So, continuing the request for a shopping list, this is really as broad as it’s long. It depends on the space you have, so I’ll break it down into sections.
I like to order online as you get the best choice but there are one or two that are getting close to their sow-by date so I’ll mark them in red for you to nip to the local garden centre for.
Pretty much all of these can be sown from seed but before you rush out and buy them, may I suggest that there are a few that make more sense to purchase as small plants. I’ll mark these in green
Bear in mind your plot size. A lot of these veg take up a fair bit of room. I’ll mark with a star things you can grow indoors.
There is one golden rule: if you don’t enjoy eating it DON’T GROW IT.
Herbs* are always good. Some are fine outdoors – especially the woody ones like rosemary and sage – but others are tender and can really only go outside in the summer. Basil in particular, likes to be nice and warm. Most spices need hotter weather than we have but there are a few surprises to be had. I am self-sufficient in saffron, for example. There are hundreds of herbs but some of the most useful include:
- Basil – any variety you like, but the basic sweet green variety is fine
- Coriander – you’ll need to keep an eye on this as it can bolt. If it does, just let it flower and seed and hey presto! You’ve got coriander seed spice.
- Parsley – Flat leaf or curly, your choice
- Mint – there are dozens of varieties – but we’ll talk about this one. It’s brilliant but there are caveats. Peppermint, spearmint and even chocolate mint are all good.
- Chives. The regular ones are great but there are also garlic chives which add a nice subtle flavour
- Dill. I cannot advise on this. Every year I try to grow it, every year I fail
- Fennel – this can be a bit of a thug in a border. It grows really tall so it’s not really suitable for indoors. I love it though and it’s hardly a chore to remove the seedlings that spring up each year.
- Thyme – again many varieties
- Bay – a lovely plant to keep on the patio. It can be clipped into interesting shapes.
- Chilli – brilliant plants to grow indoors.
- Tarragon – another great plant to grow. French Tarragon is best and it comes back every year.
- Garlic – it’s a bit late to plant garlic this year; we’ll talk about it when the time comes.
- Lemon Balm – only grow this if you are a masochist.
- Saffron – we’ll talk about this later
- Liquorice – a fun plant we’ll talk about later
Onwards and upwards. Here are some easy veg to grow:
Tomatoes* can be grown in the ground, in pots, in hanging baskets, in greenhouses, in porches and even indoors by French windows. They do need a lot of light. The time for sowing is getting short now, so we’ll deal with that tomorrow. Suggested varieties:
- Crimson Crush or Ferline F1 if you suffer from blight
- Gardener’s Delight or Marzano if you’re growing in a greenhouse
- Tumbling Tom or Tumbler for window boxes or hanging baskets
Tomato plants can be purchased in grafted form in April, but ordered now. I’ll discuss this option over the next few days.
Potatoes can be grown in black bags as well as open ground – I’ll explain how – but we’ll need to get a move on so we’ll talk about it sooner rather than later. You need seed potatoes – don’t use old ones from the supermarket – that way viruses lay… My suggestions:
- International Kidney – the generic name for the lovely new potatoes commercially known as Jersey Royals
- Charlotte – good, waxy, all-rounders. I’m only growing this variety this year.
Broccoli. Don’t bother with cauliflower, it’s really hard to grow. There are two main kinds: purple sprouting broccoli aka PSB, which takes up the ground for a long while – you’ll not be cropping until this time next year but there will be loads of it, and calabrese – the large-headed ‘broccoli’ we see in the shops. I find this one is worth purchasing as small plants but it’s easy enough to grow from seed.
- Cucumbers look like they should be hard but once you’ve got ’em you will have LOADS
- Courgettes. Ditto. I like ‘Romano’, which is the classic Tuscan courgette. There’s a round one, too, ‘Tondo di Toscana’ which is very prolific.
- Pumpkins and squashes. My favourite is ‘Crown Prince’, a blue pumpkin with an excellent flavour and very long stored. ‘Rouge vif de Temps’ is also good and looks like Cinderella’s coach but is less long-lasting.
- Cabbage – I like any of the savoys
- Carrots – can suffer from carrot fly, so ‘flyaway’ is good., If you’re growing in pots or shallow soil go for some of the round or short varieties
- Parsnips – hard to germinate so probably not for beginners
- Spinach – don’t start this one yet
- Beetroot – I like growing the golden varieties. There are also some good multicolour mixes
- Sweetcorn. These are spectacular fresh but it’s a bit hit-and-miss as to whether you’ll get a crop in this country. If you fancy a try, go for one of the varieties bred for the UK like Lark or Swift
- Swedes and turnips – not started yet, but pretty easy to grow.
- Lettuce – great if you can keep the slugs off. They don’t like full sun, so a shady place is great. Cut-and-come-again is great for re-cropping.
- Rocket – see lettuce. Wild rocket is more peppery than garden rocket/
- Beans – runner beans will need to be supported. Dwarf beans can crop very nicely.
- Kale – a long plant to grow but very good to eat. My favourite is Cavalo Nero.
- Leeks need to be sown quite soon. I can’t grow them any more because of allium leek moth, but they are a good crop if you can do it.
- Peas – ‘will break your heart’, as an old guy on my first allotment told me. But if you can grow them they are absolutely gorgeous.
- French beans are another heavy cropper. I like ‘Violetta’ which have purple pods (which annoyingly turn green if you cook them)
- Mangetout – expensive in the shops, dirt cheap to grow.
- Radishes – if you like ’em there is NO REASON not to grow these brilliant little plants. I like the variegated mixes you can buy from most companies.
- Onions – I always used to think it wasn’t worth growing onions as they’re so cheap to buy. This may not always be the case but it’s too late for this year anyway. Watch this space.
- Spring onions – definitely worth growing. Try ‘Guardsman’.
Tomorrow I’ll discuss fruit. It’s not all giant apple orchards…