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Allotments and food growing

Growing food at home

Tips for growing, storing and preserving fruit, vegetables and herbs

If you have ever wanted to try and grow your own or reduce your food waste, now seems to be the perfect time to start!

If you are unable to get out to the shops but want to start growing, you could try and cut off the root end of an onion, celery, carrot, leek, lettuce or spring onion.  Put it in a saucer or shallow dish of water and in a little while it should start to form roots.  Then it’s ready to be planted out into a pot with some compost or in a small patch of ground.

Lettuce and spring onions can be picked relatively quickly once planted out but give it a few weeks until they are a decent size.  The other vegetables will take a bit longer, but you will still have free food in the summer or autumn.

For the more adventurous among you we have provided some tips from our plotholders at South Lanarkshire allotments.

Cut the top off of a fresh pineapple (if you can get one), trim away any fruit flesh from the top and trim a few of the lower leaves.  Insert a couple of cocktail sticks or skewers at the side of the pineapple top (use four for support).  These can be used to suspend the pineapple over a jar of water with the base of the pineapple top slightly touching the water which should be topped up each day.  Roots should emerge in around 2 weeks and when the roots look well developed, the whole thing can be potted into compost and a healthy pineapple should grow.  Place on a sunny windowsill throughout the summer.

Insert 3 or 4 cocktail sticks into the avocado stone, about 2/3s of the way down, to the fatter base.  Again use these to support the stone above a jar of water, with the stone touching the water.  Water regularly and within around 2 weeks, a large shoot should emerge.  Once the shoot and roots are well developed, the plant can be potted up and placed in a sunny window and picked around September.

When buying compost it’s important to choose the peat free option. Peat is a super way to absorb carbon from the environment and act as a natural flood defence, and also is home to many important animals and plants. Extraction of peat from bogs is damaging to the environment and local biodiversity so going peat free is best.

You can still grow food if you can source packets of alfalfa seeds, wheatgrass, cress, broccoli. 

Just line a tray with a bit of wet paper towel. Place the seeds on the paper towel, sprinkle on the seeds and place on a sunny windowsill.

Keep the paper wet, all you need to do is check every day the paper is wet.  In a day or two you will see shoots begin to form.   You can leave them for a few days more to get a bit bigger, then they’re ready to eat. Superfood in days!

You can repeat this process as many times as you like to keep the microgreens coming.

Seeds are cheap and relatively easy to find as many supermarkets now stock seeds too. If not, have a look online. The seeds will have instructions on the back as to when to plant them.

However, there are also other places that you may be able to get free seeds - you could try looking for a local seed exchange online as some will post seeds out to you.  If not, try asking friends, family and neighbours who may have some to spare.

You can also harvest seeds from some of the food that you buy.  Easy ones to remove are courgette seeds, beans, peas, squashes, tomatoes, chillies. Leave them to dry out in a sunny spot before planting them in soil. Squashes and courgettes grow on vines and can take up a lot of room, so best to do these outside if you have the space but you can grow them on a pole or trellis too. Peas and beans can be grown in pots, but try to get bush varieties.

Garden centres don’t usually advise you to harvest seeds from shop bought vegetables, as the seeds may not be so robust and the plants could be more prone to disease, but nothing ventured, nothing gained so why not give it a go.

No outside space? Don’t worry. Many seeds can thrive if grown indoors in front of a sunny window.

Plant them up in pots, or anything that you can put soil in. As long as you make some holes in the bottom for drainage and keep them damp, they should do OK – and remember to put a tray below it to prevent leakage on to the windowsill!

Herbs are great for growing indoors. Basil, parsley, coriander and mint will all do well in pots or other containers.  Just sprinkle the seeds into compost filled reasonably sized pots, cover with a light layer of compost so the seeds are not visible. Then water the compost and leave them on a sunny windowsill. Remember to water them every few days. Just enough so the soil is damp. Once the leaves get to a couple of centimetres just pick them and use them.

Try and find some cut and come again or loose leaf mixed salad leaves, like mustard, spinach, Japanese salad, watercress and rocket.  Sprinkle them into a small tray of compost, water, and leave to grow in a sunny spot for a few weeks. Then simply pick some of the leaves when they get to a couple of centimetres. These will grow again, and you can just keep picking the leaves. No need to buy bags of salad anymore. You can have fresh salad right through the spring and summer.

If you are able to get access to an outdoor space like a balcony or a garden, you can also grow veg outdoors too. As well as growing in bags, fabric raised beds are a low cost option and are available from various companies online.

