Best Vegetables For Small Scale Food Production

Beans, Dwarf French

Dwarf French beans give you more edible produce per unit area used than any other vegetable. They’re easy to grow provided you get the soil right. They like sun, sun and more sun, and will even yield well in drought conditions.

Soil

Choose a sunny situation in the vegetable garden and unless your soil is already light and sandy work in plenty of coarse sand and clinkers and some peat or compost to lighten the soil. At the same time work in 42 gm/1i oz sulphate of potash per metre/yard run of row.

Sow

Take out a shallow drill 2-5 cm/ 1 in deep. Sow the seeds 10 cm/4 in apart, replace the soil and tread firm. When the seedlings are 5 cm/2 in tall thin to four plants per 30 cm2/1 sq ft.

Grow

Keep the hoe moving between the rows all through the growing season. After harvesting the first crop, apply a general fertilizer at the rate of 58-87 gms/m2: 2—3 oz/sq yd in 7-5 cm/3 in bands each side of the crop. Don’t let the fertilizer touch the crop itself or it will burn it. Hoe the bands into the soil then water well in. This way you’ll get a second crop – not so heavy as the first crop, but still worth having, especially in small space gardens.

Harvest

Harvest the beans while they are still young and succulent. A bean in perfect condition should snap when you break it. If it doesn’t, it’s too old to bother with. Harvest carefully, cutting the beans from the plant. Don’t try to pull them off the plant: chances are you’ll pull the whole plant out of the ground.

Common Mistakes

Sowing too early: seeds will not germinate in cold soils. Planting too deep. Failure to feed the crop: beans make rapid growth and need plenty of readily available nutrients if they are to grow away well and crop well. Failure to water: beans that are allowed to dry out abort. Rotation group C Space between plants 10 cm/4 in Space between rows 30 cm/12 in

Beans, Runner

This bean is one of the staple crops of the British home garden. Popularly known as the scarlet runner bean, several varieties have white flowers instead. In full leaf and full pod the vines are very heavy, so make sure the supports you put in are stout, strong and secure in the ground.

Soil

Unlike other beans, runner beans do best in freshly manured soil. Prepare the soil by taking out a trench for each planting row 25 cm/10 in deep and a spade’s width across. Break up the soil at the bottom of the trench and add in 5-7-5 cm/2-3 in of compost or well rotted manure plus hydrated lime at the rate of 58-87 gms/m2: 2-3 oz/sq yd.

Furrows

Furrows (Photo credit: mikecogh)

Harvest

Harvest the beans when they are three-quarters of the length the catalogues claim they will grow. If you let them grow full length expect stringy beans. You’ll get less beans per plant by harvesting them earlier, but you’ll be able to eat all of every bean you pluck.

Common Mistakes

Allowing the soil to dry out: leads to stringy beans. Also causes flowers to fall, in which case you get no beans at all. Overplanting: ten plants per person is fine if you’re going to freeze half the crop: otherwise stick to five plants per person. Rotation group C

Space between plants 10-15 cm/ 4-6 in

Space between rows 1-1-2 m/36-48 in

Return the soil to the trench, trampling down till firm. Leave for two weeks then insert the poles. A series of single T-poles set straight down the centre of the row, tied across the top by a single 5 x 75 cm/2 x 3 in piece of hardwood and supported by angle bars at each end will usually hold the crop securely. Poles should be 5 m/16 ft tall, with 1 -2 m/4 ft buried in the ground. Strings or wires should run from the outer edge of the Ts to the base of the poles.

Sow

Sow seed in open ground in June, one seed at the foot of each string. Plant 5-7-5 cm/2-3 in deep. Plant six or eight spare seeds at the end of the row to transplant later should any fail to germinate where you want them. Alternatively start indoors in peat pots in late April/early May.

Grow

Give the plants a 2-5-5 cm/ 1-2 in mulch of compost or peat as soon as the plants are 7-5—10 cm/3-4 in tall. Keep well watered but never wet. The beans climb by twining: tie any dangling shoots back onto the strings with raffia.

Beets

Soil

Beets need sandy soil, humus and all the sun they can get. Use compost, moss peat, pine needles, anything like that, but no manure or fertilizer. If you plant them in a nutrient-rich soil they will split and fork.

