Growing vegetables can be therapeutic and give just as much pleasure as flower gardening. And a great benefit is that you’ll be able to give up using expensive chemical fertilizers and pesticides and grow your food organically, which has not only health benefits but will also make essential extra cash savings on supermarket prices. Along the way you will also be helping the wildlife in your area to thrive, which is definitely good for the environment
You don’t need a big vegetable plot to get started, a simple raised veg box will do. It can 1.2m wide (and as long as you can accommodate) so that crops can be tended from either side and ideally 15cm deep and filled with a well-draining, quality top soil that will get crops off to a good start.
Raised bed kits are available from harrodhorticultural.com in 5 heights – up to 76cm and prices start from £31 for a standard bed measuring 60 x 60cm and 15cm deep – the largest size is 2.4 x 2.4m and 30cm deep at £399
You can buy young vegetable plants in late spring or start earlier and grow them from seed. Broad bean seeds and onion setts are the first to be planted out in March, followed in April by carrots and turnips, brassicas and Sugar Snaps or Mangetout and peas. Runner beans should go in two weeks before the last frost is predicted in your area and finally courgettes and sweet corn, which can be given a head start by raising them indoors on the windowsill. Salads especially can be sown every two weeks throughout the summer for a continuous supply of fresh leaves until autumn. You will find recommended sowing and harvesting times along with growing tips on the seed packet.
The aim is to grow crops fast so they’ll be sweet, tender and on your plate as quick as possible. For the speediest returns consider growing mini veg, which are perfect for singles, couples and a small or fussy family. The choice available includes cauliflowers, cabbage and sweet corn, which have been bred for their bite size, or you can harvest standard varieties of courgettes, leeks and carrots when they’re finger-sized. Doing this will allow you to space the plants relatively close together in blocks rather than rows to make use of the space available.
Without too much effort you can have a ready supply of fresh veg through to October. Summer can produce an excess of lettuce, carrots, beetroot, peas and potatoes unless you discipline yourself to sow in succession. You should also think ahead with sowings of root crops and cabbages that will come good in the winter months.
Try my First timers’ plot to pot seed order
If it’s your first time growing veg, then I suggest you forget tender vegetables such as sweetcorn and French beans that need high temperatures, and concentrate on the following easy, hardy types that are well adapted to the British climate and you won’t go far wrong. This seed order is available from mr-fothergills.co.uk, who offer good value for money
Beetroot Sow thinly and then thin out seedlings. For sowings before mid-May choose Bolthardy – a bolt-resistant variety. Use young beetroot leaves as a replacement to spinach in a salad and try the varieties Golden and Chioggia that has rosy pink skin and white flesh with concentric pink circles for adding colour.
Cabbage It’s best to sow small amounts of several varieties to mature at different times. Try the summer varieties Hispi and Minicole in small garden. For spring harvests grow Spring Hero, which makes a solid ball ideal for coleslaw and for winter plant savoy varieties that withstand the worst of the weather and like well-compacted soil.
Carrot On stony soils, try Parmex that has round roots, making them ideal for pots and grow Early Ideal which is most flavoursome when no more than a finger in length and of course grow Flyaway which boasts effective carrot fly resistance.
Cauliflower Can be started in pots or direct sown in the ground. They remain in good condition for only a couple of weeks so don’t plant too many at once. Sow Idol in trays January and plant out in February and by June you’ll be picking baby cauliflowers that are tender enough to eat in salads.
Leek Different varieties will allow for a long cropping period. Try Armor, which can be pulled as mini-leeks when pencil-thick and makes a tasty alternative to salad onions.
Lettuce With a cold frame it’s possible to grow lettuce throughout the year. Try loose leaved varieties such as Salad Bowl where a few leaves can be picked daily or single portion Little Gem, Mini Green and Blush, which are small, sweet and crisp.
Kale An excellent vegetable for early spring use. It’s extremely hardy and grows well on all types of soil. Try the curly-leaved, Dwarf Green Curled, which is also known as Borecole that takes up least space.
Onions A useful and easy to grow crop which will can be stored on strings and for use through the winter months. The variety Brunswick has red skin and mild white flesh and is ideal for salads, stir-frying and storing.
Peas Earlies take 11 weeks from planting to harvest, mid-season varieties 13 weeks and lates 15 weeks. To avoid problems with pea moth grow Mangetout varieties such as Sugar Snap, which are ripe for harvesting before the grubs have time to develop.
Radish This very easy and quick crop usually takes between four and six weeks to mature. Varieties come in a range of shapes and sizes, which can be grown for summer, autumn and winter use. For salads try the crunchy variety French Breakfast.
Spring onions The old and dependable variety White Lisbon is a traditional, if somewhat eye-watering variety. Sown thickly it will yield bunches of spring onions. Furio is a fun alternative with its bright red stems and slightly hot flavour.
Turnip Leaves can be cooked as cabbage, or roots used in soups and stews. Turnips should be grown quickly and are most tender when less than cricket-ball size. Try the baby turnip Tokyo Cross
Eat your greens
Mr Fothergill’s offer this choice brassica collection (5 plants of each of the following, £8.95), which from a May planting will provide a plentiful supply of tasty nutritious green vegetables in late summer to winter.
Brussels Sprout Bronte F1 A taller variety ready for harvesting from September to December. Really good flavour and very high yielding.
Cabbage Kilaton F1 This superb Dutch white variety is proven to have resistance to club root. It produces large, dense heads or, planted at closer spacings, will produce smaller ‘family meal-sized’ cabbages if desired through to December.
Calabrese Ironman F1 Very high yielding and a strong grower producing superb, blue-green heads from early to late autumn. Harvest from September.
Cauliflower Moby Dick F1 A splendid hybrid with a deep white, hard curd which is protected against frost by the foliage. Crops from mid autumn. Excellent for freezing.
Start to think like the chef and see the meals on your table and ways to use up the glut. For example uses pea shoots, which just as tasty as the peas in the pods. Grow Sugar Snap peas and snip off the shoots before they reach fruiting stage and you’ll get several servings without affecting the pea crop.