What to plant now and eat later

Belfast Telegraph - Weekend - - GARDENING - BY DIAR­MUID GAVIN

Now is the time to en­sure you have some tasty crops to en­joy in the sum­mer and through next win­ter. Even if you only have space for con­tainer gar­den­ing, make sure to in­clude some­thing edi­ble. Hang­ing bas­kets are a great way of max­imis­ing your grow­ing space, par­tic­u­larly on bal­conies. You could be har­vest­ing pounds of cherry toma­toes later this sum­mer. ‘Hun­dreds and Thou­sands’, ‘Tum­bler’ and ‘Tum­bling Tom Red’ are all bush va­ri­eties that don’t re­quire sup­port or side shoots re­moved so will hap­pily cas­cade in a bas­ket or con­tainer. Plant nurs­ery-raised plants now.

If you’ve no out­door space, a win­dowsill is the per­fect spot to grow herbs, in easy reach for cook­ing. Basil, chives and pars­ley seeds can all be sown out­doors now. Pots of herbs can look great on small lad­ders against a wall.

Sow car­rots di­rectly into the ground now. For their long tap roots to de­velop well, a deep, light, free-drain­ing soil is best, but avoid freshly ma­nured soil. Re­move as many stones and peb­bles from the soil as you can — this will help pre­vent­ing fork­ing where the root di­vides it­self to get around the ob­sta­cle. The seed is quite small to han­dle but try to sow thinly — you will even­tu­ally thin seedlings out to a spac­ing of 7in be­tween plants.

Any of the cut-and-come again crops are in­valu­able — you just pick a few leaves as you re­quire, and the plant will keep grow­ing. These are of­ten sold to­gether in seed pack­ets as mixed salad leaves. As you are not let­ting the plant ma­ture, you can grow them tightly to­gether. Reg­u­lar pick­ing will ex­haust the plant, so re­tain some seed to sow again when crop is fin­ished. If you pre­fer a whole head of let­tuce, try smaller va­ri­eties of but­ter­head and cos such as ‘Tom Thumb’ and ‘Lit­tle Gem’. Dwarf green curled kale is a com­pact crop you sow from April on­wards which pro­vides healthy greens in the depths of win­ter.

Sow French and run­ner beans in­doors now, ready for trans­plant­ing next month. The in­ner card­board tube of toi­let pa­per rolls is ideal for them, as they quickly put down deep roots and then you can trans­plant the whole tube di­rectly into the soil with­out dis­turb­ing the seedling. You can di­rect-sow them from late May on­wards as well but they will have a bet­ter chance against mice, slugs and snails if they get a head­start in­doors. The seeds are easy to han­dle, which makes them a good project for chil­dren. (I’ve just sown some ‘Scar­let Em­peror’ and not only am I look­ing for­ward to their tasty pro­duce but they have the added bonus of be­ing highly or­na­men­tal with their scar­let pea flow­ers). These need trel­lis or a bam­boo wig­wam to climb up but in smaller spa­ces you can grow dwarf va­ri­eties such as ‘Pick­wick’ and ‘Hes­tia’ in con­tain­ers.

Sow kale seeds now and you’ll en­joy the health ben­e­fits of this nu­tri­ent-rich veg all win­ter. It’s easy-to-grow and doesn’t mind a bit of shade. As a leafy veg it likes a ni­tro­gen-rich soil and to be kept wa­tered. Net it to keep off the birds. A pop­u­lar va­ri­ety is ‘Nero di Toscana’ with dark green crinkly leaves.

It’s also time to sow and grow peas, parsnips, leeks, broad beans, fen­nel, globe ar­ti­choke, potato, spinach, sweet­corn, win­ter squash, as­para­gus, beet­root and let­tuce. Grow­ing veg can be ex­pen­sive when you add up the price of seed, con­tain­ers, com­post and fer­tilis­ers but there are ways to keep costs down. Share seeds with friends — and you can cut up seed pota­toes into about four sec­tions; each one will yield a crop.

Pota­toes can be grown in con­tain­ers or grow bags, even on a bal­cony. You buy them as small tu­bers, not seeds, and one or two tu­bers will give a great yield. How­ever, for small spa­ces I’d rec­om­mend only grow­ing early pota­toes: these are quicker to ma­ture and you avoid the prob­lem of blight that can oc­cur with main crop va­ri­eties. In ad­di­tion, when your har­vest is fin­ished in June and July, you get your space back. Good va­ri­eties are ‘Orla’, ‘Ni­cola’ and ‘Colleen’.

Don’t for­get, kitchen waste and lawn clip­pings will make great free com­post which will nour­ish your soil, im­prove drainage and in­crease yields for you.

GO­ING GREEN: now is the time to plant if you want some fresh food in the com­ing months

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