Alice Whitehead suggests no-sweat veg you can add to your shopping list this year.
If you’re an impatient gardener or want to get your kids growing – salad is your saviour.
From seed to salad bowl in less than six weeks, it’s possible to have a steady homegrown supply for most of the year.
Ready-made combos such as lollo rosso, oak leaf, mustard, rocket and mizuna are often referred to as ‘cut-and-come-again’ because you don’t have to wait for the plant to ‘heart up’ like traditional lettuce.
Instead, you snip at baby leaf stage like the bistro bags at the supermarket.
Sow October to February indoors as microgreens, and March to September outdoors, perhaps with a little protective fleece at first.
Make a shallow drill and sow 1cm deep, or into pots or raised beds, and sow again once the first row is up. I’ve learnt not to be tempted to cover with too much soil – they only need the thinnest layer.
Salad planted outside in pots
Radishes are the red-faced athletes of the veg patch.
Up in 30 days from sowing, they crop reliably from March to August outdoors, but I always like to sow in October and February too, for a few winter gems.
You can buy special winter cultivars such as Japanese ‘Mooli’ or ‘Black Spanish’, but I find bog-standard varieties work just as well with a bit of protection.
In the summer, you can’t beat a ‘French Breakfast’, with its crispy pink tubes that are perfect for dipping. Happy in semi-shade as in the sun (they go to seed if it’s too hot), you don’t need to ‘thin them’ i.e. take out every other seedling, as they shoulder each other away out of the way as they grow.
Pick them small – the size of a large marble – otherwise they get woody.
Sweet, fiery and crunchy all at the same time, spring onions can’t be beaten for early spring flavour.
Sow March to October every three weeks, 1.5cm deep, and you’ll get a crop in eight weeks.
Try out some unusual varieties such as red ‘Apache’, or ‘Pompeii’ that’s great for pickling.
Leave them in a bit longer, and some varieties will even bulb up to full-size onions without any extra effort!
Colourful, quick and packed with flavour – but with none of the added ‘stringiness’ of runner beans – this is the ultimate veg to grow at home to reduce your carbon footprint. You’ll never eat Kenyan beans again!
Erect a wigwam of canes in late April/May and sow 1-2 seeds per cane, 5cm deep.
If you buy the dwarf varieties, which only reach 40cm high, you can ditch the canes as they support each other.
Drench with water once a week and mulch with compost around the roots to conserve moisture (sharp sand will also keep the snails away).
Begin picking when the pods are 10cm (4in) long. I love ‘Amethyst’ for its pretty purple pods, or spotty borlotti ‘Splendido’, which can be harvested later for haricot beans.
Save pounds on shop-bought garlic by planting this easy-going crop in autumn or spring.
Use a dibber or trowel to make shallow holes, around 2cm deep, in open ground and break your bulb into individual cloves.
Sow six inches apart, in rows 12 inches apart, so the wispy tops are just below the surface.
Weed gently by hand as the garlic grows and water – but stop a few weeks before harvesting. You don’t want them to rot.
Once the leaves start to droop and yellow, lift with a fork to check they’re ready. If you’re too late this year, try growing in trays for their lush green shoots instead.
Once you’ve tasted fresh, sweet garden peas straight from the pod, you can forget trying to get them home!
Choose a sunny site in fertile soil – I like to dig in well-rotted compost a few weeks before planting – and make a shallow trench with a trowel, around 4cm deep.
Sow 3-5cm apart and protect with netting at first as the birds love to peck them out.
Create a tunnel of twigs for them to creep up and water regularly to encourage fat pods, and you should have your first crop in 10 weeks. If you can’t wait that long, scatter into seed trays of compost for pea shoots.
Swiss chard is a sure-fire way to brighten up your plot and plate in autumn and winter.
The polished leaves and pretty stems of ‘Bright Lights’ or yellow ‘Golden Sunrise’ are beautiful to look at and to eat.
Prepare the soil well: the plants can be in the same spot for months, so they need plenty of well-rotted compost.
Sow in clusters, three or four seeds to a 2cm deep hole.
Unless you have a large family, it’s unlikely you’ll need more than one row, or a couple of pots, as they’re very prolific! Thin out the weakest plants, and hoe to keep weeds down.
They’re hardy enough to produce small pickings all-year-round.
Forget the trenches, the earthing-up and all the other words you might associate with potato growing. It’s possible to grow a brilliant crop of potatoes in a bag, bucket or trug with minimal effort and no digging.
If you’re growing salad potatoes, you might want to ‘chit’ them first on a windowsill, which means allowing them to produce shoots. This can get them going more quickly, but it’s not necessary.
Fill an eight-litre container with peat-free multi-purpose compost to just below the rim, and plunge your tubers in with the shoots facing up. Cover and place in a frost-free corner and add more soil if the tubers poke out.
You can feed every other week with fertiliser, and water if conditions are dry.
Once the foliage starts to yellow, harvest as you need them.