Is it worth growing my own food?
People often ask me if growing your own food is worth is and if you save money? In the past I have always said that it depends on what you grow. If you are growing carrots then maybe not (but they will taste better, be more convenient and fresher) but if you are growing soft fruit, tomatoes, green leaves, to mention a few, I would say yes. At the moment there are shortages of some foods and so I am ensuring that if they continue, that they will not impact on my diet or my budget.
The price of vegetables and salad products has rocketed recently. This is the time of year when I start sowing my crops in doors. There is nothing better than the excitement of seeing your seedling poking through and the expectations of what they will become. It still amazes me that these little seedlings are going to provide me with loads of food during the summer.
Why don’t my seeds always germinate and grow well?
Sometimes, though, germination does not occur. There are various reasons that seedling do not do well and here are just a few that I can think of off the top of my head.
- Do not sow your seeds too early unless you have space for them to remain inside for a while. I do start my seeds off early to prolong the growing season but I have heat mats that warm up the soil before I sow the seeds. Things like peppers and tomatoes need a certain temperature to germinate. I also have a lot of room in my conservatory to keep the seedlings inside when they start getting bigger. They used to take over the dining room table in there but I now have 2 sets of shelves on wheels to place the plants on.
- The wrong growing medium. I tend to use a mixture of mainly old compost and some vermiculite as the mixture does not want to be too rich, and needs to be able to drain and not hold on to too much liquid as can rot the roots. This however is not recommended as it can introduce disease to your crop and so I am careful which soil I use. I would not use a soil that had already grown that crop in. I also sieve it so that it has no pests in. I do this as I can not afford new growing medium every year. Garden soil is too heavy and using potting mix or compost is not recommended by professional gardeners, but I have used both and they have worked when I could not afford to buy vermiculite. It is said that seedlings will not do as well but mine did well enough for me. I just made sure that I did not over water the seedlings. I used a spray to mist them.
- Not reading the packet instructions. It is important to find out how deep the seeds need to be planted and how many seeds to plant to a pot. This way you will have better results. If you sew seeds too close to each other they will complete for the nutrients and the light, and some seeds need to be sown close to the surface whereas some prefer a good layer of soil covering them. Some plants also like cooler soil, like lettuce, whilst others like it warmer. Some plants need sowing outside where you are going to grow them whilst others do not mind being transplanted.
- Not labelling seeds. This is a mistake that I have made a lot of times, especially when I have transplanted them. It is a good idea to use an indelible pen as I have had the writing on my labels disappear with watering. I use old lolly sticks or strips cut from a milk carton to label my seeds. Sometimes I will just stick a label on the container if I am using a recycled plastic fruit carton or something. I remember planting cosmos on my allotment instead of fennel one year as I did not identify it correctly and it was not labelled.
- Over watering the seedlings and seeds. The seeds and seedlings will rot if left to stand in water. I use a mister and keep a top or cling film on the top of the growing medium after I have sown the seeds. This keeps the moisture in so that I do not need to water them and it also keeps them warm. Once they have sprouted I take it off. It is recommended that you water seedling from below as they can be damaged from below.
- Poor lighting. Window sills are not the best places to grow your seedlings as they need lots of light. I have had years when I have not had a choice. I grow a lot of my seedling in my conservatory or my greenhouse now but I do still put some on my south facing window ledges. These tend to stretch and grow towards the light and so I make sure that I turn them every morning. If you have grow lights that is even better but with the cost of energy and the upfront cost I have not felt that they would be a good investment for me as I have plenty of places to grow my seedlings. If my seedlings do get a bit ‘leggy’, I plant them nearly up to their first leaves when I repot them.
- Not Potting up or thinning . The seedlings will not thrive if they are overcrowded and so it important to thin them out. I hate waste and so I don’t throw any away, I just transplant them into another container. I must admit I leave some seedlings a bit crowded longer than others as this holds some of my crops back a bit so that they are not all ready at the same time and I can prolong the season. Some larger plants like tomatoes or courgettes might need potting on a few times as if they are left in small pots they will become pot bound and their roots will have no room to grow. This stunts their growth.
- Planting outside too early. I live in Yorkshire and our frosts last until May and so I am very wary about planting my plants outside. I always harden plants off first which means that I let them get used to the conditions outside. This involves them spending time outside during the day on sunny days and bringing them in at night, or spending time in the greenhouse or cold frames where they have some protection from the weather. It is not a good idea to plant something outside that has only being used to the warmth of a house.
Try not to worry if your seeds do not germinate the first time or if you are late sowing seeds as plants are really good at catching up.