So here we are in spring and early summer, the most glorious growing time of the year! If you are new to the idea of pleasurable gardening, there’s one thing to remember: it’s never too late to learn. Dabbling in soil can be enjoyed by toddlers through to centenarians. It’s known to be good for the mind and body, so if you’ve rarely tried growing things in your past there’s good reason to start growing edibles now! Get the small people out into the garden this month and you could well be fuelling a lifelong interest which will keep them 'grounded'.
Flowers aren’t everybody’s thing. But seeing as we all have to eat, why not have a go at planting something edible that you can use in the kitchen? Let’s look at some of the easiest things to grow in the vegetable garden:
These are definitely simple edible plants to grow, but they do need some sort of support. There are now some dwarf cultivars which grow to only about 45cm high and these can even be grown in pots.
The runner bean plant is highly productive and this remarkable plant can start cropping from mid-July and continue through to September. In terms of value for money, beans are the way to go! There are many different ‘stringless’ varieties which means that the bean itself is even more simple to eat. This is because there are no tough, stringy bits on the sides of the pod that need to be removed before consumption. Some beans are self-pollinating too and this helps to ‘set’ the fruit without needing the assistance of bees and pollinating insects.
Sprout your beans indoors in May
Beans can be sprouted easily in pods indoors or can be planted around 5cm deep outdoors so that they don’t need to be transplanted. Mid to late May is generally warm enough to be able to treat them in this way. Make sure they have rich, moist soil or compost, then water them regularly. They do like warmth, so wait until the weather is suitable before setting them free. You’ll find they seek out their support intelligently but might need just a bit of direction in the early stages. Tie in the young growth where you want it to go. They will soon twine around suitably-sized vertical poles with ease. Many people raise a second batch of beans during early July so that they begin to crop just when the first phase is slowing down.
Give them support
Support for beans can be as simple or ornate as you choose. Some people even grow these edibles up pergolas for a ‘walk through’ visual feast. A wigwam shape made from tall canes is ideal, as it’s good to get a flow of air through the plants – however, even a trellis up a sunny fence will suffice.
Pinch out the tops and growing points of your bean plants once they’ve reached the height of the support. This will encourage side shoots to grow, therefore creating a nice, bushy plant with lots of bean growing opportunities. You can mulch the ground underneath the beans in order to help keep the moisture in. You’ll also need to water during dry weather.
Then you can look forward to your bean-feast harvest once the fruits reach up to 20cm long.
The flat seeds of courgettes are incredibly easy to sprout if you remember to set them on their side, rather than flat, just in case they rot. It’s a good idea to sow these indoors during May, in pots, so that you can plant them out in early June. The seeds should sprout and appear above the line of the compost within about 10 days or so. Wait until they are looking robust and plant them outdoors in a sunny spot. See the courgette seed, still attatched to one of the first pairs of leaves to emerge?
Be sure to water your plants regularly as these are thirsty beasts. Once you see some flowers, the edible fruits will follow very quickly. Each plant should give you about four to five courgettes every week. Enormous rewards for only a little effort!
This healthy green salad crop is just as simple as a courgette in terms of growing, provided the weather is warm enough. Cucumbers are ideal candidates for greenhouse or conservatory growing but can also go outdoors during a warm summer. Treat them in a similar way to courgette, starting them off indoors, then planting them out when the soil (and air) is warm. These edibles like water too, and you would be sensible to pinch out side shoots in order to increase yields. Fruits should appear in early summer: just remember to harvest them when they are small as this is when they give their best flavour.
Beetroot is a root vegetable that will grow quite happily in a pot. Keep the compost moist, but not wet. Even the foliage is edible, and they are generally trouble-free. Oh, and they are delicious too. Just plant the seeds and then you can virtually forget them until it's time for beetroot harvest.
What’s not to love about herbs? You can grow them in pots, on windowsills or in herb beds near the kitchen door. They are relatively trouble-free and many of them are perennials so they’ll keep going year after year. Just remember to tidy them up and prune them back in early spring so that the fresh, new, edible growth will be at its tastiest just when you need it. Rosemary, thyme, oregano and mint are all easy to keep going – and they produce attractive flowers too. Grow your own, it's thrilling!