Grow Your Own Veg

Grow Your Own Veg
Grow Your Own Veg

Why grow your own food?

Environment
Growing your own food will bring you more in tune with nature and real, natural food.

 

The food you grow is less likely to use chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which can harm the environment and interfere with the eating patterns of local wildlife.

So by growing your own food you are improving the quality of the local environment for wildlife.

Health

The physical activity of digging, looking after and harvesting your food should help to improve your fitness levels. Growing your own fruit and vegetables can be very satisfying helping you to be more relaxed and happy (which will improve your health).

If you grow your own food, you are more likely to eat it within a few hours of harvesting it. This means there will be more nutrients in the food. More vitamins, antioxidants and minerals will boost your immune system and help expel harmful free radicals from the body (free radicals can attack the body cells, and can lead to the development of diseases such as cancer and Alzheimer’s).

Other reasons

One of the best things about growing your own fruit and vegetables is that the food your grow tastes better.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables can increase the types and amounts of fruit and vegetables you eat. There are many varieties of strawberries, apples, potatoes, and tomatoes and each one has a distinct flavour and balance of nutrients, so by growing a few different varieties you will be eating a more varied diet.

Growing your own fruit and vegetables is something fun you can do with friends and family. Children love to help planting and harvesting food.

Growing your own food will make you healthier and happier, and open up a whole new world of flavour.


Artichokes
Artichokes

Artichokes have a delicate flavour.

The flower heads are picked and eaten before they have a chance to bloom.

Plants can be grown from seed but it is easier to buy ready-rooted suckers to plant in the spring.

 
The plants grow to 1.5m x 1m (5ft x 3.25ft) and make good structural plants as well as having edible flowers. They can be grown in groups, 60cm (2ft) apart with 75cm (2.5ft) between rows, but as each produces up to 12 edible heads, one plant may be enough for your needs.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Choose a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Artichokes are perfect for the back of a border.
  • Add plenty of well-rotted manure to the planting site and add horticultural grit to clay soil to improve drainage.
  • Rake in some general fertiliser before planting.

How to plant

  • Dig a hole bigger than the sucker and plant so that the soil mark on the stem sits at the same level as the surface of the soil.
  • Fill the hole with soil and make sure the plant is held firmly and water well.

Aftercare

  • Water plants well until they are established – make sure that they don’t dry out in hot weather.
  • Cut back stems in autumn and protect the crown over winter with a thick mulch of bark chippings, straw or other material.
  • In early spring add a mulch of well-rotted manure to help boost growth.

Harvesting

  • In the first year, plants need to put all their energy into making growth, so remove any flower heads as they form.
  • In the second year, allow the edible heads to develop for harvesting in summer. Pick the top bud first, when it’s large and swollen, but before the scales have started to open – cut off with a few centimetres of stem attached. Pick the side buds when they have reached a decent size.

Five artichokes to try

  1. ‘Green Globe’ – popular variety with big green heads
  2. ‘Romanesco’ – attractive purple heads
  3. ‘Violetta di Chioggia’ – great tasting purple heads
  4. ‘Purple Sicilian’ – small, deep purple heads
  5. ‘Violetta Precoce’ – violet coloured heads


Asparagus
Asparagus


 
Asparagus is a perennial vegetable, which makes it good for growing on plots where it will not be disturbed.

However, it does take a long time to grow to maturity, so make sure you are planning to stay a while to see the fruits of your labour.

 

Asparagus needs to be given lots of space and is ideal for a large garden or allotment.

It thrives in sun and well-drained soil, but needs some protection from the wind. Asparagus is not suitable for containers, and will sulk if planted in heavy clay soils or in a shady spot.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Asparagus plants can remain productive for up to 20 years, so it’s worthwhile spending time on preparing the bed to give them a flying start in life.
  • If you can, start in autumn by digging over thoroughly, mixing in plenty of well-rotted farmyard manure, and removing all perennial weeds.
  • A week or so before planting, scatter some general fertiliser granules over the area (about 90g/sq m is ideal) and fork in, before raking the ground level.

How to plant

  • You will need about an hour to plant 10 crowns. Make a straight trench, 30cm wide by 20cm deep, and then pour soil down the length of the trench to make a 10cm high mound.
  • Next, carefully take your asparagus crowns and sit them on top of the mound, spreading the roots out either sides – plant crowns 30cm apart and then cover with about 5cm of soil, which has been sifted through a riddle or sieve.
  • Cover the plants with more sifted soil as the stems grow, aiming to completely fill the trench by autumn. Subsequent rows should be spaced 30cm apart.

Aftercare

  • Water newly planted crowns thoroughly and keep damp during dry weather. Succulent spears may appear soon after planting, but avoid the temptation to harvest them or you’ll weaken the crowns.
  • During their first two years of growth, plants should be left to form lots of ferny foliage – cut down the stems in autumn, leaving 5cm stumps above the ground.
  • To prevent competition, keep beds free of weeds.

Harvesting

  • Most plants are ready to be picked two years after planting, although several modern varieties have been bred for earlier cropping.
  • To harvest spears, wait until they’re about 12cm long and remove them with a serrated knife, cutting them off 7cm beneath the soil.
  • Stop harvesting in mid-June to allow the plant to build up its energy for next year, and give plants an extra boost by feeding with a general fertiliser.

Five Asparagus to try

  1. Gijnlim – heavy crops one year after planting
  2. Jersey Giant – dark green spears with a purple head
  3. Jersey Knight Improved – thick, but tender spears
  4. Purple asparagus of Alberga – Italian heritage variety with purple spears
  5. Backlim – thick, green spears


Aubergines
Aubergines, Chilli Peppers and Sweet Peppers

Where to grow

Grow plants in pots and place on a sunny patio, balcony or roof space.

The process for sowing, germinating and potting on is the same for all three.

 

 

What to do

How to sow seeds

  • Fill a 7.5cm pot with seed compost, level, tap the pot to settle the soil and lightly firm.
  • Scatter the seeds on top – most seeds germinate so you only need to sow two more seeds than you need in just case of losses.
  • Cover with a fine layer of vermiculite, water and label – this is important to help you identify them if sowing several varieties.
  • Put into a heated propagator or put a clear plastic bag over the top, use a rubber band to hold the bag and place on a windowsill.

After germination

  • Your seeds should start to appear in about a week. Take the pot from the propagator or take off the bag, and place on a light windowsill. Make sure the compost does not dry out.

Potting up seedlings

  • When seedlings are about 2cm tall they can be moved to their own pot. Carefully loosen the compost, then gently hold a leaf and lift, while levering from beneath the roots with a dibber.
  • Fill a 7.5cm pot with multipurpose compost, level and tap to settle.
  • Make a hole in the centre of the compost with a dibber and lower in the seedling, until the leaves are just above the surface of the soil.
  • Gently firm, water and label each plant. Keep plants in a light place, such as a windowsill or greenhouse.
  • When roots show at the bottom of the pots, move into a bigger, 12cm pot, filled with multipurpose compost.

Aftercare

  • When plants reach about 20cm tall give them some support by staking with a small cane and tie up with garden twine.
  • When they’re about 30cm pinch out growing tips to increase branching.
  • At the end of May plants can go outside. Pot them into their final container – a 5-litre pot will do. As the plants grow, swap the small stakes for a larger cane.
  • In hot weather you may need to water twice a day. These plants are incredibly thirsty and dry compost will quickly lead to a check in growth. This applies particularly to plants grown in a greenhouse, where it can get very hot even in late summer.
  • The first flowers will appear when the plants are quite small. When this happens feed weekly with a liquid feed high in potash, such as tomato fertiliser.

Harvesting

  • Fruits can be harvested with scissors or a sharp knife between July and September. Chilli peppers can be picked green or left longer to turn red.
  • Before the autumn frosts, cut off the plants completely and hang the branches upside down so the fruit continues to mature.
  • Each aubergine will produce up to five fruits, depending on variety and the weather – pick when they have reached full size and the skin is shiny.

Five varieties to try

Aubergines

  1. Violetta Lunga – long purple fruit
  2. Red Egg – dumpy red fruit
  3. Snowy – cylindrical white fruit
  4. Moneymaker – glossy black fruits
  5. Rosa Bianca – white and pink fruit

Sweet peppers

  1. Big Banana – very long red fruits.
  2. Marconi Rosso – sweet, red, Italian heritage variety
  3. Fiesta – shiny yellow fruit
  4. Bell Boy – thick skinned, green fruit
  5. Purple Beauty – purple fruit turn red when mature

Chilli peppers

  1. Jalapeno – green fruit turn red
  2. Joe’s Long – extra long red fruit
  3. Habanero – very hot orange fruit
  4. Hungarian Hot Wax – not too hot, yellow fruit turn to red
  5. Cayenne – glossy, red fruit


Beans
Beans


 
Where to grow

Beans are perfect for a sunny, well-drained spot. They prefer to grow in moist, fertile soil in a sheltered spot away from strong winds, but can also be grown successfully in pots.

