The 9 Best Foods to Grow Outdoors at Home in the UK

Growing food at home

By 9 min read


Brits are becoming more acquainted with their gardens. In fact, six out of ten people aged 18-34 have been growing food at home for the past year. But, what’s all the fuss about?

Well, the top reasons for growing your own garden goods comes down to saving money, helping the environment, increasing sustainability, and wanting to eat more fruits and vegetables.

If you want to get in on the home-growing action but aren’t really sure where to start, we’re here to help.

Below, we’ve listed the best foods to grow outdoors in the UK. You don’t need a fancy allotment to get going either – these can be grown from the comfort of your own garden, patio, or balcony.

Growing food at home

1. Onions

When to plant: March-April, or October-November

When to harvest: June-September

 

As the ultimate staple ingredient, growing onions at home certainly comes in handy.

You can grow onions from seed, but it’s much easier and faster to grow them from ‘sets’, which are basically just small onions.

If you decide to use seeds, you can sow them indoors as early as January – this way they’ll be large enough to plant outdoors by spring.

Sets, on the other hand, should be planted in either autumn or spring. Make sure they’re around 10-15cm apart in the soil and are able to get plenty of sunshine.

You should try to keep the area weed-free and remember to water it during dry periods. Once the foliage has turned brown and starts to wither, they’re ready to be picked.

2. Garlic

When to plant: October-March

When to harvest: May-September

 

To grow garlic, you’ll need a warm, sunny spot in your garden with well-drained soil.

You can begin planting garlic in either autumn or early spring – although, autumn is usually better since the cold weather helps the cloves develop.

Start off by splitting the bulbs and placing the individual cloves roughly 18cm apart in the soil. Take care not to damage the cloves when separating them, and make sure the pointed end is facing up.

Try to keep the area weed-free, and water it during dry spells. Once the leaves turn yellow and begin to wilt, the garlic should be ready to eat.

3. Potatoes

When to plant: March-May

When to harvest: June-October

 

Potatoes are versatile and they’re easy to grow. You can even grow three types of potato just by harvesting them at different times:

  • First earlies – More commonly named ‘new’ potatoes, these are the earliest to crop and should be harvested in June and July
  • Second earlies – Another variant of ‘new’ potatoes, these take a few more weeks to mature and are harvested in July and August
  • Maincrop potatoes – Suitable for baking and roasting, these take the longest to mature and are harvested from August to October

Before planting, you should ‘chit’ your potatoes, which allows the seed potato to grow shoots and give you a bigger crop. To do this, place the seed potatoes in trays or egg cartons, and pop them in a cool, light spot until 1-2cm long shoots form.

At the beginning of spring, dig a few drills (another word for small trenches) in the soil about 12cm deep and 60cm apart. Once you’ve done this, place your seed potatoes in the trenches with plenty of space between them and cover with soil.

When the shoots reach about 20cm tall, you’ll need to do something called ‘earthing up’. Basically, you just pile soil up around the bases of the shoots, covering the stems halfway – this will stop the developing potatoes from becoming green and inedible. As the plant continues to grow, you’ll need to continue earthing up.

Make sure to water your potatoes regularly – especially during warm, dry spells – and keep the soil weed-free.

You can also grow first-early and second-early potatoes in a large bag on a patio or balcony. Just make sure you use the same earthing up technique.

4. Tomatoes

When to plant: May-June

When to harvest: July-October

 

Tomatoes are split into two main growing types:

  • Determinate – These ‘bush types’ are usually planted in pots or hanging baskets and their stems trail around the edge
  • Indeterminate – Also known as ‘cordon types’, these plants are trained to grow tall with the supports of a nearby cane

Tomato seedlings won’t survive the winter, so you have to sow the seeds indoors. In late January, place the seeds in a small pot, filled with moist compost and a thin layer of vermiculite (a naturally occurring mineral that can retain water). Keep your pots on a warm, bright windowsill, and cover with cling film.

Once May arrives, your tomatoes will be ready to brave the outside world. Choose a sunny, sheltered spot, where you can plant them into good-quality soil that has had plenty of well-rotted garden compost mixed in.

Once flowers appear, you should feed your plants weekly with ‘liquid tomato food’, such as Tomorite – this will make your tomatoes much more plump and full of flavour.

Top tip: Irregular watering causes fruit to split and can lead to hard black patches – known as blossom-end rot – which is triggered by a lack of calcium. To avoid this, make sure you water your tomatoes regularly.

Growing tomatoes at home

5. Peas

When to plant: March-May

When to harvest: June-October

 

You’ll never go back to frozen peas after growing your own.

