One of the real skills of good vegetable growing is the ability to time the cycle of sowing, growing and harvesting so you always have a steady stream of goodies to pick fresh from your garden.
It takes good planning and a few canny tricks to make sure you always have just the right amount to pick, ready when you want it, every month of the year. Here are our top tips to help you keep the crops coming.
- Sow often: sow everything at once and you'll have loads to pick in a few weeks' time – but once you've finished, your veg-growing year is over.
- You can sow seed successfully from March until July, so make the most of it and stagger your sowings, putting in a new batch every three to four weeks right across the season. That way you always have some crops ready to pick, some growing on and some just sown, and you'll extend your harvest right into autumn.
- Don't sow too much: sow a whole row of lettuces, and they'll all be ready at the same time – and that's a lot of lettuce. Plant six lettuces every three weeks, though, and you'll have two lettuces to eat every week for as long as you want them, as your next crop is ready just as you finish eating the first.
- And there's no rule that says you have to sow a whole row, either: half a row of carrots, beetroot or salad leaves, sown direct every three or four weeks, gives you a much more manageable quantity.
- Sow different varieties: many vegetables come in early, mid-season and late varieties, meaning they mature at different rates. That's a gift for you when you're trying to spread your harvest over a long time. Early carrots like 'Nantes 2', for example, crop in about eight weeks. Plant one row of these plus one row of a maincrop variety like 'Autumn King' – ready in 10 weeks – and you'll be picking carrots for an extra fortnight. The same technique works for potatoes, beetroot, potatoes, calabrese and sprouts.
- Grow long-cropping vegetables: choose your veg types carefully, making the most of veg which give you pickings over a long period.
- Cut-and-come-again lettuces, like 'Salad Bowl', are invaluable: you pick them leaf by leaf and they just keep giving for months on end. Calabrese, too, is a great long-cropping vegetable: once you've cut the main central head, the stem keeps producing smaller sideshoots giving you a second and third harvest.
- Use your spare spots: when a spot comes free in the garden, plant it up right away. Plug plants are ideal for this: either grow your own or buy them ready-to-plant from your favourite garden centre.
- You can make the most of the space underneath larger, slower-growing plants like big, hefty Brussels sprouts, too. Sow a row of baby-leaf salads between your newly-planted sprouts plants and you can pick and eat them long before the Brussels get big, doubling the harvest from the same space.