Tips for first time Vegetable growers – By Andy Hamilton

Andy Hamilton
Andy Hamilton

If you have just started to grow your own fruit and vegetables it can be a fairly daunting task, before you run out and buy a book (such as ours) you may want to have a glance over this article to get a bit of advice. Good luck and I hope you enjoy your garden for many more years.

What tools to buy

You will need a set of tools to start off with I would highly recommend looking for second hand tools. It is not cost effective to buy cheap tools as they break easily or are just not up to the job. You will need a spade, a fork, a rake a hand fork and a trowel; a hoe is very useful but not totally essential.

It is also worth thinking about getting some gardening gloves. I forgot mine whilst digging recently and managed to tear up my hands! A hose is also very useful, however I managed with a watering can last year and did not get my hose until towards the end of the growing season. The hose will save you a lot of time! I make do without a wheelbarrow at the moment although it would be very useful. I now have some secateurs but have found a knife will suffice for a lot of things. I also might suggest that you get a compost bin early on as the sooner you start to make compost the better.


If you do not plan to work straight away on a bit of land then cover it over with some mypex, old Hessian backed carpet* or thick cardboard. This will work as a weed retardant and and make your life much easier when you do start to work on your land. Some people cut slits in the carpet or plastic and grow their seedlings through these holes. You can do this and after three years you will not only have grown plenty of crops but you should have kept the weeds at bay too. Even the most persistent of weeds will die after having sunlight excluded from them for three years.

*Some councils have banned all carpet from allotment sites.

Sink some wood as a border on the sides of your plot too. This stop evasive weeds from growing in. Just the size of a normal plank of wood will do. I have chopped up an old chest of draws that fell apart and stuck it around my allotment.

If you are growing organically then I am afraid that you will need to do most of the weeding by hand or with a hoe. Try and catch the annual weeds whilst they are young before they can really take root.

Mulching is also an idea, put a 5cm (2 inch) layer of organic mulch between the seedlings. I use the wood shavings from my gerbil’s bedding, you can also buy bark or use old leaves (preferably shredded) for the same job. The mulch smothers the light from the weeds and keeps them from growing.

You might want to try flame gunning weeds too, they are ‘zapped’ for a second at 71C (160F). This will rupture the cell walls of the weeds. Please be careful when dealing with fire!

Seeds and seedlings

Why buy expensive seeds when you can buy a mature vegetable and use the seeds. I have successfully grown butternut squash from the seeds taken from a mature plant on a few occasions.

Soak the seeds overnight in a plant feed.

Most vegetables will benefit from growing them in pots first and use a good potting mix

When planting seedlings (in pots) place cling film (or any see through plastic, e.g. pre-prepared salad bags) over the top of the pot to act as a cheap propagator, remove this when the plant touches the cling film

Drench the roots with a plant feed before you replant outdoors. I did not do this with a crop and most of them died.

What to grow

People always ask this and I always answer whatever you eat! Potatoes are always a good idea as they are good for the soil. As you have to keep moving the soil up around them weeds are kept at bay also because you have to fork them out of the ground it is turned over again.

Courgettes I found easy and they are heavy croppers as is beet spinach (also known as perpetual spinach) this can be picked for months and it will keep growing new leaves. Broad beans, beetroot are also pretty easy to grow. I shall repeat though just grow what you like to eat, after all that is why you are reading this in the first place is it not?

My favorite plant is my rosemary plant as I bought if very cheaply, planted it and now it is huge. I will recommend getting some of the hardier herbs as they can be good to encourage you. Even if your vegetables are not cropping you will be able to pick a few leaves off your herbs plants. So they are good to keep your gardening interest up!


If you are working on a new allotment or garden then study the plants you already have, there maybe a gooseberry bush or rhubarb already growing on it.

Don’t be afraid to talk. Especially on a new allotment those people with the perfect allotments were once like you. They are generally a wealth of good information.

Use a good compost, if you don’t make your own try asking other gardeners if they have any spare. You will be surprised about how many people do want to help you.

Plant lavender to get rid of some pests

Plant yellow flowering plants to attract predators to get rid of aphids ect

To get rid of slugs put down egg shells or pistachio nut shells around your plants as slugs do not like rough surfaces – There are countless ways to help get rid of slugs – you may add to our list to try and reach 101 ways to get rid of slugs.

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