With food prices on the rise you’d be daft not to use your lawn care knowledge to grow your own fruit and veg. Here’s how.
- Give the plants what they need and in return, they’ll give you want you need.
- Care for the soil beneath the plants.
- Feed your plants regularly with the right mix of nutrients.
- Work with Mother Nature, not against her.
- Learn to enjoy wonky veg.
Give Plants What They Need
Anyone who is passionate about lawn care will have a basic understanding of the principal that when you give plants what they need, you’ll reap the reward. With lawns, we nurture the soil, add extra nutrients to replace what we take away by mowing, and we try to ensure that the plants have enough sunlight and water. Growing fruit and veg is more or less the same. Only instead of mowing, we’re harvesting and instead of letting the plants become dormant during a drought, we keep watering them. Nobody wants their beans to shrivel due to lack of maintenance!
Some fruit and veg plants have slightly different requirements to lawns though. For a start, many vegetable plants are tender annuals. Which means they need protection from frost. Some, like tomatoes and cucumbers, ripen better in really warm conditions, which is why gardeners tend to grow them in greenhouses. And most common veggies, such as carrots and potatoes are one-offs. Unlike lawns, we’re not trying to keep them alive for more than 3-6 months. Once they’re gone they’re gone.
For permanent planting – soft fruits and perennial veggies, we have similar ‘rules’ to lawn care. Feed them well, keep the weeds at bay and prune when needed.
Caring For The Soil Beneath Food Plants
The one big difference between growing lawns and growing food is that with fruit and vegetable plants, we have easier access to the soil beneath them. Which means of course that it’s easier to manage compaction and to improve the ‘heart’ of the soil.
Instead of adding 1-2cm of topdressing a year as we do in lawncare, we can give fruit and veg plants a lovely deep mulch of nutritious compost or well rotted manure. Mulching of course, has the added advantages of helping to retain soil moisture and suppressing weeds. And if you use leafmould, garden compost or manure, you are not only adding organic matter to the soil, you are enriching it with the microscopic life forms that do so much to nurture plant health.
Feed Your Fruit And Veg When You Feed Your Lawn
Apart from a few specialists feeders such as blueberries (which need a specific soil type), most fruit and veg enjoy similar nutrients to your lawn. However, some need those nutrients in different proportions.
When we’re nurturing a lawn, we want our primary focus is on growing leaves and roots. We’re not interested in seeds or fruits. But our food crops are different. Yes, we need enough leaf to harvest energy from the sun and make sugars to sweeten the flavour, but we also want the maximise the yield of those edible plants. That may be fruit (tomatoes, pumpkins etc), it may be seeds (sweetcorn, peas, beans), leaves (lettuce, cabbage, chard) or it may be roots (carrot, turnip, radish, potato)
If you want to save money by using your lawn feed in your veg patch – be very aware of the nutrient levels. Use a nitrogen rich spring-summer formulation for leafy veg, but stick to an autumn-winter formula for crops where you want to maximise production of fruits, seeds and roots.
One great lawn care staple I would recommend for growing your own fruit and veg is seaweed extract. All of those glorious micronutrients will help keep your plants in tip top condition. It will boost the plants’ immune system and help to fend off diseases.
Most importantly, as we know from our lawns, seaweed extract encourages production of chlorophyll – the green colouring in leaves. Chlorophyll is crucial for photosynthesis – in other words turning sunshine into sugar. If you want the tastiest tomatoes and the sweetest sweetcorn, then be sure to apply seaweed to your veg patch. Wash veg thoroughly before you eat them though – just in case seaweed extract is not as good for people as it is for plants.
Working With Nature
Every experienced lawn care enthusiast will confirm that life is much easier when you work with nature than if you try to fight her. When you are growing your own fruit and veg, it’s really important that you learn what each type of plant needs.
- Are they frost hardy? Do you need to keep seedlings under cover until the weather warms up?
- What about transplanting them? Some plants can be started in pots and then moved to the garden – others won’t thank you for disturbing them.
- Do the growing plants need to be staked or supported?
- Will they be affected by the plants growing around them? – tip – take a look at companion planting to discover a cheap way of keeping pests at bay.
- What about water? None of the lawn watering rules apply to veggies. Grass is a perennial that is well equipped to cope with drought. Not many food plants can do that. Some veggies such as squashes, courgettes and sweetcorn are incredibly thirsty, others are happy with moderate amounts of irrigation. Install water butts where you can and capture rainwater to use during dry conditions.
- What about light and shade? Just as with grass species, veggies all have different requirements for sunshine.
Learn To Enjoy Wonky Veg
Did you know that around one third of food grown on farms never makes it into the supermarkets because it’s the wrong shape or because it has small blemishes? So don’t expect that all of your tomatoes will be perfectly round, your carrots will be straight and your cabbages will be free from holes. Nature doesn’t care what things look like, the purpose of any plant is to reproduce, and you don’t need to look like a magazine picture to be able to do that.
Choosing your seed varieties carefully (just as you do for your lawn) will make a bit of a difference to the appearance of your crops. But if you are growing your own fruit and veg you will have the occasional comedy carrot or curly cucumber – it’s fine. It’ll still be fresher and tastier than shop bought food and it won’t take more than a moment to trim it.
So, will you be applying your lawn care knowledge to growing your own fruit and veg this year? I will.