Sow

Sow beet seeds where the plants are to grow. Seed needs to be 13—18 mm/i- in deep in the soil. Sow out- doors from April to June, or slightly earlier under cloches.

Grow

Thin the seedlings to 7-5-10 cm/ 3-4 in between plants. If you use beet seedballs you’ll find three to five seedlings come up for each seedball you sow. Thin these to one plant per seed-ball as soon as the seedleaves are up. When beet tops are about 10 cm/4 in high, apply a mulch to keep the weeds down. Feed with a fertilizer at 58-87 gms/m2: 2-3 oz/sq yd. Keep the crop well-watered.

Harvest

Dig the beets out of the ground, trim off the tops and wash the earth off. Never scrape the earth off. You may damage the skin and then the beets will lose flavour.

Common Mistakes

Planting in rich soils. Irregular watering. Both cause the roots to fork or split. Failing to keep the competition down — and that includes other beets. Rotation group B

Space between plants 10 cm/4 in Space between rows 30-46 cm/12— 18 in

Broccoli

Broccoli is more closely related to the cauliflower than the cabbage, the main difference being that in the cauliflower the flower is produced in a compact head, whereas in broccoli it is produced in a series of loosely formed side-shoots.

Soil

Soil needs are the same as for cabbage: a well-worked soil with plenty of manure or compost dug in and a general fertilizer worked thoroughly into the soil at the rate of 112 gms/m2: 4 oz/ sq yd.

Sow

Sow seed in late April/May using a seedbed or sowing where the plants are to grow. Don’t waste valuable frame space. Broccoli is perfectly hardy. Seed should be sown 1 -3 cm/i in deep. Even if you sow seed in the soil where the plants are to grow, it’ll pay you to lift them and replant them. The reason is this: the plants are tall growing so they need to be set firmly in the soil. This is done by putting them about 2-5 cm/1 in deeper in the soil than they were growing in the seedbed, making the soil round them really firm. Transplant in June/July.

Grow

Keep weeds down with a 2-5-5 cm/1-2 in mulch of peat or compost in a ring round the plants or in lines beside the rows. No special care is needed in cultivating broccoli, except to make sure the soil never dries out.

Harvest

The flower heads are best removed when they are small and not too far developed. They are far more tender when picked young like this. Remove the heads at the top first, then pick the side-heads as and when you need them. As you pick them, other side-heads will follow on to replace them. You should be able to keep harvesting from mid-summer right through until hard frosts set in. Light frosts improve the taste.

Common Mistakes

Planting too shal-lowly; plants then fall over in the lightest breeze. If your soil is very friable (highly desirable) don’t be ashamed to stake your broccolis. It may be unconventional – but it works. Rotation group A

Space between plants 35-46 cm/14-18 in Space between rows 60 cm/24 in

Cabbages and Savoys

Cabbages are one of the easiest and hardiest of vegetables you can grow. If you choose your varieties well you can have cabbages ready to eat at any time of the year.

Soil

Cabbages are greedy feeders, particularly demanding on nitrogen, so prepare the soil well to a depth of 30 cm/12 in, digging in plenty of manure or compost together with 87— 112 gms/rp2: 3-4 oz/sq yd general purpose fertilizer.

Sow

Cabbage seed can be sown and harvested at almost any time of the year. For best results sow seed in several batches. Make the first sowing of summer cabbages indoors in January, planting seed only 1 -3 cm/^ in deep. After that sow at two week intervals from March till May for harvesting from July till November. Sow spring cabbage late July/early August and transplant to rows in September/October to harvest February/March. Sow seeds where the plants are to grow. Transplants, however, are by far the best way of getting a good early crop. Incidentally, buy transplants with stems no more than the thickness of a pencil.

Grow

Keep the plants weed-free by hoeing or using a mulch. Keep an eye on soil moisture content: it does not need to be high but cabbages grown under drought conditions are not a good cook’s favourite. Routine control against cabbage root flies is with calomel paste. The problem here is that the cabbage root flies are laughing at most modern chemicals. Solution: be old-fashioned, and put a plastic collar round the cabbage stem. You’ll get a 95% success rate – which is far higher than any chemical will give you.

Harvest

Simply pluck the plants from the ground. Cut the roots off and use them in the compost bin.

