A few herbs in a pot, or a couple of tomato plants on the balcony can enhance your lifestyle and change the way you think about food. The joy of eating something you have grown yourself is one of life’s greatest pleasures, and fortunately with a little advice, something we can all achieve.
If you are starting out, raised beds and pots are the best place to start - they allow you to create good soil from the get-go, so you can avoid the task of trying to improve what you already have. Having good soil from the off will help you grow strong healthy plants, which will aid them in fending off pest and disease. This is fundamental in all organic growing. Healthy soil, happy plants.
If you decide on raised beds, build them to about seat height, 50cm or so - this will add an element of comfort to the jobs of planting, weeding and harvesting. Make the centre of your bed arm’s length from the edge, meaning you can reach into the middle without walking on the top, avoiding soil compaction – where vital space for air and water between particles is reduced. Wood is usually the cheapest and easiest material to build your raised beds from, but reclaimed bricks, blocks or corrugated tin can work as well. Avoid old railway sleepers, as they can leech toxic creosote into your soil.
A blend of roughly 60% top soil and 40% compost will give your plants a nice varied diet of mineral and organic matter. Be sure not to fill the bed up to the top as, in an ideal world, you will be adding more compost in following years. Adding compost is the most important job in the garden. When growing organically, we can’t rely on artificial fertiliser, so a good helping of compost each season is a must. Build the raised bed directly onto bare ground, allowing worms to colonise and water to drain away, much like a well-placed compost bin. There’s no need to line it. If you are growing in pots, make sure there are sufficient drainage holes and be aware that you will need to replenish the soil every two years or so, as nutrient depletion is inevitable.