 

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Prepare the soil for planting by digging over and adding plenty of organic material, such as well-rotted manure or leaf mould – this will help to improve the soil’s moisture-retaining ability and fertility. Once covered with soil in late spring, the seeds can then be sown on top of the trench.
  • If you are growing beans in containers, choose pots at least 45cm (18in) in diameter and make sure there are plenty of drainage holes. Fill with a mixture of equal parts loam-based compost and loam-free compost.
  • Before planting, create a support for climbing French and runner beans. Either make a wigwam with 2.4m (8ft) canes, lashed together with string at the top, or create a parallel row of canes, which have their tops tightly secured to a horizontal cane. Each row should be 60cm (23in) apart and canes spaced 15cm (6in) apart in the row.

How to sow seeds

  • Sowing seeds indoors gives a faster and more reliable germination rate, particularly for runner beans. At the end of April sow a single bean seed, 4cm (1.5in) deep, in a 7.5cm (3in) pot filled with multi-purpose compost.
  • Water well, label and place on a sunny windowsill to germinate. Seedlings will be ready to plant out after about three weeks. Before planting, put in a cold frame or a cool porch for a few days so that they can cope with the conditions outside.
  • Alternatively, climbing, runner and dwarf beans can be grown from seed sown directly in the soil between the second half of May and the middle of June. For dwarf French beans, plant two seeds, 2.5cm (1in) deep, next to your support and about 5cm (2in) deep for climbing French and runner beans. Water well. After germination remove the smaller and less robust of the two young plants. As they grow, ensure the plants continue to twine around their canes.

Aftercare

Regular and plentiful watering is vital. Runners should be watered particularly heavily, twice a week in dry weather, both when the flower buds appear and once they’re open. Mulch around beans to help keep moisture in the soil when the conditions are dry.

Harvesting

Regular picking is essential – it’s true that the more you pick, the more they produce. Most should bear pods from July and cropping of all types can continue until the first frosts, or longer if plants are protected.

Five Runner Beans to try

  1. ‘Red Rum’ – runner that’s very easy to grow
  2. ‘Polestar’ – a foolproof runner with red flowers and stringless beans
  3. ‘Purple teepee’ – a dwarf variety with lovely purple pods, that turn green on cooking
  4. ‘Algarve’ – a fast-growing climbing French variety with flat pods
  5. ‘Lingua di Fuoco’ -a climbing borlotti bean with speckled seeds and showy pods


Beetroot
Beetroot


 
Where to grow

Beetroot prefer to be grown in moist, fertile soil in a sunny spot, but they can also be grown in raised beds or pots. For foolproof beetroot, sow seeds directly into the soil from mid-spring.

 

What to do

Soil preparation

  • To make a seed bed, remove weeds and dig over the site with a spade, removing any particularly large stones.
  • Level roughly and then work over the area with a rake to leave a fine finish.
  • If you can, two or three weeks before sowing, spread a general granular fertiliser across the site and rake into the soil.

How to sow seed

  • Seed can be sown directly into the soil from April to July.
  • Make a 2cm (0.75in) deep trench with the corner of a rake (or a cane will do) and drop in two seeds every 10cm (4in).
  • Cover, water well and label – when the seedlings are about 2cm (0.75in) high, remove the weakest of each pair to leave one beetroot seedling every 10cm (4in).
  • If you want a plentiful supply of beetroot, sow seeds every month, keeping rows 20cm (8in) apart.

Grow in pots

If you have a small garden, beetroot are easy to grow in pots.

  • To grow in pots (ideal for round varieties, not long cylindrical ones), choose containers that are 20cm (8in) in diameter and at least 20cm (8in) deep.
  • Fill loosely with multi-purpose compost leaving the compost just shy of the top.
  • Tap the pot gently to settle, and firm with your finger tips aiming to leave a 4cm (1.5in) gap between the surface of the compost and the top of the pot.
  • Sow seeds thinly across the surface and cover with 2cm (0.75in) of compost.
  • Water and thin out seedlings when they’re about 2cm (0.75in) tall, leaving 12cm (5in) gaps between them.

Aftercare

This is really easy. Remove weeds and keep seedlings well watered, especially during dry periods as this will stunt the growth of plants.

Harvesting

Depending on variety, beetroot is ready to be picked when the roots are between the size of a golf ball and a tennis ball – this is usually 90 days after sowing. To harvest, gently hold the tops and lift while levering under the root with a hand fork.

Remove the tops by twisting them off with your hands to prevent the plants bleeding their juice – don’t throw these away, they have bags of taste and can be cooked and eaten like spinach.

Five beetroot to try

  1. ‘Barbabietola di Chioggia’ – when sliced shows concentric rings of pink and white.
  2. ‘Boltardy’ – slow to bolt variety for sowing early.
  3. ‘Albina Vereduna’ – globe shaped, white variety.
  4. ‘Burpees Golden’ – striking golden skin and flesh.
  5. ‘Alto’ – sweet, long cylindrical roots.


Brassicas
Brassicas

What to grow

A wide range of common leafy vegetables, such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, kale and cauliflower are all part of the Brassica genus.

 

Some root crops such as turnips, swedes and kohl rabi are also part of this nutritious group. Most brassicas are quite easy to grow; however, unless you’re an experienced gardener, cauliflowers are best avoided.

For a first time grower, try a variety of cabbage, Brussels sprouts or kale.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • All brassica crops grow best in partial shade, in firm, fertile, free-draining soil.
  • Start digging over your soil in autumn, removing any stones you find and working in plenty of well-rotted manure or compost.
  • Tread on the soil to remove any air pockets and make the surface very firm.
  • Brassicas will fail if the soil is too acidic so add lime to the soil if necessary, aiming for a pH of 6.5-7.5.

How to sow seeds

  • Nearly all brassicas should be planted in a seedbed or in modules under glass and then transferred. Seeds should be sown thinly, as this reduces the amount of future thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
  • Sow seeds 1.25cm (1/2in) deep and rows should be spaced 15cm (6in) apart.
  • Once the seeds have germinated, thin the seedlings to 7.5cm (3in) between each plant.
  • Cabbage and broccoli seedlings are ready for transplanting when they’re between 6 and 8cm high (2.5-3in). Brussels sprouts and kale should be 15cm (6in).Water the day before moving, and keep well watered until established.
  • Space the plants according to the instructions on the seed packet. It can vary from 30cm for small cabbages to 75cm for Brussels sprouts.

Aftercare

  • Brassicas are affected by a wide range of pests and diseases, especially the fungal disease, club root. The roots become stubby and swollen and can develop wet rot, while leaves become yellow and wilt, causing severe stunting of growth. Remove any infected plants from the ground and destroy.
  • Make sure the soil is adequately limed and well drained, and do not plant cabbages in the same place the following year.
  • Rotate your crops annually to avoid disease. Don’t grow brassicas on the same plot more often than one year in three, as moving the crop helps avoid the build up of soil pests and diseases.
  • Brassicas are a particular favourite of birds so use a deterrent to stop them picking off seedlings. CDs on string can be effective. They’re also susceptible to attack by the caterpillars of the cabbage white butterfly. Try covering crops with a crop protection mesh. It keeps the butterflies out, so they can’t lay their eggs on the plants.

Harvest and storage

  • Harvesting time is dependent on crop type and variety. From July onwards, summer cabbages, cauliflower, kohl rabi and green broccoli are all ready.
  • Harvest by cutting close to ground level with a sharp knife.
  • With cabbages, lift the entire plant to reduce the risk of club root.
  • With broccoli, harvest when the flower shoots are well formed, but before the small flower buds have opened. Timing is important, as once in flower, the shoots are woody and tasteless.
  • From October well into the following year, winter and spring cabbage, Brussels sprouts, early and late varieties of broccoli, autumn and winter cauliflower, kale, kohl rabi, swede and turnips are all ready.
  • Begin harvesting Brussels sprouts when the sprouts at the base of the stem have reached the size of a small nut and are tightly closed. Cut them off with a sharp knife, disposing of any opened sprouts and yellow leaves. Only remove a few sprouts at a time from each individual stem.
  • With kale, start harvesting at the crown of the plant from November onwards, removing a few young leaves at a time. This stripping of the crown encourages the development of succulent side shoots to harvest between February and May.

