Grow your own: an easy guide to growing your own crop at home from scratch

If recent times have left you curious about how to grow your own, then we are here to help. You can grow veg on a balcony, or herbs indoors – this is how to get started

Grow your own
(Image credit: Getty Images)

This year, the desire to grow your own produce has surged – and not everyone who's getting involved even has a garden. There’s nothing quite like self-sufficiency and, while this may come as a surprise to you, you can grow your own vegetables, fruit, herbs and more, in all different types of outdoor space, and indoors too. 

So, whether you’ve an enormous garden full of raised beds waiting for you to get your hands dirty, or if you’re curious to see what you can grow from scratch indoors, in a small garden or even on your tiny city balcony – our tips will help you pair the right growing spot, with easy to grow vegetables to make for exceptional and delicious results. 

For more garden ideas and inspiration for all types of outdoor space, be sure to visit our feature.

Pick your spot

tomatoes and marigolds

(Image credit: Leigh Clapp)

The amount of space and light levels of your chosen growing spot will be the determining factor in what you grow, and you need to understand how much room you can offer each plant to grow in, before you get started. You need to treat plants a little like royalty, as if they feel cramped, then you can’t guarantee that they will produce as well as they may have done! To understand how much space each vegetable or fruit plant will need, check the seed packet and then select your pots, containers or garden bed accordingly because this will make your life a heck of a lot easier!

Select your seeds

How to plant seeds

(Image credit: Getty Images)

When choosing what to plant, try and keep things simple, especially if you’re a beginner. The concept of growing your own produce is beyond exciting and believe us, the want to start ALL the seeds and to plant all the veg going in your local garden centre will be strong, but you must resist. Work with what you have, start small and with experience you’ll be able to know what you and your space can take on for success, every time.

Best places to buy fruit and veg for containers

All of the following offer seeds and saplings to get your started, plus the containers if you don't have anything to grow them in already.

  • If you do have enough outside space to create a booming kitchen garden then be sure to use our guide.

Grow your own in pots and containers

Here is a list of easy to grow vegetables and herbs that will do well in containers or even grow bags, making them perfect for small outdoor spaces, balconies and courtyard gardens.

Matt James also recommends: 

'Try salad leaves such as ‘Saladini’ and baby leaf spinach in shallow trays. For baskets and window boxes, choose trailing tomatoes, such as ‘Tumbler’ and ‘Garden Pearl’. Perpetual strawberries also grow well in deep boxes, but regular watering is essential – ‘Mara des Bois’ and ‘Aromel’ varieties are suitable.'

'Courgettes and dwarf runner beans (namely ‘Hestia Dwarf’) crop well in large tubs. In very hot sunny spots, sweet peppers and aubergine are good, as are herbs such as basil and sage. Early potatoes (try ‘Swift’ or ‘Charlotte’) are a doddle to grow with peat-free compost in an old compost bag or plastic dustbin.'

Grow your own on a windowsill

Here are some of the easiest additions to an indoor garden if you only have a windowsill or two to spare! The upside, of course, is that you will have your produce close by when cooking!

  • Salad
  • Mushroomshow to grow mushrooms
  • Garden herbs 
  • Peppers, especially chilli peppers and other small varieties

Grow your own in a garden bed

While these can all be started off indoors, should you have outdoor space like a garden or an allotment available, you should make use of it! These picks will best thrive outdoors in a spacious garden bed. Be sure to read our beginner's guide to vegetable gardening to help get your plot off the ground.

Pest-proof plants

Make your life even easier by opting for plants that are more unlikely (but not exempt) to suffering from pests and common plant diseases. All of the following are also easy to grow according to garden expert: Matt James.

Grow your own: from seed

This is a really cheap, rewarding option, but be aware that growing from seed takes a little more care and attention. The key is to use good quality seed and cutting compost (preferably peat-free), then there are a couple of different ways to sow your seeds and to help them germinate. 

How to sow seeds

1. Take as many seed trays as you need, with drainage holes. Fill them with the compost leaving an inch or two below the surface of the tray as you’ll be adding more compost on top. 

