteed. The RHS website is good, but words on a paper page often hold more gravitas, and this newly updated version of a step-by-step classic guide will have you turning tiny seeds into carrots, onions and aubergines in no time.