Five Brassicas to try

  1. Cabbage (summer) ‘Hispi’ – good flavoured variety with medium-sized, pointed heads.
  2. Cabbage (winter) ‘January King’ – large, dark green frost-hardy variety.
  3. Cauliflower ‘Lateman’ – versatile variety with medium-sized, white heads.
  4. Brussels sprouts ‘Breeze’ – vigorous variety with good disease resistance.
  5. Kale ‘Dwarf Green Curled’ – compact, hardy and easy to grow.


Broad Beans
Broad Beans

Where to grow

Broad beans grow best in a sunny place sheltered from winds – they enjoy rich, moisture retentive, well-drained soil.

 

 
What to do

Soil preparation

  • Prepare the planting site by digging over and adding leaf mould or well-rotted manure.
  • Choose the broad bean variety that suits your needs, hardy cultivars for early autumn sowings or dwarf broad beans for windy areas.

How to sow seeds direct

  • Dig over the soil to create a seed bed and sow one bean directly 5cm (2in) deep and 23cm (9in) apart.
  • Sow in double rows or blocks but stagger plantings to make the best use of space.
  • How to sow seeds under cover
  • Sowing broad beans under cover can give more reliable germination especially if you have trouble with frozen soil or pests like mice.
  • Sow one per 7cm (3in) pot filled with multi-purpose compost. Water in and place in a cool but frost-free place. Avoid heated rooms or hot greenhouses as they will fail to germinate.
  • Harden off before planting out 23cm (9in) apart.

Autumn sowing

  • You can sow broad beans from October onwards, but make sure the ground is not frozen. If it is, you may need to lay some polythene or other material down to warm it up.
  • By sowing in autumn you can have beans as early as May, but watch out for frost as this can easily claim your hard work. Cloches, polytunnels or fleece are worth keeping on standby just in case the temperature drops.

Aftercare – pinching out and staking

  • As soon as young beans appear at the base of the plant it’s time to ‘pinch out’ the growing tips. Go to the very top of the plant and remove the tip with two leaves attached, you can compost these or steam them as a leaf vegetable.
  • Good airflow is essential for combating fungal disease.
  • As the plants grow you will need to stake them to prevent the fragile stems from bending or breaking and pods being damaged. Stake after the seedlings are up and use anything from pea sticks to bamboo with string to support the plant.
  • Dwarf varieties will need less space and less staking and are well worth considering especially on windy or small sites.

Harvesting

  • Pick from the bottom up when ripe and continue to harvest frequently. Finger thick beans can be eaten whole or wait until the pod bursts open to harvest the fully ripe beans inside.
  • When finished, cut off stems and dig roots back into the soil to make use of captured nitrogen.
  • Broad beans are great for storing. You can dry or freeze the beans. To freeze, pick fresh, pod, place in a plastic bag and freeze. To dry, pick, pod and lay out the beans in a dry place. Leave beans to completely dry and store in an air tight container. These can be sown next year or rehydrated for use in cooking.

Five Broad Beans to try

  1. ‘Aquadulce Claudia’ – good for autumn sowing, nice long pods
  2. ‘Express’ – tender, tasty and good for freezing
  3. ‘Imperial Green Longpod’ – heavy cropping hardy variety
  4. ‘Optica’ – compact plant, great for those short on space
  5. ‘The Sutton’ – dwarf variety, prolific cropper

 


Carrots
Carrots


 
Carrot varieties are described as early or maincrop varieties, but also either short-root or long-root varieties. These names give you an idea of when they will crop and the type of soil they’re suitable for.

Carrots and parsnips grow best in light, sandy soil so if your soil is heavy clay, stony, chalky or doesn’t drain particularly well, concentrate on the maincrop, short-root types which cope better with these conditions.

 

Early carrot varieties take around 12 weeks to mature and maincrop carrot varieties are ready in around 16 weeks. Maincrops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Success with root vegetables is very much down to the quality of the soil that they’re grown in, so it’s worth taking the time to prepare your patch. Start digging over your soil in late winter or early spring, removing any stones you find and thoroughly turning the soil until it has a fine, crumbly texture.
  • If your soil is not ideally suitable for carrots or parsnips, you can prepare a large container for sowing instead. When digging over your soil, do not add manure as this makes the soil too rich for the seeds.
  • One week before sowing your seeds, rake in a light dressing of general fertiliser.

How to sow seeds

  • Carrot seeds are small, but it’s wise to plant them as thinly as possible. This reduces the amount of thinning necessary and potential risk from pests.
  • Sow the seeds thinly on a sunny, dry day in shallow drills around 2-3cm (1in) deep, covering the seeds once in place. Early sowings in March and April may need to be protected with fleece or a cloche in some parts of the country. If you have difficulty sowing thinly, try mixing the seeds with a handful of sharp sand and then sowing the seeds and sand together. The sand will aid drainage and will allow thinner sowing.
  • Once the seeds have germinated and are showing their first rough leaves, thin the seedlings to 5cm (2 in) between plants.
  • Parsnips can be grown in a similar way, but as they’re larger they should be thinned to 15cm (6 in)
  • The plants need little other attention during their growth period, although the plants should be kept well watered – too little water results in coarse, woody roots.

Harvesting and storage

  • From June to July onwards, start pulling up your carrots as soon as they’re big enough to eat. It’s best to harvest them in the evening to avoid attracting carrot fly.
  • Late-sown carrots must be lifted by October to be stored over the winter.
  • Store only the best, undamaged roots, cutting off their foliage and lie the roots between layers of sand in a strong box, ensuring that the roots do not touch. Store the box somewhere cool and dry, and check the carrots occasionally, removing any odd rotten roots before they infect their neighbours.

Carrot fly

  • One of the main threats to your carrot crop comes from carrot fly. This pest is drawn to the carrots by the smell of crushed foliage, so reduce the risk of an attack by thinning plants in the evening on a still day, removing any thinnings and watering afterwards. Carrot fly are also low-flying insects: erecting a ‘wind-break’ style shield around a crop will also help deter these pests.

Five carrots to try

  1. ‘Autumn King 2’ – heavy cropping and well flavoured
  2. ‘Flyaway’ – both juicy flavoured and resistant to carrot fly
  3. ‘Mignon’ – baby-sized, good for pots
  4. ‘Nantes 3 Tiptop’ – sweet flavour and no core
  5. ‘Parmex’ – round-rooted, good for growing in containers


Celery
Celery


 
Celery has been considered a difficult crop to grow, largely because traditional varieties need a lot of work and attention, they have to be planted in deep trenches and require layers of soil added regularly to blanch the green stems.
 

Fortunately modern plant breeding has led to many easier, self-blanching varieties that don’t need earthing up to produce tender white stems. Although plants can be grown from seed sown in early spring, it’s far easier to buy ready-grown seedlings, which can be planted out in May or June.

Where to grow

Celery prefers moisture-retentive, well-drained soil in a sunny spot. It’s an ideal crop for an allotment, but a short row can be squeezed into a garden, raised bed or you could even try dotting the odd plant into a border. If you have a tiny garden it’s possible to grow celery in very deep, long tom style pots.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Dig the soil in the spring before planting, removing big stones, weeds and incorporating plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure.
  • A week or so before planting, rake a general purpose granular fertiliser (90g per square metre) into the surface layer of the bed.

How to sow seeds

  • If you have time, plants can be started off by sowing seeds during March and April. To do this, fill a small pot or seed tray – what you use depends on how many plants you want – with fine seed compost, level and tap to settle.
  • Celery seed is tiny, so take a pinch and lightly sow across the surface of the soil. Watering from the top is likely to disturb the seed, so fill a bowl with water and put in the pot. It can be removed once the water has been drawn to the surface.
  • Finish by covering with a thin layer of vermiculite and putting in a heated propagator on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. Water daily to ensure the compost doesn’t dry out.
  • Take the seedlings out of the propagator when they’ve germinated. They’re ready to be given pots of their own when the first proper leaves have formed.
  • Use 7.5cm pots filled with multi-purpose compost and keep well-watered. Plants will be ready to go outside about five weeks later, when they’re 8cm tall.
  • Toughen them up first by placing in a cold frame or sheltered, but shaded place outdoors. Plant as for ready-grown plants.

Planting out

  • For perfect plants with lots of well-branched sticks, plant celery seedlings (there are lots of suppliers) about 27cm apart ensuring the crown of the plant is at ground level.
  • Plants will grow better if they’re arranged in a grid pattern, rather than planted in long rows.