2. The next step comes down to your gardening style, you can a) evenly distribute your seeds one by one using a piece of folded (paper airplane style) paper, leaving an inch between each seed (yes you read that correctly!). Or, you can b) go freestyle and scatter your seeds (as evenly as possible using this more liberating method). The former option will simply make life easier when you come to thin out your seedlings, and those of us that like a little visual uniformity will really enjoy the result too. 

3. Then cover lightly with a layer of compost and water (using the tip below within the seedling care section).

Note: if you’re growing herbs indoors, you can do this straight into a small pot or container to start with, before planting out into a larger pot or garden bed if you wish. 

4. Once done, your trays will need to sit in a warm and sunny (but not scorching) spot. A windowsill or greenhouse is perfect, while propagators will get things going even quicker. If you’re sowing seed outside, you can use the broadcast method or sow in rows, check out our vegetable gardening guide if you're looking to perfect a bigger garden plot.

Seedling care:

Germination

This varies between fruit and vegetable plants but it can take anything from 4-6 weeks, provided that you have sown them in their peak season. If you are using a propagator, you may see sprouting in as little as a couple of weeks – very exciting.

Thinning out

You’ll need to do this when your seedlings are big enough to handle. You can use a teaspoon to help lift the seedling from the tray, transport it then gently to your (ready prepared) container or other growing medium to plant out.

Watering

Watering your seeds is essential and there is a fine line between optimum moisture levels and water-logging which will essentially drown them. Treat the seeds delicately, especially in the first few days, and water them either using a gentle flowing watering can, so as not to disturb the soil too much, or you can sit the trays in a pan of water until the top of the soil looks glossy, at which point they are very much watered.

Pro gardening tips

Every fruit, herb and vegetable you grow yourself will be a new experience but here are a couple of Q&A gardening tips, courtesy of Matt James, to help you out.

Q. My tomatoes failed miserably with blight last year. How can I stop it from reoccurring?

A. Tomato blight is most common in warm, wet weather. Outdoor tomatoes are much more susceptible to infection, with greenhouse crops less so. Symptoms include a watery rot on the leaves, which quickly collapse, brown lesions on the stems and patchy brown fruit.

tomatoes on the vine with blight

Prevention is the key. Water only at the base of the plant — water left on the leaves encourages the disease. Open up your greenhouse vents on hot days and never grow potatoes and tomatoes together, as blight affects them both. Bordeaux mixture is a useful fungicide for preventative treatment, but is not suitable for organic gardeners.

Tomato varieties such as ‘Fantasio F1’, ‘Legend’, ‘Ferline’ and ‘Losetto’ offer some resistance to blight — try these instead.

Q. Does sowing early mean earlier crops?

A. In short, no. Plants need both warm temperatures and suitable light levels to grow strongly, so don’t sow too early (or too late), otherwise crops will fail to establish well. Follow the instructions on the packet.

Growing crops under cover – a cloche, cold frame or greenhouse – will mean that they bulk up more quickly, though.

Courgettes and dwarf runner beans (namely ‘Hestia Dwarf’) crop well in large tubs. In very hot sunny spots, sweet peppers and aubergine are good, as are herbs such as basil and sage. Early potatoes (try ‘Swift’ or ‘Charlotte’) are a doddle to grow with peat-free compost in an old compost bag or plastic dustbin.

Q. What kind of crops can I grow up the walls that surround my courtyard garden?

A. For sunny walls, try squash, pumpkin (‘One Two Many’ is prolific), climbing French beans (‘Cobra’ is good), and espaliered dessert apples and pears.

a child watering plants in modular wall planters

‘Living wall’ modular planters, from £22.49 each, Woolly Pocket

In a hot spot try a Brown Turkey fig, although it will need space. For shady walls (less than five hours of sun a day), grow acid cherries (‘Nabella’) and cooking apples. A vertical growing system or ‘living wall’ is also an all-weather option.

Q. Can I still use old seed if past the use-by date?

A. No harm will come from using old seeds, but you won’t get such a good germination rate. With larger seeds, try sinking them in water — if more than half float to the top, then use a fresh packet.

For small seed, sow a pinch in an envelope of damp kitchen towel, then place in a plastic bag in a warm spot. If after 7–10 days less than half have germinated, buy a new packet.

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