When it comes to gardening, there’s not much that’s more satisfying than taking something you’ve grown and bringing it in to eat. Cultivating your own crops – even if it’s just on a windowsill or balcony – helps the environment, saves you money on meals and is a great way to appreciate where food comes from (and to teach this to kids, too).
Ready to start living more sustainably? This guide will help you to start planning your vegetable patch, with fun kitchen garden ideas and tips. I’ve curated these suggestions and ideas so that they’ll work for beginner vegetable patches, patio kitchen gardens and even growing food on balconies. You can turn virtually any space into a growing zone!
Kitchen Garden Ideas: What Do You Need to Start?
If this is your first crack at growing vegetables at home, you’ll need to know the basics.
Essential tools for growing vegetables at home:
You won’t need much in the way of gardening tools, and you can find everyday household alternatives to most of these items. Long-term, these bits of equipment will make your life much easier. If your looking at kitchen garden ideas for a small space – like a balcony or patio – adjust accordingly.
- Digging fork
- Watering can
- Pots and planters
- Garden scissors/pruning shears
- Vegetable seeds
- Gardening gloves
- Chicken wire/stakes for climbers
- Pest prevention
Ideally, you’ll be checking your plants every day to make sure they’re healthy and not bothered by pests. By starting with just a handful of plants, you won’t be overwhelmed by the extra work and should be able to stay on top of their care. Plus, you won’t suddenly find yourself inundated with too much produce!
Choose a sunny, sheltered space
To get the biggest, most delicious vegetables, your plants will need to be in a spot that gets at least six hours of sun. It should also be somewhere sheltered from the wind, for maximum warmth.
Check your soil
Digging a vegetable patch saves you the cost of pots, and means slightly less watering (pots generally dry out quicker). Check your local soil composition, though – vegetables won’t thrive if you live in an area where the soil has a lot of chalk or clay.
Growing vegetables in pots or planters is more straightforward; just use a compost mix that’s designed to give veg the nutrition they need. If you have the space, you can even make DIY raised beds, using pallets, breeze blocks or old tyres filled with compost.
Plan your crops
Whether you’ve got a few pots on a patio or are intending to rely heavily on your kitchen garden, planning is the key to success.
The first step is to plant in a way that helps you keep track of what veg is growing where. In pots, this could be as simple as labelling, but in the ground, you’ll want to divide your plot into sections.
It’s a good idea to group your veggies according to type: legumes, root veg, brassicas, onions and nightshades. Each year, you should rotate your in-ground crop planting to keep your soil healthy and to minimise pests.
You should also plan to stagger your harvests – otherwise you’ll end up with too much at once, with no more on its way. Do this by choosing plants that grow at different rates, and/or by planting the same crops 2-3 weeks apart.
Kitchen Garden Ideas: The Best Veg to Grow
The UK has a great climate for loads of vegetables to become part of your kitchen supply. These ten crops are straightforward to grow, even if you’re still cultivating your green thumb! Plus, all of these vegetables can be grown on a balcony or patio in planters, if you only have a small outdoor space.
- Tomatoes – Tomatoes need a lot of warmth and sunshine, so put them in a sunny, sheltered spot. You can grow tomatoes in a pot or grow-bag quite easily, making them ideal for balconies, courtyards and other small gardens – just make sure to give them climbing support!
- Lettuce – Big, leafy lettuce heads are incredibly forgiving for beginners. They grow fast (typically in about a month) and are happy enough in cooler temperatures and partial shade. If you choose a loose-leaf variety, you can harvest the outer leaves every two weeks and leave the rest of the lettuce to continually replenish.
- Carrots – Bring some colour to your table with home-grown carrots. Make sure their soil is well-drained (terracotta pots will help with this), and don’t plant seeds too close together. Carrots should be ready to harvest in 12-16 weeks.
- Potatoes – If you find long-forgotten potatoes are sprouting, pop them in a compost bag to grow more. Cut a few drainage slits in the bottom of the bag, and remove about half of the compost (set it aside to top up the bag as shoots grow). Plant 2-3 potatoes in each bag, keep the compost moist and store outside, but safe from frost.