Aftercare

  • Keep celery well-watered and the area around them free from weeds.
  • Plants can be given a boost by feeding with a balanced liquid fertiliser about a month after planting.

Harvesting

  • Celery will be ready for picking from August until the first frosts. To harvest, simply lift plants as required using a hand fork, taking care not to damage neighbouring plants.

Five self-blanching celery to try

  1. ‘Galaxy’ – crunchy and tender
  2. ‘Tango ‘ – long green stems
  3. ‘Golden self-blanching ‘ – yellow foliage and cream stalks
  4. ‘Loretta’ – thick, sweet stems
  5. ‘Green Utah’ – crisp, smooth stems


Chicory
Chicory

There are three types of chicory.

Red chicory is sometimes known as radicchio and is often seen in mixed salad packs in supermarkets.

 

Sugarloaf varieties, which resemble lettuces and forcing chicory – this isn’t grown in the normal way. It’s deprived of light, or forced, in winter to make edible white growths called chicons.

Chicory will thrive in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. It can be grown in short rows on the vegetable patch or allotment, and is also ideal for raised beds and large pots.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Chicory likes a sunny spot with well-drained soil.
  • If you can, prepare soil for spring sowing by digging in the winter, adding plenty of well-rotted manure.
  • Remove weeds, any very large stones and rake to leave a level finish.
  • A week before sowing, sprinkle a general purpose fertiliser (of approximately 30g per square metre) over the area and rake into the surface.

How to sow seeds

  • Sow seeds in July or August, for plants ready to be picked from October to December.
  • To sow in rows, stretch a length of string between two canes to make a straight line and make a shallow trench, about 1cm deep, with a garden cane.
  • Sow seeds thinly, then cover, water and label.
  • Or, fill a large 45cm (18in) diameter pot with compost, level and tap to settle – aim to leave a 2cm (1in) gap between the surface of the compost and the rim of the pot. Sow seeds thinly across the surface and cover with a 1cm (0.5in) layer of vermiculite.
  • Water and stand in a cold frame, or in a slightly shaded space in the garden.

Aftercare

  • Seeds will take about two weeks to germinate. When seedlings are about 2cm (1in) tall, thin them out, leaving a plant every 15cm (6in).
  • If plants are allowed to dry out they may run to seed, so water well and keep the soil free from weeds.

Harvesting

  • Use a sharp knife to cut off the heads of sugarloaf varieties in late autumn, while varieties grown for their red leaves (which are green for much of the summer) should be harvested after a period of cold weather – only then do they turn completely dark.

Forcing chicory

  • There are several varieties of chicory that are ideal for forcing in winter for tender, blanched heads. To do this, buy dormant plants in pots in the autumn – in November, cut back growth leaving short stubs above ground.
  • Put a bucket over the top of the pot to block out light and put in a frost free place, such as a garage or shed. In several weeks, tender white chicons will have formed. These can be cut off at the base and the process repeated until spring.
  • After this, remove the bucket and allow plants to grow as normal. If you’re forcing chicory in the ground, dig up a few roots, pot up into three litre pots and treat as pot-grown plants.

 

Five chicory to try

  1. ‘Rossa di Treviso’ – Maroon leaves and heavy white veins
  2. ‘Rossa di Verona’ – Maroon leaves and spreading growth
  3. ‘Biondissima di Triesta’ – green, rounded heads
  4. ‘Bianca di Milano’ – tightly packed, upright green heads
  5. ‘Witloof de Brussels’ – forcing chicory

Courgettes and Squash
Courgettes and Squash

Courgettes, summer squash and marrows can all be grown in the same way.

One plant produces a plentiful supply and courgette flowers can also be eaten as fritters.

 

They require a sunny location and fertile, moist soil. Add plenty of compost or well-rotted manure before planting.

What to do

Sow seeds in pots

  • Seed can be sown in pots from March to the end of May. Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost and firm gently.
  • Sow a seed vertically 2.5cm (1in) deep and cover. Label, water and put in a propagator or on a windowsill.
  • When roots begin to show through the bottom of the pot, put into a 12.5cm (5in) container. Plant out into growing bags, soil or a large pot in late spring or early summer.

Sow seeds in soil

  • Seed can also be sown directly into the soil from late-May to early summer.
  • Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and improve the soil by digging in some well-rotted manure or compost.
  • Sow two seeds on their side 2.5cm (1in) deep and once the seedlings have germinated, take out the weakest one.

Aftercare

  • Plenty of water is essential, especially when the plants are in flower and then when the fruits have started to swell.
  • Mulch to lock in moisture.
  • If you dig in plenty of manure before planting, additional feeding is unnecessary on heavy, fertile soil.
  • On sandy or light soil, regular drenches with a liquid feed will help boost production.

Harvesting and storage

  • To keep plants productive you need to harvest courgettes about three times a week at the height of the season.
  • The correct size to pick depends on variety, but as a rule, harvest courgettes when they’re 10cm (4in).
  • Use a sharp knife to sever the fruit from the plant. Courgettes are best eaten fresh or can be stored for a few days in the fridge.
  • Squashes are more variable in shape and size, so read the seed packet for harvesting and storage information.
  • Marrows are often considered to be courgettes grown large, and require the same growing conditions.
  • When growing marrows, harvest regularly when they’re 20cm (8in) long, or leave them to mature for winter use.
  • Marrows can be stored for a long period of time if kept at a temperature between 7.5C to 10C (45F to 50F).

Five courgettes/squashes to try

Here are some of the best, with lots of new varieties being introduced each year.

  1. Courgette ‘Gold Rush’ – a yellow-skinned variety
  2. Courgette ‘Defender’ – produces heavy crops of green fruit
  3. Squash ‘Sweet Dumpling’ – white with a green stripe
  4. Squash ‘Baby Bear’ – flattened orange fruit and very tasty seeds
  5. Squash ‘Turk’s Turban’ – orange with distinctive cream and green stripes


Cucumbers
Cucumbers

Before buying cucumber seed, check that they’re ideal for your needs.

Greenhouse cucumbers need to be raised in growing bags under the protection of glass, ridge cucumbers are for growing in a sunny spot in well-drained soil outdoors.

Or, pick a variety that can be grown both indoors and out.

 

What to do

How to sow seeds

  • Sow in early spring if you plan to grow plants in a heated greenhouse or in mid-spring for unheated greenhouses or to go outdoors.
  • Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with seed compost and make a 2cm (0.7in) hole with a dibber.
  • Push two seeds on their side into the hole. Cover, water and label.
  • Put in a propagator to germinate.

Aftercare

  • Seeds should germinate within a week – when seedlings are 2cm (0.7in) tall, remove the weakest of the pair.
  • Keep plants moist and stake with a small garden cane to provide support.

Planting out

  • If growing indoors, plant two cucumbers in a growing bag at the end of May and support with a garden cane attached to the ceiling of the greenhouse.
  • If your greenhouse is heated, plants can go into bags from March.
  • Plant outdoor cucumbers in early summer. A week or so before planting, acclimatise plants by putting them in a cold frame.
  • Alternatively, stand in the shelter of a shaded wall and cover with fleece. Prepare the soil well; adding plenty of well-rotted manure and space plants 90cm (35in) apart.
  • After planting, the top of the rootball should sit at the same level as the surface of the soil.

Training

  • Regularly secure stems of indoor varieties to the cane and once it has reached the roof, pinch out the tip.
  • Pinch out the shoots from side branches holding fruit, leaving two leaves after each. All female varieties produce fruit on the main stem, so remove laterals altogether.
  • Allow outdoor varieties to trail across the ground like marrows.
  • When plants have five or six leaves, pinch out the growing tip and allow side branches to grow. If stems do not bear flowers, pinch out at the seventh leaf.

Removing flowers

  • Many varieties have both male and female flowers on the same plants.
  • Both should be left on outdoor varieties, but pinch off the male flowers when they appear on indoor varieties to prevent the fruit from becoming bitter.
  • The flowers are easy to tell apart – the female flower has a swelling beneath it that will become a cucumber. Alternatively, choose all female flower varieties.

Watering and feeding

  • Cucumbers must be kept moist, but not soaking, to prevent a check to the fruit.
  • Once the fruit appears, give them a boost by feeding every fortnight with a fertiliser high in potash.

Harvesting

  • Remove fruit by cutting off with a pair of secateurs or a sharp knife.
  • Outdoor picking usually finishes by mid-September, while harvesting indoors can go on into mid October.

