What to grow
Growing your own food can be beneficial in many ways. There are lots of vegetables that can be sown right now – and most are suitable for small spaces
In the past few months there's been a huge surge of interest in vegetable gardening. With long supermarket queues, worries about food shortages and – for some people – more spare time during lockdown, growing some edible crops at home has offered some comfort and distraction in these difficult times.
Growing your own has other benefits, too. The extra outdoor activity that comes with kitchen gardening can improve physical and mental health, including by relieving stress and providing a good form of low-impact exercise. Being outside in the sunshine can also help top up your vitamin D.
People who grow their own produce often report that it tastes better than veg bought at the supermarket – perhaps because many home growers use organic methods, with no use of chemicals. And homegrown produce is usually eaten soon after harvest – so food tastes fresher, and has more nutrients than veg that has sat around on supermarket shelves.
If you haven't yet been bitten by the grow-your-own bug, but would like to give it a go, it's not too late – there are plenty of crops that can be sown this month.
And you don't need masses of space either. Even a small garden can accommodate a small vegetable patch – or try growing crops in the flower border. You could also try a (pictured below) – a great way to produce a lot of crops from a very small space.
No garden? Many crops can be grown in containers, so if you only have a small outdoor space – such as a patio or balcony – you can still enjoy fresh homegrown produce.
Here are a few crops that can be sown this month, thrive in containers, and are easy to grow.
Swiss chard 'Bright Lights'
Our family loves this bright and beautiful vegetable, and it's a crop we grow every year. Seeds can be sown as late as July – sow them in cell trays, with one seed per cell. When big enough to handle, plant out into the vegetable garden 15cm apart, or transplant individual plants into large pots.
We keep a few pots of chard in the greenhouse over winter – the stems and leaves are delicious stir fried with garlic, chilli and ginger. Swiss chard 'Bright Lights' produces glossy green leaves above colourful red, white or yellow stems – if you don't have a veggie garden, it's attractive enough to grow in a mixed border.
Spring onions are a good source of vitamin C, and are ideal for growing in containers. They have a shallow root system, so can be grown in quite small pots – even on a kitchen windowsill – as long as you remember to water them regularly to keep the compost moist. If planting outside, choose a hardy variety such as White Lisbon, which should survive cold winter weather.
Dwarf French beans
Dwarf beans are great for containers as they only grow to about 35cm tall, so don't need supporting. Sow seeds 20cm apart in large pots and keep well watered. Beans are hungry plants and may benefit from some liquid feed once a week. When ready to harvest, pick little and often to encourage the plants to produce more beans.
Dwarf beans grow quickly, producing a crop about eight weeks after sowing – and are an easy vegetable for children to grow. They're delicious steamed and served simply with butter. Or they can be added to Thai-style curries with baby corn, carrots and coconut milk.
Salad leaves are a great money saver, as enough seeds for a whole season of salad costs less than one bag of leaves from the supermarket. Seeds can be sown throughout July and August – and sowing them in pots is ideal, as it makes it harder for slugs to munch through your crops. Try growing a mixed salad by thinly scattering a selection of seeds over the surface of the compost – a mixture of oak-leaf salad leaves, Little Gem lettuce, corn salad and rocket works well.
Salad leaves are quick to grow – crops can be ready in as little as three weeks. It's best to have two or three pots of salad leaves on the go – as soon as the first pot of seedlings emerge, sow seeds into the second pot. This way you'll have a continuous supply of leaves for the rest of the summer.
To harvest, take two or three outside leaves from each plant to allow the remaining leaves to grow on and provide another cut in a few days' time. Cut little and often for best results.
Sowing some beetroot seeds now should provide tender, tasty roots for harvesting in autumn – it's best to harvest the roots when they are about the size of a golf ball. Sow the seeds about 5cm apart. Some beetroot varieties, such as Boltardy, send up multiple seedlings from each seed. If this happens, select the strongest looking seedling and gently pull out all the others.
To grow your own beetroot in pots, choose round varieties, not long cylindrical types. Boltardy is a reliable round variety for classic, bright red roots – or try Burpee's Golden for orange-yellow roots with a sweet flavour. Sow seeds thinly and cover with 2cm compost. When the seedlings emerge, thin them out so there's at least 5cm between each plant and keep well watered. Beetroot is a good source of fibre, vitamins C and iron.
Carrots do surprisingly well in pots as they're less susceptible to slugs than in the open ground, and a container positioned high up on a ledge or wall can deter low-flying carrot flies.
There's still time to sow fast-maturing varieties such as 'Nantes' – seeds sown now should produce delicious finger-sized roots for harvesting in autumn. Sow carrots into deep pots – at least 30cm tall – so there's enough space for the roots to develop. The seeds are tiny, but if you can manage to sow individual seeds about 3cm apart, this avoids the need to thin out the young plants, further reducing the risk of a carrot fly attack – the pests are attracted by the scent of the carrot leaves being crushed as you pull them out.
Radishes are one of the speediest vegetables to grow, with sowing to harvest taking as little as 25 days. Sow the seeds about 3cm apart and water well. The spicy roots get hotter the larger you let them grow, and large roots can become woody in texture – so make sure you harvest the radishes when they are still young and tender. 'French Breakfast' is a reliable heirloom variety that produces long, cylindrical roots.
This quick-growing plant produces tender, broccoli-like shoots on dwarf plants in just eight weeks. The leaves, stems and shoots are all edible, and are best lightly steamed to retain the nutrients – this vegetable is a good source of antioxidants and vitamins A and C. The seeds can be sown from February to September, and as the plants are compact they are a good choice for containers.
Little Green Space July 2020