Common Mistakes

Planting too many. Only plant what you know you can use in a 2-3 week period in any one seeding. Rotation group A

Space between plants 30-50 cm/12-20 in

Space between rows 60—75 cm/24— 30 in.

Carrots

Carrots are probably the easiest of all vegetables to grow. They’re not fussy about soil, and not too bothered by the presence or absence of fertilizers.

Soil

Like all root crops, carrots do best in a patch of land that has been manured for a previous crop. Unless you want oddities avoid freshly manured soils.

Sow

Before you sow — unless you buy treated seed — dress the seeds in gamma BHC dust by shaking them around in an envelope containing ^ teaspoon of the dust. If you don’t treat the seeds, don’t expect any carrots. Sow seed where plants are to grow and cover with not more than 6 mm/i in soil or sand. Water the seed in. Sow seed any time from March till June, preferably at fortnightly intervals.

Grow

Keep the soil free of weeds and make sure that the soil they’re growing in is always moist, never wet. In wet soils carrots rot. They’re the ideal crop for raised beds of specially prepared soil. If you feed them, use artificial fertilizers at the rate of 87 gms/m2: 3 oz/ sq yd for early crops and 112 gms/m2: 4 oz/sq yd for summer and late crops.

Harvest

In light friable soils just pull the carrots out of the ground by their tops. In heavier soils lift with a fork. Start harvesting when the tops are about 5 cm/2 in high. Keep on harvesting till they’re starting to get woody, then pull up the rest of that sowing and start havesting the next sowing.

Common Mistakes

Overplanting and underpinning. Also planting in newly manured soils.

Rotation group B

Space between plants 2-5—5 cm/1-2 in

Space between rows 46—60 cm/18— 24 in

Cauliflowers

Cauliflowers are probably the finest of the cabbages grown for the flower rather than for the leaves. Indeed, when well grown it is one of the finest of vegetables.

Soil

Prepare the soil by digging a trench 25 cm/10 in deep and a spade’s width across. Work in plenty of manure or compost plus 112—145 gms/m2: 4-5 oz/sq yd of any general fertilizer. Lime at the rate of 112 gms/4 oz per m2/ sq yd.

Sow

Sow the earliest varieties such as ‘Snowball’ in September in frames or indoors in January. Transplant in April and they will be ready to cut in May/ June. The ‘All the year round’ varieties should be sown and planted as for the early varieties. However they mature later, in June/July. They can also be sown outdoors in April for cutting in August/September. Sow varieties like ‘Majestic’, ‘Veitch’s Self-protecting’, ‘Canberra’ and ‘South Pacific’ outside from March to May. They will be ready from September to December.

Grow

Take standard cabbage root fly precautions . Keep the weeds down with a good mulch of compost. As soon as the curds (heads) start to show, start blanching. Gather the leaves together over the curd and tie them in position with a tough rubber band or a piece of raffia. Leave for seven to ten days, then harvest; if left the heads are inclined to run to seed rather quickly.

Harvest

Pluck the plant from the soil, slice off the root, untie the leaves gathered over the curd, cut them back to half their length. Root and leaf trimmings are excellent for the compost bin.

Common Mistakes

Overplanting and planting too close together in the rows. Rotation group A

Space between plants 46 cm/18 in Space between rows 75 cm/30 in

Celery

Most modern varieties of celery are self-blanching and as easy to grow as cabbage.

Soil

Celery should be planted in ground that has been well-fed with as much as 87-112 gms/m2: 3-4 oz/sq yd of general purpose fertilizer. Work it well into the soil. Also dig plenty of manure or compost into the ground.

Sow

Sow indoors no more than 3-18 mm/j-f in deep in March/April. Cover flats or pots with newspaper to prevent rapid drying out. Once seedlings show above soil surface, cover with plastic sheeting held away from the plants with hoops. Seeds and seedlings need plenty of moisture. Transplant seedlings in May/June. By then they should be 5-7-5 cm/2-3 in tall. Handle them carefully as the roots easily snap.

Grow

Ensure the soil moisture content is high at all times. Mulching with organic materials will reduce evaporation and feed the plants as well.