Five cucumber to try

  1. ‘Burpless Tasty Green’ – indoor and out. Grows to 25cm (9.7in)
  2. ‘Zeina’ – mini fruit for indoors and out. 17cm (6.6in)
  3. ‘Masterpiece’ – dark skin and crisp flesh for outdoors. 20cm (7.8in)
  4. ‘Crystal apple’ – round yellow fruit for outdoors
  5. ‘Luxury’ – female variety, with long fruit for indoors. 40cm (15.6in)

 


Leeks
Leeks

Leeks prefer a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil.
As they will sit in the soil for a long time, they’re an ideal crop for the allotment.

Many have fantastic foliage that makes them an ideal vegetable to grow in flower borders.

 
What to do

Soil preparation

  • Choose a sunny, sheltered site with well-drained soil.
  • If possible, prepare the soil for planting in the winter. Dig the site well, removing weeds and working in plenty of well-rotted manure to improve its ability to retain water.
  • Leeks can be planted in heavy soil, but improve the drainage by mixing in some horticultural sand.
  • This is a hungry crop – spread a general balanced fertiliser over the soil a week or so before sowing and rake in.

How to sow

  • The easiest method is to sow seed directly into the soil between March and April. Alternatively, you could cheat and buy ready-grown seedlings; many nurseries offer a good range. By careful choice of varieties you could have an ample supply of leeks to harvest from mid-summer until the following spring.
  • Seeds are best sown in rows, 30cm apart. Mark a straight line and use the corner of a rake to make a shallow groove in the soil, about 1cm deep. Sow seed thinly along the trench, cover with soil, water and label. When seedlings have three leaves each, about four to five weeks later, thin to leave plants every 15cm – the seedlings you remove could be used to plug gaps elsewhere.
  • Alternatively, buy ready-grown plants. They will arrive as young seedlings during May and June, ready to plant out straight away. To do this, make a hole with a dibber, 20cm deep, and drop a seedling into each. Using a watering can, fill the hole with water and allow to soak away – this will draw enough soil over the plant to cover the roots and produce wonderful blanched stems as the leek grows.
  • Keep plants well watered, especially during dry spells and harvest from summer onwards.

Aftercare

  • Bare soil is an open invitation to weeds, so carefully remove any stray seedlings, avoiding the grass-like young leek plants – it’s essential to clearly mark the row so you don’t remove plants by mistake.
  • Keep plants well-watered, especially during dry spells – mulch will help to retain moisture over summer.

Harvesting

  • Depending on which variety, your leeks will be ready for picking from summer, although the most useful types are those that can be picked over winter, when there’s little else in the vegetable garden.
  • Harvest leeks by lifting carefully with a fork, aiming to avoid damaging neighbouring crops.

Five leeks to try

  1. ‘Musselburgh’ – winter hardy with white stems. Pick from December to April.
  2. ‘The Lyon’ – autumn variety with mild-tasting long stems
  3. ‘Monstruoso de Carentan’ – French heritage leek with short stems from October to January
  4. ‘Pandora’ – glaucous leaves and long white stems. Crops between September and January
  5. ‘Autumn Giant 2 Porvite’ – tasty, white stems


Onions and Garlic
Onions and Garlic


 
Various types of onion, including spring onions, pickling onion and shallots can be successfully grown from sets or from seed, some from both.

 

Onion sets

Onion sets are small, immature onions, planted in spring or late summer. The sets increase in size and each forms one full-sized bulb when ready to harvest. Where possible, choose onion sets that have been heat-treated. This means their flower embryos have been killed, so they’re less likely to run to seed or bolt. Generally, growing onions from sets is easier and more reliable than from seed and in cooler, damper areas, the sets should give a better yield of larger bulbs than if grown from seed. However the range of varieties available is far greater if growing onions from seed.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • A sunny, well-drained site is essential for growing good crops of onion and garlic. It’s possible to grow good onions on heavy soil, but the drainage should be improved prior to planting with grit and bulky organic matter, and the cloves planted in ridges of soil 10cm (4in) high to help reduce soil moisture.
  • Onions and garlic both like fertile soil, but neither require much nitrogen and so shouldn’t be grown on freshly manured soil. Instead, dig over and manure the ground several months before planting. If the soil is acid it’s worth liming it so its pH level becomes neutral or even slightly alkaline.

How to sow seed

  • Sow seed in modules in January or February at 10-15°C (50-59°F).
  • Sow five or six seeds per module in damp seed compost – when planted out the clumps of bulbs will push themselves apart as they expand.
  • Cover seeds with a layer of vermiculite and label with variety name and date of sowing.
  • To have a year-round supply, you can sow once in spring for harvesting from August, and again in late summer or autumn to be ready from June, although a second planting isn’t recommended in very heavy, wet soils. Onions should be given as long a growing season as possible to reach maximum size.

Growing onions from sets

  • The easiest way to grow onions is from sets, available from garden centres.
  • Prepare the soil a couple of months before planting by digging over and adding manure.
  • Plant the sets in spring in shallow drills and cover them so the necks are just protruding from the soil.
  • Weed regularly and water sparingly.
  • Harvest as soon as the foliage starts to yellow.

Growing tips

  • Regular weeding is essential – because of the way their leaves are held upright, onions aren’t good at supressing weed growth and, if left for too long, weeds will soon swamp the crop and cause damaging competition.
  • Bolting, or running to flower, can be a common problem with onions, especially if there’s a late cold spell or they suffer hot, dry conditions. Choosing heat-treated sets or late-maturing varieties will reduce the likelihood of bolting.

Harvesting and storage

  • As soon as the leaves start to yellow and die back, onions and garlic are ready for harvesting. Don’t bend over the leaves to speed this up.
  • Lay the bulbs, complete with foliage, in a warm, dry place for a couple of weeks to dry out. If onions develop thick necks use these straight away as they don’t store well and are prone to neck rot.
  • Make sure the foliage is completely dry before storing the crop in a dark, cool, dry place, either by hanging in nets or plaits, or packing carefully in layers in boxes. Storage life depends on the cultivar but is usually 3-6 months.

Pests and diseases

  • Onions can be prone to various fungus-borne diseases which makes it worthwhile to rotate the position of your onions each year. It’s also worth always buying fresh sets each year from a reputable supplier to avoid the viral diseases that garlic in particular is prone to.
  • Onion neck rot – fluffy grey fungal growth around the neck leads to softening of the tissues. Infected areas turn transparent and may start to dry out. Avoid by always purchasing sets from a reputable source and not growing onions on the same site more than two years running. Onions with red or yellow bulbs are less affected than white ones.
  • Onion white rot – a dense fluffy fungal white growth around the roots and base of the bulb. If you find it, remove and burn infected plants promptly, and don’t grow onions on the same site for at least eight years. There’s no chemical control or resistant varieties.
  • Onion fly – onions are particularly prone to this larval fly but shallots, leeks and garlic may also be attacked. The larvae eat the roots of the bulbs and may burrow into them in late summer. Growing onions from sets reduces the problem, as does interplanting with carrots to mask the smell. If you discover an infestation, remove infested bulbs promptly before the larvae move into the soil to pupate.
  • Onion thrips – a fine white mottling on the foliage indicates an attack on onions or leeks. They’re tiny yellow or black bodied insects about 2mm long and are particularly troublesome in hot, dry weather. The damage to leaves can result in smaller crops.


Peas
Peas

Peas come in two varieties: shelling and mangetout. Shelling peas mature at different times. Earlies take around 12 weeks, second earlies take 14 weeks and maincrops take 16 weeks.

Shelling peas come in round and wrinkle-seeded varieties. Choose round seeds for hardiness and early sowings, and wrinkled for sweetness and summer sowings.

Peas need a sunny, nutrient-rich, moisture-retentive site. Dig over the soil and add plenty of compost or well-rotted manure – this will help to improve the soil’s moisture-retaining ability in hot, dry summers.

What to do

How to sow seed

  • Peas sown in cold, wet ground will rot off, so make sure the soil is warm. In early spring, cover the soil with polythene before sowing and then protect seedlings with a fleece. Sow shorter varieties in a flat trench, 5cm (2in) deep and 25cm (10in) wide.
  • Water the trench first, then sow the seeds 5-7cm (2in) apart in three rows along the bottom of the trench. Backfill the trench with soil and firm the ground gently.
  • Many dwarf and semi-leafless varieties can also be sown in small blocks. Stagger seeds 13cm (6in) apart, pushing the seed to a depth of 5cm (2in) into the ground.
  • For taller varieties, sow seed in a single row 5-10cm (2-4in) apart, ensuring there’s enough space for plant supports. Make a single V-shaped drill, 5cm (2in) deep, water the base of the drill and sow the peas. A second row can be added, as long as it’s 30cm (12in) away from the first drill.
  • For a succession of peas, sow at two-week intervals.