You can start off sowing your seeds either indoors or outdoors. Sowing indoors will avoid seeds being eaten by pests, and should be done in autumn.

If you want to grow peas directly outside, make a shallow drill roughly 22cm wide and 3cm deep, and place the seeds in two parallel lines. Cover the seeds with soil and water gently. You should have seedlings popping through in about two weeks!

Choose a sunny, well-drained spot for your peas, and make sure the soil is full of nutrient-rich compost.

Top tip: Since pea shoots grow tall, they need some support. Using shoots called tendrils, peas are able to wrap around anything they come into contact with, so place large twigs or bamboo sticks nearby to give them a helping hand.

6. Salad leaves

When to plant: March-April

When to harvest: All year round

 

“Cut-and-come-again salads” are a popular choice among gardeners. You simply snip off the amount of salad you need for your meal and wait for it to grow back. Plus, from sowing to picking, the whole process only takes only six weeks.

You can sow the seeds in March – although, if you can cover plants with a cloche or fleece, you might be able to continue all year round. Start off by removing any weeds and stones in the soil to make a fine texture, and create drills about 1cm deep.

Make sure the soil is slightly damp and sprinkle some seeds along the trench. Cover with a thin layer of soil or compost, and water gently. And there you have it – it almost seems too easy.

If you don’t have very much space, you can also grow small patches of salad leaves amongst other flowers and shrubs, or in pots, boxes, and trays.

Top tip: Don’t let the soil dry out, especially during hot weather. When the plants reach about 5cm tall, put mulch around them with compost to seal in the moisture.

sowing seeds at home

7. Carrots

When to plant: January-July

When to harvest: May-December

 

When it comes to growing carrots, you’ve got two options:

  • Early varieties – Sown in spring and ready to pick about 10 weeks later
  • Late varieties – Sown from the end of spring and are ready to pick in about 14-16 weeks

Start off by sowing carrot seed in shallow drills, covering them with a thin layer of soil, and finish off by watering them gently. Your seedlings should pop through the soil in about two weeks!

The main thing to remember with carrots is to look after the soil as much as possible. Break up any lumps, remove stones and bits of rock, keep the area weed-free, and only water during very dry spells.

Carrots thrive in light and well-drained soil. It’s also worth adding some well-rotted organic matter into the mix too.

8. Blueberries

When to plant: All year round

When to harvest: July-September

 

Blueberry bushes are easy to grow, and don’t need much attention – they basically just need acidic soil and a sunny spot to thrive. Plus, you can plant a blueberry bush at any time of the year, except when the ground is frozen.

If you’re planting a blueberry bush directly into the ground, dig a hole a little larger than the plant’s previous pot and water generously. Make sure the compost never dries out. During the growing season, you should also feed your blueberries with a liquid feed, designed for acid-loving plants.

After two years of flourishing, blueberry bushes will need regular pruning in late February to March, when it’s easier to distinguish the fruit buds from the leaf buds.

Top tip: Since blueberry plants are very acidic, they’re best watered with rainwater – this will also help you save water at home. You should also avoid adding well-rotted manure to your blueberry plants, as this will make the soil too alkaline, but you can use composted pine needles or bark instead.

9. Strawberries

When to plant: March-May, or July-October

When to harvest: June-September

 

Want delicious strawberries on hand during summer? All you need is a well-prepared strawberry bed with plenty of sunshine.

Prepare the soil by de-weeding the area and adding plenty of nutrient-rich garden compost. If you really want your strawberries to flourish, it’s also worth adding a dressing of sulphate of potash fertiliser.

The plants should be at least 30-45cm apart, with the roots close to the surface, so they’re only just buried. Finish by patting the surrounding soil to keep them secure, and you’re done!

To encourage flowering, feed your strawberry plants tomato fertiliser and water regularly – although, be careful not to get any ripening fruits wet, to prevent grey mould.

If you’re struggling with space, strawberries can also grow in pots, hanging baskets, and growing bags.

Top tip: Tuck some straw around the plants just before the fruit starts to develop. This helps keep the berries clean and deters slugs and snails. Netting can also be used to deter birds and small mammals from eating your strawberries.

Summary

Growing your own fruit and veg can seem intimidating, but once you get into the swing of things, it’ll come naturally.

Plus, once you get that sense of accomplishment, as you tuck into your home-grown food, you’ll be hooked.

Beth Howell Writer

Beth has a real passion for green living. She’s been absorbed in eco research for over three years, and has become quite the expert. Whether you’re after a new set of solar panels, a home energy improvement, or you want to catch the latest eco news, she’s got your back.