Harvest

Harvest plants as needed from one end of the row to the other. Gour- mets usually consider that celery needs a touch of frost to perfect its flavour.

Common Mistakes Trying to grow the sticks too tall. Letting the plants lack moisture at the roots; insufficient soil moisture is one of the most common causes of stringy celery. Rotation group C Space between plants 20 cm/8 in Space between rows 60-75 cm/24-30 in

Cucumbers

There are two types of cucumber, the glasshouse or frame kinds with long fruits which need some form of glass protection, and the ridge cucumbers which can be grown under cloches outdoors.

Soil

Cucumbers aren’t too fussy about soil as long as it’s 90% humus! Some of the best cucumbers ever grown were simply planted straight on top of an old compost bin. You can do that provided the compost bin is in full sun. Alternatively, make hills 1 m/3 ft across, about 30 cm/12 in tall, of pure compost.

Sow

Cucumbers are fast-growing short-season crops but they need plenty of heat. Sow in compost-filled peat pots in April/May and place over a warm (21 °C/70°F) radiator. Germination should occur within a few days; then remove to a light window sill. Transplant both ridge and frame types in June, placing frame types in a greenhouse, frame or glass-sided home extension, and ridge cucumbers under cloches, on the hills, three plants per hill.

Grow

Ninety-six per cent of a cucumber is water so ensure that they are watered every day. They are also acutely allergic to artificial fertilizers, so just don’t apply any. Cucumbers send their roots down deep – as much as 1 m/3 ft. Therefore give the plants a lot of water slowly. A little and often sprinkled over the surface will encourage plants to curl. their roots up and then scorch them in the sun. Lots of water delivered slowly soaks deep down into the soil where the active feeding roots can use it. If the plant is not getting enough water it’ll simply stop growing. If this occurs, water it heavily and it will just start growing again from where it left off. Keep weed-free with a mulch of compost, shredded pine bark, coconut fibre or any other high humus/low nutrient mulch. Grow only the modern gynoecius (all female) types.

Harvest

Read up how long the cucumbers ought to grow according to the catalogue, then harvest them when they are only half that length. By the time they’ve reached full length they’ve lost all their flavour.

Common Mistakes

Planting too early; letting the cucumbers grow to full length; insufficient watering. Space between plants 30 cm/12 in Space between rows 1 -2-2 m/48-72 in

Kale

Kale is yet another derivative of the ubiquitous common European cabbage.

Its chief merit is that it is extremely hardy, and it is often grown as ‘winter greens’, since it will survive frost levels that turn most other cabbage-type crops to slush.

Soil

Plant in well-dug soil that has been manured for a previous crop, never in freshly manured ground. Use a general purpose fertilizer at the rate of 58 gms/ m2: 2 oz/sq yd.

Sow

Sow the seed in April/May at the rate of 8-10 per 30 cm/12 in, then thin to 20-30 cm/8-12 in between plants. Use the thinnings in salads. The best crops are those grown from transplants which should be set in the ground in June/July.

Grow

Ensure that the soil never dries out. Keep weeds down with a mulch or any other low-nutrient content organic substance.

Harvest

Pluck the leaves from the plants with a sharp downward pull. Gather the leaves as needed. After harvesting put the haulms and roots in the compost bin.

Common Mistakes

Trying to grow a good crop in summer heat.

Rotation group A

Space between plants 20-30 cm/ 8-12 in

Space between rows 46—60 cm/18— 24 in

Kohlrabi

Kohlrabi is a rarity among vegetables -a hybrid between two species, a cross between a cabbage and a turnip. No one knows quite when or where the original cross occurred, nor whether it was deliberate or not. However it’s a first-rate vegetable which not only tastes good but looks stunning growing in your garden. It tastes a bit like a cabbage and a bit like a turnip but subtler and sweeter than either.

Soil

Although the part of the kohlrabi you eat is actually swollen stem not swollen root, and although it sits on top of the soil, not in it, it still counts as a rootcrop. So grow it in soil that has been manured for a previous crop, never in freshly manured soil.

Sow

Sow seed outdoors 1-3 cm/i in deep March/August, making success-ional sowings. Don’t set the seeds too deeply in the ground; if you do the swelling will occur underground and be inedible.