Supporting plants

  • Use bamboo canes, trellis or netting to create supports for plants.
  • Once peas have reached 5-8cm (2-3in) in height and their tendrils begin to reach out for support, place stakes next to plants.

How to grow an early crop

  • To grow an early crop, try sowing seeds in a length of old guttering from late September through to mid November. Drill drainage holes at regular intervals along the base. Fill to the top with seed compost and add an early pea variety, such as ‘Feltham First’, spacing the seeds at about 7.5cm (3in) apart.
  • Place the guttering in the greenhouse, or a cold frame. Keep the compost moist and transplant into the garden once the seedlings have established. Dig out a shallow trench and gently slide the pea seedlings into it. Water and cover with cloches to encourage growth.

Harvesting

  • Regular picking is essential for a truly fresh pea. Harvest from the bottom of the plant working upwards.
  • Don’t pull the plant after harvest, as the roots are full of nitrogen-fixing bacteria. Cut off the stems at ground level, allowing the roots to rot down and release nitrogen back into the soil for the next crop to use.

Five peas to try

  1. ‘Sugar Ann’ (AGM) – sugarsnap pea bearing very early sweet pods
  2. ‘Delikata’ (AGM) – tall mangetout carrying a heavy crop
  3. ‘Feltham First’ – popular, hardy variety producing early pods
  4. ‘Waverex’ – reliable petit pois with plenty of small, sweetly flavoured peas
  5. ‘Early Onward’ – early variety with a high yield of blunted pods


Potatoes
Potatoes

What to grow
There are dozens of different potato varieties, usually described as early, second early and maincrop potatoes. These names indicate when they crop and also give you an idea of the space you’ll need, how closely and when they can be planted.

You should concentrate on the earlier types if you’re short of space, and it’s also worth remembering that earlies are less likely to encounter pest problems as they’re lifted so much earlier in the year.

Second earlies take 16 to 17 weeks to mature after planting, so you should be able to harvest them from very late June through to the start of August.

Maincrops are ready 18 to 20 weeks after planting, so they can be lifted usually from July through to October. Maincrops take up the most space in the garden, but they tend to be the best varieties to grow if you want some for storage.

What to do

How to chit

  • Chitting simply means encouraging the seed potatoes to sprout before planting.
  • Start chitting from late January in warmer parts of the country or in February in cooler areas, about six weeks before you intend to plant out the potatoes.
  • Each seed potato has a more rounded, blunt end that has a number of ‘eyes’.
  • Stand the tubers with the blunt end uppermost in trays or old egg boxes, with plenty of natural light.
  • The potatoes are ready to be planted out when the shoots are 1.5-2.5cm (0.5-1in) long.

How to plant

  • Plant your chitted potatoes when the soil has started to warm up, usually from mid-March or early April. Start by digging a trench 7.5-13cm (3-5in) deep, although the exact depth should vary according to the variety of potato you’re planting.
  • Add a light sprinkling of fertiliser to your trench before you begin planting.
  • Plant early potatoes about 30cm (12in) apart with 40-50cm (16-20in) between the rows, and second earlies and maincrops about 38cm (15in) apart with 75cm (30in) between the rows.
  • Handle your chitted tubers with care, gently setting them into the trench with the shoots pointing upwards, being careful not to break the shoots. Cover the potatoes lightly with soil.
  • As soon as the shoots appear, earth up each plant by covering it with a ridge of soil so that the shoots are just buried.
  • You need to do this at regular intervals and by the end of the season each plant will have a small mound around it about 15cm (6in) high.

Harvesting

  • Your home-grown potatoes should be ready for lifting from June until September, depending on the varieties and the growing conditions. Earlies can be lifted and eaten as soon as they’re ready.
  • This will be when above-ground growth is still green, and usually as soon as the flowers open.
  • Second and maincrop varieties can be kept in the ground much longer, until September, even though above-ground growth may well be looking past its best.
  • Two weeks before you lift the crop, cut the growth off at ground level. This should give the skins of the potatoes sufficient time to toughen up, making them far less prone to damage from lifting and easier to store.

Growing tips

  • Potatoes like plenty of sun, so avoid planting them in frost-prone sites, as these conditions can damage the developing foliage. If you’re starting up a vegetable plot on very weedy ground or old grassland, potatoes may help swamp out weeds with their fast-growing, extensive foliage.
  • If you’re short of space, try growing potatoes in an adequately drained container that’s at least 30cm (1ft) deep and wide. Half fill the pot with multi-purpose compost or good quality, fertile garden soil, nestle two seed potatoes into the top of the compost and then top up with more compost or soil to within 2.5cm (1in) of the rim of the container.
  • It’s particularly important that there’s adequate water once the tubers have reached the size of marbles. Unless there’s regular, ample rainfall, the size and quality of the crop will be reduced if you don’t water your potatoes.


Pumpkins
Pumpkins

What to do

How to sow seed

  • Seeds can be sown in pots from April to June.
  • Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost, place a seed in on its side 2.5cm (1in) deep and cover.
  • Label, water and place on a windowsill or in a propagator. When roots begin to show though the bottom of the pot transfer into a 12.5cm (5in) pot.
  • Once seedlings have established, plant outside spacing them 2-3m (6-10ft) apart. Seeds can also be sown from late May to early summer directly into the ground.
  • Choose a sunny, sheltered spot and improve the soil before planting by digging in well-rotted manure or compost. Sow two seeds on their side 2.5cm (1in) deep.
  • Once the seedlings have germinated, remove the weakest one.

Looking after plants

  • Protect seedlings with mulch and feed with general fertiliser or tomato plant food, watering regularly though the growing season.
  • If you’re growing larger varieties use wire as a guide to train shoots as they grow. Remove some fruits before they develop, leaving two or three fruits on the plant. This will encourage the plant to put its energy into producing larger fruit.
  • As the fruits get bigger raise them up onto a piece of wood or brick to protect them from rotting. Remove any leaves shading the fruit as it needs maximum light to ripen.
  • If there’s a risk of an early frost protect the fruit with cardboard and straw.

Harvesting and storage

  • Leave the fruit on the plant for as long as possible to mature and ripen. When the stem cracks and the skin is very tough, the fruit is ready to be picked.
  • Cut fruit off with a long stalk before the first frost. Pumpkins can be stored between four to six months.
  • Expose the pumpkin to sunlight outside for ten days or keep indoors at 27-32ºC (81-90ºF) for four days to harden.
  • Keep your pumpkin stored in a well-ventilated place at about 10ºC degrees (50ºF).

Five pumpkins to try

  1. ‘Hundredweight’ – true to its name this pumpkin is big, it has bright orange skin and needs lots of watering to grow evenly and to its maximum size
  2. ‘Crown prince’ – more unusual in shape and colour, this grey skin pumpkin has orange flesh and is ideal for cooking with
  3. ‘Jack of all trades’ – ideal for Halloween lateens, this pumpkin stores well and also cooks well
  4. ‘Rouge Vif D’Estampes’ – has a strong ornamental shape with red ribbed skin and moist orange flesh, also known as the ‘Cinderella’ pumpkin
  5. ‘Baby Bear’ – a golden orange fruit, its seeds can be roasted and eaten. Also great for making pumpkin pie


Rhubarb
Rhubarb

For a first-time vegetable grower, there isn’t an easier place to start than with rhubarb.

It will flourish without too much attention and will provide you with tasty stalks at a time when little else is ready for harvest in the garden.

Cultivated for its delicious, pink stems, rhubarb is a very hardy, frost-resistant vegetable – in fact it requires a period of frost in the winter in order to produce the best stalks.

 

What to do

Soil preparation

  • All varieties develop a deep root system and grow best in a fertile, partially shaded, free-draining soil.
  • Start digging over your soil four weeks before planting, removing any stones you find and adding as much organic matter as possible.

