Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Easy Peasy First Vegetable Growing

When it comes to growing vegetables, I am sometimes way ahead of the game but more often than not a little behind with my plans when the season starts.

We built raised beds last year. So keen was I to get filling those lovely beds that I drew out my planting design in Photoshop and set seeds everywhere. We had chard germinating in the workshop window, cucumbers growing in old profiterole containers and beans growing in toilet roll tubes all over the house. I ended up with too many of some things, which I ended up giving away, plus I had lots of seedlings ready to plant out before the conditions were right.

This year I have taken a more leisurely approach, so we still have empty vegetable beds waiting to be filled. Salad leaves and beetroot are already happily sprouting and the courgettes and french beans that Mr Mouse hasn’t snacked on are growing well too. At this time of year it can be difficult to know where best to aim your efforts to ensure that you get a good return throughout the season. If you are new to ‘growing your own’ here are some favourites that anyone can get planting.

Kale is such an easy plant to grow. It is happy with most soils and doesn’t get too bothered by pests. The only thing they are not keen on is warm weather as it tends to send them to seed too soon. Cut out the central stalk and use the leaves like cabbage, in pasta dishes or turn them into kale crisps. Cavalo Nero is a variety that looks as good as it tastes and survives right into the winter. Plant them in a seed tray then prick them out when they are a couple of inches tall. Don’t grow too many at a time or they will fill your borders.

Lettuce is a great money saving crop as bags of leaves from the supermarket are costly and they only last days. It’s worth sowing a few seeds every few weeks so that you have a constant supply of baby leaves. I tend to prefer the cut-and-come-again style as they are less likely to run to seed and you don’t have to wait for them to get very big before you can start enjoying them. Salad leaves are great for sowing in pots as then you can keep them right outside your door.

Peas are an essential crop for us. There is nothing to beat the taste of fresh peas straight from the pod as you walk around the garden on a Summer’s evening. If you aren’t able to tend your garden as much as you’d like, a good option might be mangetout. As you don’t need to leave them to fatten up; you can pick a few as and when you need them. They are at their best when young and very tender.

Beans are my absolute favourite thing to grow, especially broad beans which are so tasty. To plant just drop a bean into a toilet roll tube filled with compost. They are ready to plant out when they reach about 10cm and then you will just need a few canes to support them. They are good for the soil as they take nitrogen from the air and plough it back into the soil through their roots. The borlotti beans above are worth growing just for their beautiful flowers and mottled pods.

--Claire Sutton

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