In Scotland particularly, some people grow tomato plants in a sunny window.  They can get quite large, so if you want to grow tomatoes indoors, try to get a bush variety. That will do better in a pot and should not grow massively tall.

Pot up individual seeds in a small pot. You can use an egg box compartment for this, or you could use a toilet roll tube, just slit the bottom third in three places and fold the ends up to form a bottom. Some people even use egg shells from their boiled egg.

The egg shell will rot away when potted on and provide extra nutrients for the plants. With all these methods you can just plant the whole thing straight into a bigger pot, or plant into the ground.

Keep tomatoes in a warm place and water regularly.  Tomatoes grown on a sunny balcony can do really well.  

Cucumbers like space, so growing them on a balcony is a good option. Follow the same instructions as for the tomatoes. Cucumbers also like to climb, so you could make a frame of canes for them, or get a bush variety, that doesn’t need a frame.

For more advice and information on growing veg at home, see the Royal Horticultural Society's website

There are different varieties of potatoes that get harvested at different times of year.  First and second earlies can be planted now and harvested in June. Main crop also get planted in March or April, but will be harvested later – usually in early autumn, though they can be picked in July to late August.   However, make sure you pick them before the frost starts again.

Main crop tend to be bigger potatoes that you would use for baking and chipping, and first and second earlies tend to be more for boiling and salad potatoes.

You can grow a good amount of potatoes by simply cutting up a supermarket potato, making sure there is an eye in each piece. Plant them in a pot or a bag, about 10cm apart.

Potatoes do well in bags or in pots. You can buy ready-made potato bags at some supermarkets, but they will do equally well in a home-made container, made from a plastic bin or bucket, or an empty compost bag.  Plant four or five in a large 50cm diameter pot or in a compost bag with holes at the bottom to let the water out.  Put 10cm of soil in the container and put the seed potatoes in. Cover in 4-6cm of soil. Leave most of the pot or bag free of soil. As the shoots of the potatoes begin to appear, cover them in a 6cm layer of soil again. Keep doing this until you reach the top of the bag.  Don’t let the potato shoots get exposed to light or you will end up with green potatoes.

Strawberries also do well in pots.  If you can get even a tiny plant and plant it in a 10cm pot, you will be able to grow strawberries.  Make sure you take the little plants that form on the end of the long runners that grow off the main plant, so that all the energy goes into the main plant. These tiny plants can be replanted in pots to give you a never ending supply of strawberry plants. Keep any fruit that forms off the soil or it will rot or be eaten by slugs.

Any plant is more likely to grow successfully if it is regularly watered, so don’t forget to water every few days.

Much of the food that you can grow yourself can be stored for later use.  You don’t need to worry about eating it all and you really don’t need to throw it away. Any off cuts of onion roots, carrot tops can be grown into new vegetables using the method explained above.

Salad leaves and many soft leaved herbs are best to be eaten immediately, as are spring onions, but they can remain in their pots until you pick them. Some herbs like rosemary, oregano, sage are better if they are dried before use. Dry on a tray in the sun for a few days then store in a jar for later use.

Cucumbers are best eaten straight off the plant, but by picking some of them small you will have a delightful snack and energy will be diverted into the other fruits.  Leave some of them to grow bigger if you prefer.

Herbs with soft leaves, like basil, parsley, mint, coriander, chives and tarragon can be dipped in boiling water and then in iced water and put in bags for freezing. Make sure you write what is in the bag and the date of freezing.

Potatoes can be stored in paper or hessian sacks or cardboard boxes in a dark place which is off the ground. They should store well and can be used for a few months after harvesting.

Onions can be hung up or laid out to dry in a sunny spot for a few days. When the outer skin goes hard and papery the onions cut off the leaves and store the bulbs in a paper bag or box or hessian sack for later use.  These could last a few months if stored correctly and kept dry.

Carrots can be stored in damp sand, or paper sacks in a cupboard and will last for a few weeks generally if stored like this. Just cut off the carrot tops and use them to grow more carrots. Or just put them in the fridge. If you cut off the carrot tops you can use them to grow more carrots.

And of course most veg like carrots, peas, beans, broccoli can be cut up (if necessary), blanched in hot water, then dipped in iced water, frozen on trays and then portioned out and placed in the freezer for later use. You could even mix all the veg together and make a soup pack.

Tomatoes can be cooked and cooled, made into a sauce, then frozen in containers for later use.

Soft fruits like strawberries and raspberries can be placed on a baking sheet in rows so that they are not touching, then frozen.  Once frozen, place them in individual portions in containers. These can be used for smoothies, baking fruit pies or make a nice addition to a cocktail.

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