How to plant

  • Rhubarb can be grown from seed or as plants purchased from your local garden centre. Rhubarb grown from seed will take a year longer to produce stalks, and even then, the plants aren’t guaranteed to be true to type. We recommend buying one-year-old plants, known as ‘crowns’, that have been divided from strong, disease-free plants.
  • Choose the right variety for your patch, prepare the soil, then plant your rhubarb in late autumn to early winter. Keep in mind that many varieties grow to be very large plants, and require a lot of space. Before planting, dig a hole with a trowel a little bit wider than the plant.
  • The depth should be such that the top of the plant is at, or just below the soil surface. Gently firm the surrounding soil and water well. Spacing between plants should be about 75cm (30in) for smaller varieties, and up to 120cm (48in) for larger varieties.
  • After the leaves have died down, spread a new layer of compost around the plant to conserve water and suppress weeds. Dead-head flowers immediately after they appear in the early spring, as allowing flowers to set seed will weaken the plant.

Dividing

  • In order to keep the plants healthy, rhubarb should be divided every five or six years during winter, when dormant. Each plant can be split into three or four separate crowns with a spade. Make sure each crown has an ‘eye’, or a large bud that will provide next year’s shoots.
  • Dig out a hole slightly larger than the divided plants and place the crown in the hole with its roots facing downwards. The top of the crown should be 2.5cm (1in) below the soil surface. Mark where the crown has been planted with a cane or stones until new shoots appear above the soil surface in late February or March.

Forcing

  • This simple process provides an earlier harvest of sweeter stems that don’t need peeling. For forcing outdoors, cover plants with a container or large pot to exclude the light. Place the cover over the rhubarb as soon as it begins to show signs of growth.
  • For forcing indoors, lift whole crowns in November and place them on the soil surface to be chilled for two weeks in order to break their period of dormancy.
  • Pot each crown up with compost and bring into a cool greenhouse. It’s important to completely exclude any light by placing forcing pots or black polythene over crowns.
  • The lack of light and the heating effect of the cover will quickly cause the rhubarb to ripen and it will be ready to eat within four weeks.

Harvesting and storage

  • Allow rhubarb to establish for one year before taking your first harvest. Select three of the largest stalks, waiting for the leaves to fully open before pulling from May to August.
  • Stalks are harvested by gently twisting the stems and pulling from the base of the plant. Leaves shouldn’t be eaten as they contain oxalic acid and are poisonous.

Growing tips

  • Rhubarb suffers from few diseases. Crown rot is the main threat, particularly if soil conditions are wet. The fungal infection occurs at the base of the stalks where crowns turn brown and soften.
  • Plants suffering from rot should be dug up and destroyed immediately. To avoid crown rot, make sure rhubarb is planted in fertile, well-drained, weed-free soil.

Five rhubarb to try

  1. Rhubarb ‘Ace of hearts’ – a good choice for a smaller garden
  2. ‘Prince Albert’ – an early variety with good long stalks
  3. ‘Timperley early’ – lovely flavour, good for forcing
  4. ‘Victoria’ – a classic allotment favourite, good for forcing
  5. ‘Mammoth red’ – grows up to 1.5m (5ft) high


Salad Plants
Salad Plants


Salad leaves are expensive to buy in supermarkets. Because they’re washed and ready to eat, they have a short lifespan in the fridge.

By growing your own, you can pick the exact quantity and combination of colours that you want for each meal.

Most varieties of lettuce are foolproof and can be sown anytime between spring and summer. But by giving the plants protection, it’s even possible to sow seeds in the autumn for tasty leaves over winter. For a continuous supply, sow a few seeds every four weeks.

What to do

How to sow

  • Choose a sunny or partly shaded spot, and prepare the soil by digging over, removing stones and then mixing in well-rotted manure or garden compost. This will add nutrients and help the soil retain moisture. Rake to leave a fine finish.
  • Seeds often come in ready-mixed packets, so you can recreate your favourite supermarket salad mix.
  • Sow seeds in short rows about 30cm (12in) apart. To do this, make a shallow trench with a cane about 1.5cm (1/2in) deep. Tip a small amount of seed into your hand, take a pinch and spread thinly along the trench. Cover with soil, label and water. If birds are a problem in your garden, spread netting to prevent them eating the seed.
  • When the seedlings are about 2cm (1in) tall, thin them out to give them space to grow. The distance will depend on variety, but is usually between 15cm (6in) and 30cm (12in).
  • Lettuces are perfect ‘fillers’. You can fit a row in between other crops, such as tomatoes, as long as they have enough light.
  • Tip: lettuces are easy to grow in containers and window boxes. Simply fill it with a mix of potting compost and John Innes and sow seeds as above.

Aftercare

  • Keep soil just moist. This is particularly important when the lettuces are one or two weeks away from harvesting, as dry soil now will cause the plants to put their energy into producing flowers.

When to harvest

  • Harvest leaves from cut-and-come again lettuces when plants are about 5cm (2in) high, or allow the plants to grow to about 15cm and cut the whole head off leaving a 3cm (1in) stump – a new plant should soon re-sprout.
  • Loose-leaf lettuces need to have leaves harvested regularly to remain productive, while traditional lettuces are harvested by severing at the base or by pulling the whole plant up from the ground.

Five salad plants to try

Apart from traditional lettuces, such as ‘Cos’, ‘Iceberg’ and ‘Butterhead’, there are many others to try, including loose-leaf types and oak leaf lettuce, radicchio, rocket and endive.

  1. ‘Bijou’ – dark red leaves. Grow as a cut-and-come-again crop
  2. ‘Salad Bowl’ – loose leaf lettuce with frilly red or green leaves
  3. ‘Lollo Rosso’ – frilly red leaves
  4. ‘Kendo’- crunchy cos with red blushed leaves
  5. Wild rocket – serrated leaves and strong flavour


Spinach
Spinach, Chard and Spinach Beet


Chard is mainly sown in the spring for picking over the summer, although by protecting the crop with a cloche, leaves can be harvested during autumn and winter.

Spinach can either be sown in spring for a summer crop, or in the autumn for leaves to pick over winter.

Choose your varieties carefully – some are ideal for spring sowing and others for autumn. To make life easier, pick easy growing varieties that are happy to be sown in either season.

These leafy crops are ideal to grow in rows on the allotment or vegetable patch, or due to their brightly coloured stems and glossy leaves, try striking varieties of chard at the front of a flower border. Alternatively, if you have a small garden they can be raised in large containers. Grow in a sunny or slightly shaded spot in moisture retentive soil.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Dig the soil in the spring before sowing, removing big stones, weeds and incorporating plenty of garden compost or well-rotted manure.

How to sow seeds

  • To sow chard – from mid March to mid May – make a trench 2.5cm deep with a garden cane and space seeds about 8cm apart. Cover, water and label – subsequent rows need to be about 38cm apart.
  • For a summer crop, spinach can be sown from early spring to the middle of June – sow seeds 2.5cm apart in trenches 1cm deep, cover and water.
  • New rows should be about 30cm apart. For a constant supply, try sowing a new row every three weeks. For leaves to pick over winter, sow spinach in late summer and early autumn.

Aftercare

  • When the seedlings are about 2cm tall thin out to leave the strongest seedlings plenty of space to grow – chard needs 30cm between plants, spinach beet 38cm and spinach 25cm.
  • Keep the soil around plants free of weeds and water plants in the soil every two weeks, adding a high nitrogen liquid fertiliser to the mix.

Harvesting

  • Spring sowings should be ready to be picked within 12 weeks.
  • Take what you need by cutting leaves from the outside of the plant, taking care to avoid damage to the roots.
  • By picking often, plenty of new leaves will be produced.

Five chard/spinach to try

  1. ‘Bright Lights’ – mixture of chard with red, white, orange, yellow and pink stems
  2. ‘Ruby Chard’ – glossy green leaves, red stems and veins
  3. ‘Lucullus’ – Swiss chard with large white stems
  4. ‘Perpetual Spinach’ – spinach beet with narrow stems and dark green leaves
  5. ‘Space’ – dark green spinach for spring or autumn sowing

Sweetcorn
Sweetcorn

Sweetcorn is wind pollinated and best planted in large blocks, where the male flowers at the top of the plant have more opportunity to shed their pollen on the female tassels (where the cobs will form) below.

Each plant will produce one or two cobs, so work out how many cobs you’re likely to need (you can freeze them) and provide enough space to achieve this.

 

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Sweetcorn likes free-draining, moisture retentive soil. If you can, prepare the bed the previous autumn before planting, adding plenty of well-rotted manure to the soil.
  • Don’t worry if you never had time, beds can still be made in the spring. First remove weeds and dig over the site with a spade, removing any particularly large stones.
  • Level roughly and then work over the area with a rake to leave a fine finish.

Seeds or plants?

  • Ready-grown plants will establish quickly and provide cobs earlier than sowing seed directly into the soil.