- Chillies – I can personally vouch for this one – no matter how much I neglect my chilli plants, they still bear fruit every year. Plant seeds in spring (again, just use seeds leftover from cooking fresh chillies), and you should score your first chillies by the end of summer. Once winter arrives, trim them down and they’ll grow back next year.
- Cucumbers – Cucumbers grow vertically, making them pretty good for small spaces. They will need heaps of sunshine though, so perhaps not one for shady, north-facing gardens.
- Spring onions – You can sow spring onions directly into the soil – they’re one of the easiest crops to grow! You can also grow these in water on a windowsill – harvest the tops but leave about two inches to keep replenishing.
- Radishes – Delicious in a salad and gorgeous as a garnish, radishes thrive in loose soil and need plenty of space between seeds. Radishes are extremely quick growing (about 3 weeks) so are a perfect introduction for children with short attention spans.
- Peas/mangetout – Super easy, as long as you give them something to wind around as they grow (a chicken wire frame is ideal). If you ever buy fresh peas from a supermarket, pop any leftovers in a container of soil with a skewer to climb up – I’ve grown all of my peas this way!
- Pak choi – Another crop that will continue growing as you pick the leaves, although you can also harvest the mature head if you find that you’ve got plenty of plants on the go. Keep it in partial shade, as it will start to bolt (flower) in hot weather – look for tall stems starting to grow.
Choosing what vegetables to grow at home
Struggling to pick which veggies to start with? It’s simple – your initial kitchen garden ideas should revolve around the vegetables you eat the most. Before you’re in the routine of eating what you grow, you can easily find that you have way too much of one crop and you’re suddenly eating radishes for every meal.
Grow the veg that you enjoy eating the most, and a little surplus won’t be such a problem (plus, you can usually find friends, family or neighbours that are happy to take a few extra)! Like I mentioned earlier, planning two or three crops that will arrive one after another is a good strategy.
Kitchen Garden Ideas: Growing a Herb Garden
You might want to supplement your vegetables with a few herbs, especially as they take up barely any space and are the perfect way to add a little extra flavour to a meal. It’s also an easy way to cut down on waste – you won’t need to buy pre-packaged herbs or throw away the bits you don’t use!
The best herbs for beginners
Most herbs are pretty easy to look after, so if you just want to start with one or two, choose the ones you use most in your cooking. Basil and coriander are a good choice, as are mint, rosemary and sage. Take a look at how to grow basil.
As your confidence grows, you can add more flavours that encourage you to expand your culinary repertoire, too! Lemon thyme is delicious, chives are easy, and herbs like thyme and oregano are hardy enough to survive the winter.
Sourcing herbs for a herb garden
There are several ways you can start your herb garden. Most herbs will grow from seeds in just a few weeks, but I usually buy potted herbs from supermarkets and try to keep them going (they’re not always successful, though).
If you know someone with a successful herb garden, ask if you can take a cutting. Trimming about 8cm off the tip of rosemary and thyme, for example, is enough to start your own plant. Remove the leaves off the bottom half, and plant it in compost. Cover it with plastic – a food bag or the bottom half of a 2l bottle is fine – and the roots will eventually start growing again. This method takes a little more patience, though!
Looking after a herb garden
Most herbs just need a sunny spot and regular watering (let the top of the soil dry out in between), although some are just as happy in the shade, like mint and chives. If you notice leafy herbs starting to droop, it’s time for a top-up.
When it comes to harvesting, take a mix of new leaves and established ones. The bigger leaves are essential for soaking up the sun so, speaking from experience, it’s best to leave quite a few on the plant.
My basil was thriving last summer, until I got a real hankering for caprese salads and the poor little plant couldn’t keep up. It’s a learning curve with herbs though, so even though they’re easy when you get the hang of it, don’t stress too much.
Kitchen Garden Ideas: What Next?
Once you start getting the hang of the basics, start expanding your crops with different varieties and new crops. Most importantly – have fun! Use the process of growing your own food as a way of exploring fresh recipes and different gardening techniques.
If some plants don’t work out the first time (or the second, or the third), it’s all part of the learning curve. I’m yet to have every pot flourishing at the same time! Focus on your successes and give the not-quite-perfect crops another go next year.
Let us know how you get on, and tell us what garden ideas you want to see next!