Enjoy a Taste of Spring

Make space for beautiful, easy veg this year. Naomi Slade shows how to grow-your-own in beds, pots and borders

Everyone has space for a few veg crops

by Liz Potter |

Happily tending a vegetable garden in the sun, robin on spade and marrows gently swelling, has been a vision of utopia for generations. But the desire to embrace the good life has burgeoned recently, as people spend more time at home reassessing their priorities and interests.

The pandemic to date has been shocking and exhausting but, pragmatically taking the op-portunity to reconnect with our gardens in the fresh air and sunshine has allowed us to em-brace a more green-fingered lifestyle, often giving grow-your-own a go.

While complete self-sufficiency isn’t a realistic option in the average British garden, grow-ing a few useful and tasty crops is relatively easy. This is not just a way to fill the long days of lockdown. It also allows us to delay those nerve-wracking trips to the supermarket and overcome any concerns about food security and quality. Spending time outdoors sowing, growing, picking and pruning brings a sense of purpose and control in an uncertain world – with the added bonus of creating something beautiful and delicious.

New and returning gardeners have flocked outdoors, and demand for plants and seeds has soared. In April 2020, Suttons Seeds reported a surge in orders some 25 times higher than usual. And with grow-your-own now back with bells on, food crops are being incorporated into even the smallest gardens. There may be issues with space and aspect, plants need watering and feeding, and pests and diseases are always with us, but practice makes per-fect and these challenges are all part of the gardening journey.

Every garden is different too, so it pays to understand your site and soil. Choose crops that suit your conditions and use the space you have wisely. Rejoice in the intense, juicy taste of success, however small. If one crop fails, salvage what you can, serve it with panache, and plant something else.

A small garden veg patch isn’t ideal for bulky crops that are cheap to buy, such as onions or potatoes, slow-maturing leeks, or stands of wind-pollinated sweetcorn. But there are an awful lot of other things to try, and a space that’s just 1.5x2m (5x6½ft) can produce a wealth of tasty things to eat, all year round.

Edging the veg patch with boards keeps things neat; raised beds are also a good choice. If you want to keep your options open, moveable timber planters are ideal.

Remember that most crops prefer a sunny spot – especially tomatoes and beans, which need pollinating in order for their fruit to set. In a shadier location, salad leaves and root veg are more tolerant.

Herbs such as mint, parsley and chervil crop generously whatever their location, but fussy basil demands warmth and light. Grown over winter, garlic actively needs a period of cold, while salad leaves including rocket, land cress and mizuna are surprisingly hardy, too.

Veg plants prefer ‘good living’, so improve the soil with homemade compost or well-rotted manure and feed and water well while crops are growing. There’s no need to dig organic matter in; just mulch annually.

To get high yields from a small space takes organisation. Sown directly, rocket and radishes sprout in a matter of days and you can create a succession of crops

by germinating a selection of seeds on the windowsill in anticipation. Starting off plants such as dwarf beans, mangetout

and lettuce indoors also helps to protect them from mice and slugs.

In a small veg patch, conventional crop-rotation isn’t necessary, but think about what you want to grow, when. Beans, carrots, beetroot and salad crops are great summer staples, and you can train trailing squash up a trellis, if you support the fruit.

Edible flowers and colourful salad leaves are an attractive addition between crops and around the edges of your patch. Just remember that when fast-growing plants are packed together in a sunny spot, dry roots can lead to powdery mildew, so make sure you water well.

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