Grow

Keep weeds down. If you apply a mulch as a weed suppressor, ensure it doesn’t get humped up over the swollen part of the stem. Keep the soil moisture level at about 75%: too dry and the stems will be very woody; too wet and they’ll rot.

Harvest

Pull the plants out of the ground and trim off roots and leaves. Harvest when the stems have swollen to between 7-5-9 cm/3—3^ in in diameter. Since what you are harvesting is stem, not root, you’ll find that there’s a woody core to the kohlrabi. It’s hardly noticeable if you harvest them at the right moment. It becomes more so the longer you leave them in the ground after the correct moment for harvesting.

Common Mistakes Underpinning; manuring the soil; harvesting too late.

Rotation group B

Space between plants 10-15 cm/4- 6 in

Space between rows 46-60 cm/18— 24 in

Leeks

The simplest way to describe a leek is as an onion that does not form a bulb. The part you eat is called the stick. The whole history of the breeding of the leek has been aimed at making the stick longer and thicker and more tender. That’s the whole aim of cultivating it too. Just how successful you are depends on your skill as a gardener.

Soil

Leeks grow best in a soil that has been manured for a previous crop. They are usually grown in permanent beds, not rotated. Do not manure the soil for the leeks themselves, and do not add artificial fertilizers to the soil – at least not before planting. Leeks like best a deep, rich, well-worked soil. Prepare the soil in the autumn. In spring take out a trench one spade wide and 25 cm/ 10 in deep, throwing up half the soil on each side of the trench. Add a 5-7-5 cm/2-3 in layer of compost to the bottom of the trench, cover that with a 5 cm/2 in layer of soil and set your transplants into that.

Sow

Sow the seed out of doors in March/April. For an earlier harvest, sow indoors or under cloches eight to twelve weeks earlier. Never sow seed where the plants are to grow. Use a seedbed. Transplant as soon as outside seedlings are 7-5 cm/3 in tall. When transplanting, make a hole at the bottom of the prepared trench with a dibber and drop the plants into the hole. Do not firm the transplants in the holes; that makes them form bulbs. Set the plants 5-10 cm/2-4 in apart in the trenches; thin to 30 cm/12 in apart in mid-summer.

Grow

Don’t use a mulch to keep the weeds down. Leeks can use plenty of water provided the soil is free draining. On 1 August put corrugated paper round the sticks, holding it in position with rubber bands or raffia. From then on, start earthing up. The corrugated paper will start the blanching process and also help to draw the leek. Clip off half the length of each leaf: this will help to thicken the sticks. Keep on watering and earthing up.

Harvest

The first sticks should be ready to harvest September/October. Lift them carefully with a fork, taking care not to get soil in the crown.

Common Mistakes

Overfeeding in the hope of getting bigger, more succulent leeks. Over-blanching; don’t try to make the stick grow longer than it wants to by earthing it up too high. Rotation group C

Space between plants 5-10 cm/2—4 in Space between rows 30—46 cm/12-18 in

Lettuces

Lettuces belong to two groups; head lettuces, which as their name suggests, form a tight head rather like that of a cabbage; and leaf lettuces, which don’t have a head, only a loose gathering of the leaves. Head lettuces can also be subdivided into cabbage and crisp types.

Cabbage Lettuces

Soil

Lettuces like plenty of humus, moisture and plant nutrients. However, as they are shallow rooting you need only prepare the top 12-5—15 cm/5— 6 in of the soil, but ensure it is prepared thoroughly. In the autumn before you intend to grow your first crop, test the prepared soil for acid. Add lime if necessary. Test again in early spring; relime if the soil is still on the acid side. In acid soil, all you will be able to grow will be limp, slimey lettuces.

Sow

Sow outdoors 0-6-1 -3 cm/i-5 in deep from March to September. Thin between the plants and transplant any thinnings. The setback to growth caused by transplanting will mean you can harvest them later than those left growing.

Grow

Lettuce is shallow rooting so water little and often; never soak it. When feeding, avoid high nitrogen content fertilizers.

Harvest

Just pull the lettuce out of the ground, remove the outer leaves and cut off the worst of the root. Put these trimmings into the compost bin.

