How to grow and get your 5-a-day

Summertime is the most celebratory season of all. The days stretch happily into the night and the sun rises earlier. Appetites are satiated with fresh veggie nibbles, ice cream, and the juicy flavourful sweetness of summer fruit. Fresh snack veggies from the garden are the best. What’s better than eating your 5-a-day? Growing them yourself. All you need is a little patch of garden and a few other basics from your local GCA Garden Centre.  

What you will need to grow your own 5-a-day veggie garden:

  • Carrot seeds
  • Radish seeds
  • Lettuce seeds
  • Tomato seeds
  • Cucumber seeds
  • Seedling trays or egg boxes
  • Seedling growing mix
  • Vermiculite
  • Stakes and budding tape for the tomato plant
  • Compost
  • Fertiliser (for veggies)
  • Name tags and/or label for garden

Let’s get growing:

Step 1: Grow your seedlings in trays

Each seedling tray needs its own label or sign to remind you which veggie you planted in each tray. Start by filling each cup of the seedling tray about ¾ of the way with seedling mix. These vegetable seeds are all very small, they don’t need to be buried in a hole. Instead, sprinkle a few (4 or 5 seeds) onto the seedling mix in each cup. The seeds must then be covered with vermiculite.

Step 2: Getting the seeds to germinate

The soil should be kept moist, the easiest way to do this is with a spray bottle rather than water. Light morning sun will encourage the seedlings to germinate quickly.  

Step 3: Transplanting seedlings into the garden
After a few weeks, you will see little green leaves appearing. Keep them hydrated and make sure they get a few hours of gentle sunlight every day. Once your seedlings are a couple of centimetres tall, they can be transplanted into the garden.

Step 4: Prepare the planting area
The day before you plant your seedlings, water the soil in the area you’ve selected, thoroughly. When you plant the seedlings, use as much good quality compost as you can. Mix it evenly into your garden bed ensuring it’s equally distributed. These seedlings like a full-sun position but they will also tolerate light or dappled shade for short periods during the day.

  • Make sure you plant your seedlings in such a way that they have enough room to grow and spread comfortably.
  • Plant your carrots in rows that are around 30-40cm apart. A note though, that carrots are best when they are when sown in-situ and not transplanted.
  • Plant your radishes around 3cm from each other in rows, with around 30cm between rows.
  • Lettuce seedlings need at least 40cm between each other, especially if you are growing iceberg lettuce.
  • Tomato seedlings grow into sizable bushes, they need 40-50cm around them to grow into. They will also need a stake or a cage to grow onto for support. You can use supporting tape or plant ties to secure the plants to the stakes until they are strong enough to continue growing up the stakes on their own.
  • Plant cucumbers around 40cm apart and ensure they have a trellis or strong stakes to grow up.

Step 5: The bountiful harvest

You will have to ensure your seedlings get regular water. You’ll also need to keep the garden bed neat and clear of weeds. Within a few weeks, you will be able to harvest your own fresh produce! You can tell the lettuce is ready if the inner leaves have formed a round “head”. You can either pull a few leaves off and add them to your sandwiches, or you can cut the whole lettuce off. If you feel under the head, you will find a stem that goes into the ground. If you cut that, you have the full lettuce. The plant might even grow you another lettuce if you leave the roots in the ground.

Carrots are ready for harvest when there’s about 1cm of the carrot’s shoulder peeping out from under the ground. It’s usually after about 75 days of growing. Carrots are a delicious snack to enjoy as soon as you have washed off the dirt.

Radishes are similar to carrots, you can tell they’re ready for harvesting when a piece of the shoulder is sticking out of the ground. Radishes are also lovely crunchy snacks to eat on the go, or you can add them to a soup.

Tomatoes are the most enjoyable crop to harvest. You can tell when they’re ready by their gorgeous red colour. They can also be harvested when they are yellow and in the process of turning red. You can wipe them down and pop in your mouth right there in the garden. Homegrown tomatoes have a unique sweetness to them that you can never find in store-bought varieties.

Cucumbers, like carrots, take around 70 days to ripen. You can tell they’re ready to pick when they are around 15cm in length. Cucumbers are delicious on sandwiches or they can be sliced and munched as they are.

Your very own garden

Get the kids to take a photo of their garden’s progress each day. It’s fantastic to remember what your plants looked like when you first got started and how far they have come. Picking your own lunch for school is a great way to make the most of your clever vegetable garden, and a very exciting prospect for children. Then, get them to try different recipes and write them down - they could even share them with their friends!

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