Grow foolproof crops

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If you think growing veg is too hard, why not try these easy annuals? By Helen Billiald

1. Cut and come again salad leaves
This isn’t one crop, but a type of crop – offering lots of tasty salad leaves that can be grown pretty much all year round. Cut and come again seed mixes are a beautiful thing, giving you baby leaves that can be sweet, spicy or fragrant depending on the mix. Look out for ‘Speedy Mix’ (£2.69 for 500 seeds from Thompson and Morgan) and Salad Leaf Herb Mix (£1.99 for seed to fill a 7.5m/25ft row, from Marshalls) to name just a couple.
Sow the seeds direct into warm soil from spring onwards. Your soil type and where you live will dictate whether this is in March or April. (Look for the tell-tale clues of weed seeds starting to germinate.) Sow in rows, 15cm (6in) apart, just covering the seeds with soil and if lots of seedlings pop up, thin them to 5cm (2in) apart eating the thinnings. Harvest by cutting entire plants, leaving a 2.5cm (1in) stubby base from which it will regrow for another cut. Water during dry spells and watch out for slugs and snails who are equally partial to these young tender leaves. 

2. Peas
Fresh and plump, these delicious pods contain the sweetest of treats for the gardener. Once the ground warms in spring, make a shallow trench, 15cm (6in) wide and 3cm (1in) deep. Scatter pea seeds along the base of the trench so they’re around 5cm (xxin) apart and cover with soil. Mice will sometimes eat seed but covering the planting with fleece or mesh makes it more awkward for them.
If you’re on heavy soil and mice are persistent, sow into containers or old guttering under cover in a cool greenhouse and plant out sturdy seedlings. You’ll need to stake taller plants with a line of pea sticks and if pigeons become a problem, stake some mesh over the plants.
Even if your plot is tiny you can still grow little pea wigwams using three 1m (4ft) canes. Push some twiggy sticks between the canes to give plants something to cling to and sow three seeds direct around each cane. ‘Douce Provence’ is a good choice for mini wigwams (£2.79 for 270 seeds from Suttons) or if you fancy going tall try 2.4m (8ft) ‘Champion of England’ (£2.93 for 80 seeds from the Real Seed Company).

3. Potatoes
Growing potatoes is child’s play, and certain cultivars such as ‘Charlotte’ and ‘Anya’ are so delicious that it’s always worth making room for them, even if it’s just a couple of containers or large sacks.
Look out for seed potatoes at your local garden centre or order on line (don’t use something from the local grocery store), and for the fastest and easiest crops choose a ‘first early’ or ‘second early’ cultivar. Maincrops take longer and are more at risk of blight.
Place the seed potatoes somewhere cool and light to ‘chit’, that is, start the shoots into growth. You’re after tight, knobbly, green shoots, a couple of cm long by the time you plant out, not pale lanky ones. Plant out in early March if you live in a sheltered part of the country, late March or even early April if not. Any shoots venturing above ground will be blackened by frost should temperatures fall so mound soil over the young shoots (earthing up) as they grow. This also stops light reaching the developing tubers and turning them green.

4. Garlic
Super pungent garlic has a touch of magic to it. You pop a single clove in the ground and it turns into a whole head of cloves, reeking of barbeques and sunshine – what’s not to like?
You can plant it in late autumn, early winter or even early spring depending on the cultivar, giving you plenty of chances to get them in. They do best in a well-drained and fertile soil but as long as you keep them weed free and water during prolonged dry spells they’re surprisingly forgiving.
Gently break a bulb into individual cloves and plant them 3cm (1in) below the soil surface and 15cm (6in) apart. Dig them up in June or July as the leaves start to turn from green to yellow.

5 Courgette
As difficulty ratings go, courgettes don’t even register. These plants want to grow and as long as you wait until after the frosts to plant them outside, they’ll do just that. If you’ve been put off by the horror of boiled courgettes, choose a firm-fleshed cultivar such as ‘Romanesco’ (£2.35 for 45 seeds from Seeds of Italy) and cook on a griddle.
Apart from sunshine, warmth and a fertile soil you also need to give them space, often 90cm (3ft) between plants. Sow seeds in warmth under cover in April, two seeds to a pot and thin to one if both germinate. Pot on to ensure you have a large, established plant to go out at the end of May.

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