Sowing into pots

  • In April, fill a 7.5cm pot with compost, make a 2.5cm deep hole in the top with dibber (a pencil will do if you don’t have one) and drop two seeds in.
  • Cover, water and put on a windowsill to germinate. When seedlings are about 2cm tall discard the weakest one and put plants in a shady place outdoors to toughen up before planting out.

Planting out

  • To make sure your crop gets off to a flying start, spread some general fertiliser granules over the planting area and gently rake in to the surface.
  • If you can, try to do this two or three weeks before planting or sowing.
  • Ready-grown plants can go into the soil from May.
  • Using a trowel, set sweetcorn plants 35cm apart with 60cm between rows to form a block.
  • There are no rules about how large the block has to be, this will be determined by how many plants you decide to grow.

Sowing into the soil

  • Alternatively, if you forgot to grow plants earlier, you can still grow corn by planting seeds directly into the soil in late spring and early summer.
  • Use a dibber to make 2.5cm holes and sow two seeds every 35cm with 60cm between rows. Cover and water.
  • Remove the weakest of each pair of seedlings when they’re about 2cm tall.
  • In cooler climates it’s worth protecting the emerging seedlings with fleece, held down with stones.

Aftercare

  • Keep plants well watered and the soil weed free.
  • Use a Dutch hoe to slice off annual weeds, taking care not to sever the surface growing roots of the sweetcorn.
  • To protect these and to give plants more stability, pile soil up around the stems with a draw hoe.

Harvesting

  • Corn is ready when the silky tassels at the end of the cobs turn brown, but check by carefully peeling back the leaves and pinching a kernel.
  • If the juice is milky, cobs are ready to pick. To do this, simply twist the cob away from the plant.

 

Five sweetcorn to try

  1. ‘Indian Summer’ – cobs of mixed kernels – yellow, red, white and purple
  2. ‘Swift ‘ – super-sweet variety
  3. ‘Sundance’ – creamy yellow kernels
  4. ‘Lark’ – very soft yellow kernels
  5. ‘Honey Bantam Bicolor’ – yellow and creamy white kernels


Tomatoes
Tomatoes

Tomatoes are easy to grow from seed, and can be grown in any size garden providing they are in a warm, sheltered spot. But it’s important to choose the right variety, suited to the space you have available, and the location.

Greenhouses and polytunnels offer the best conditions in the UK for producing a summer-long feast of tomatoes. But outdoor ripened fruit can be worth waiting for.

There are varieties suited to growing indoors and outdoors and some bred especially for containers and hanging baskets. Whichever variety you choose, all need fertile soil, and plenty of regular sun, heat, food and water to produce sweet, juicy fruits.

What to do

How to sow seeds

  • Fill a 7.5cm (3in) pot with compost, lightly firm and water.
  • Scatter seeds thinly (most germinate so only sow a few more than you need) and cover with a thin layer of vermiculite.
  • Label and put on a windowsill to germinate. Seedlings should appear within two weeks and be large enough to move into separate pots in about eight weeks.
  • To do this, hold seedlings carefully by their leaves and gently lever up with a dibber. Make a hole in a 7.5cm (3in) pot filled with compost and carefully lower in the seedling.
  • Gently firm, making sure roots are covered and water. When roots come through the drainage holes put into a 12.5cm (5in) pot.

Planting in growing bags

  • When the first truss or ‘branch’ of flowers has appeared, tomatoes are ready to go into growing bags.
  • Prepare the bag by shaking and kneading it to break up clods of compacted compost and form into a hummock shape.
  • Puncture the base to make some drainage holes and cut out the pre-marked planting squares. Scoop out compost for the tomatoes to be planted.
  • The top of the root ball should be beneath the top of the bag and have a light covering of compost. Firm in and water.
  • Put a growing bag frame over the bag and insert a cane next to each plant.
  • Secure this to the frame and as it grows, tie the tomato to the cane every 10cm (4in).

Growing tips

  • Unless you’re growing a bush tomato, the aim is to create a single-stemmed plant.
  • To do this, snap out shoots that grow in leaf joints and when your plant has produced four sets of flowering trusses, pinch out the growing tip.
  • This will ensure all its energy goes into producing fruit. Water plants daily and once flowers have started to appear, feed with tomato fertiliser every week to ensure the best fruit.
  • If you find yourself with a glut of green tomatoes at the end of the growing season, try putting a few in a kitchen drawer with a banana to encourage them to ripen.

Five tomatoes to try

There are hundreds of varieties of tomatoes, from tiny cherry tomatoes to huge beefsteak types. Why not try a few different varieties every year.

  1. ‘Cream Sausage’ – creamy coloured, plum shaped and very sweet
  2. ‘Black Russian’ – a large, dark skinned variety
  3. ‘Gardeners Delight’ – popular for its abundance of sweet fruit
  4. ‘Sungold’ – masses of cherry-sized fruits ideal for salads
  5. ‘Marmande’ – a classic beefsteak tomato


Winter Salad
Winter Salad

Many people grow their own salad in the summer, but strangely winter salads have never quite taken off in the same way.
The good news is that the growing methods used are very similar and that, with a few small adjustments, you can grow tasty salads in the garden all year round.
Choose from hardy varieties of your favourite summer lettuce, or experiment with more unusual winter salad crops such as Texsel greens and salad burnet. For a continuous supply, sow a few seeds every four weeks.

Good drainage is essential for growing winter salad as the seedlings will simply freeze if left standing in pools of water. Choose a sheltered, sunny position when deciding where to grow your salad as it’s important that the seedlings are protected from cold winter winds.

What to do

Soil preparation

  • Choose a sheltered sunny spot in the garden and prepare the soil by digging over and mixing in well-rotted manure or garden compost. This will add nutrients and help the soil retain moisture.
  • Rake to leave a fine finish.
  • Alternatively prepare a container mix of potting compost and John Innes and use a window box or pot.

How to sow

  • Sow between late August and mid-November. Regular sowings will ensure that you have a good continuous crop.
  • Sow seeds in short, shallow rows. Cover with soil, label and water.
  • If a sharp dip in temperature is predicted (particularly overnight), consider covering your seeds with a cloche or fleece to protect them.

Aftercare

  • Keep soil just moist but ensure that your seedlings do not get too cold or wet. This is particularly important for winter salad, so keep an eye on the weather forecast and protect your seedlings if a frost is predicted.

Harvesting

  • Harvest leaves from cut-and-come again lettuces when plants are about 5cm (2in) high, or allow the plants to grow to about 15cm and cut the whole head off leaving a 3cm (1in) stump – a new plant should soon re-sprout.

Growing tips

  • Winter salads traditionally have a strong, robust flavour that can sometimes be a little bitter. If you find that your salad leaves are too bitter for your tastes, try blanching the leaves by covering the plants with an upturned flowerpot.
  • Left like this for a few days before harvesting, the leaves will become paler and less bitter.

Ten winter salad plants to try

This list is a combination of the most hardy ‘summer’ lettuces, and salad leaves which are specifically at their best in winter. Try growing a few of each for a variety of tastes.

  1. Lettuce ‘Artic King’ – this large ‘butterhead’ lettuce is light green, crunchy and exceptionally hardy. Sow by mid September for best results, or later under glass.
  2. Lettuce ‘Valdor’ – this dark green lettuce has a tight core of leaves and is very hardy. Sow in September and October for picking 10-12 weeks later.
  3. Texsel Greens – also known as Ethiopian greens, this fast-growing salad plant can be sown until the end of October, or later under glass. The leaves taste similar to spinach and can be used in the same way.
  4. Radicchio ‘Treviso Precoce Mesola’ – an autumn sowing of these seed will produce deep maroon leaves without any trace of the bitterness often associated with radicchio.
  5. Endive ‘CanCan’ – a frisee-type of lettuce which is tough enough to survive the winter outside in milder areas or under some protection in cooler climates.
  6. Winter Purslane – hardy, green and tasty, sow the seed of this salad leaf in August and September for salad throughout the winter
  7. ‘Golden Purslane’ – the more glamorous relative of regular winter purslane. The red stems of ‘Golden Purslane’ look wonderful against the golden leaves and will brighten up a salad bowl.
  8. Salad Burnet – The leaves of this perennial have a cucumber flavour and are good in salads. Harvest frequently for a steady supply of tender leaves.
  9. Corn salad – also known as lamb’s lettuce. This salad leaf grows slowly, so plant the seeds as early as possible
  10. Land cress – an excellent substitute for watercress, this plant can be picked around eight weeks after sowing. It’s not entirely frost-resistant though, so cover the plants with a cloche or fleecing if the temperature drops.




Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

9 − four =