Common Mistakes

Failing to thin enough. It’s simply no use leaving two cabbage lettuce seedlings where there should be only one. If you get any heads at all they’ll be only the size of a ping-pong ball. More likely you won’t get any at all.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 30-35 cm/12-14 in

Space between rows 46-60 cm/18-24 in

Crisp Lettuces

This type of head lettuce is a very succulent salad ingredient and produces large heads, packed full of crisp leaves.

Soil

To grow the lettuces successfully you must have a well cultivated soil with plenty of compost, peat and or- ganic matter to hold the moisture. Check the soil for acid and add lime as necessary.

Sow

Sow outdoors 0-6—1 -3 cm/3—I in deep from March to September, as for the cabbage lettuces. It is better to make several sowings rather than try to transplant seedlings in the summer.

Grow

This quick-growing crop must be evenly watered little and often. The addition of a balanced fertilizer at the rate of 58 gms/m2: 2 oz/sq yd should really help the lettuces to grow.

Harvest

As for cabbage lettuce.

Common Mistakes

Overplanting and not thinning properly.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 30-35 cm/1 2-14 in

Space between rows 46—60 cm/18-24 in

Cos Lettuces

Leaf lettuces have straight upright leaves and a slightly sharper flavour than head lettuces.

Soil

Cos lettuces need well cultivated soil with plenty of humus, moisture and plant nutrients thoroughly mixed into it. Only prepare the top 12-5—15 cm/5-6 in of the soil as cos lettuces are shallow rooting. They like a more alkaline soil than most vegetables so check the soil for acid and add lime if necessary.

Sow

Sow seed 0-6-1-3 cm/^-I in deep in March or September, but grow the plants much more closely than head lettuces, thinning to only 7-5-10 cm/ 3-4 in between plants. Rethin two weeks later to 15-30 cm/6-10 in between plants, using the thinnings as greens.

Grow

Water a little and often; never over-water. Use a balanced fertilizer at the rate of 58 gms/m2: 2 oz/sq yd* to encourage seedlings to grow. Support large-leaved types with raffia or a large rubber band.

Harvest

Pull lettuces out of the ground, trim off outer leaves and root, which can be put in the compost bin.

Common Mistakes

Leaving the rows overcrowded. The best part of a lettuce is the tender inner portion. If the rows are not thinned enough you’ll end up with bitter outer leaves only. Rotation group C

Space between plants 20-25 cm/8-10 in

Space between rows 30-46 cm/12-18 in

Marrows/Squashes

The British call them marrows. The Americans call them summer squashes. Botanically they’re all varieties of the same plant, Cucurbita pepo. a native of Mexico and Central America.

Soil

Squashes, or marrows, will grow to perfection planted straight into a compost bin, provided it’s in full sun. Failing that, plant them in hills prepared in the autumn made up almost entirely of compost with a low nitrogen fertilizer mixed well into the hills at a rate of 145 gms/m2: 5 oz/sq yd.

Sow

Sow indoors in April/May. Press the seeds into the growing mix with the pointed end upwards and only just cover. Use peat pots so that the plants can later be put out without disturbing the roots. Transplant the seedlings in June. Place under cloches; gradually harden off the plants and remove the cloches. Winter squashes however should be planted into 30 cm/12 in pots, tubs or barrels and kept in the greenhouse or under heated frames through the whole growing season.

Grow

Marrows and squashes are about 95% water so ensure they are kept well watered. They’re deep rooting plants so give them a really good soaking – plenty of water applied slowly so that it can soak right down to where the active feeding roots are growing. Keep weeds down with a good thick mulch of compost, peat, pine needles, pine bark, or any similar material. Female flowers must be pollinated to produce fruit. Pick the male flower and simply push the centre into the centre of the female flower. The latter are easily recognisable because they have incipient marrows or squashes behind them. The other flowers are male.

Harvest

Pick summer squashes and marrows when they’re still quite small, about half to three-quarters the length the catalogues say they’ll grow to. Keep the plants harvested; the more you pick, the more young fruits will appear. Winter squashes are harvested when they are fully grown, and this as much as their tenderness is what makes them so difficult to grow to maturity. The growing season isn’t long enough or hot enough for them. And it’s no good picking winter squashes until they are fully mature. Picked early they are watery and have hardly any flavour. They need a touch of cold weather, but not direct frost, to bring out the flavour.

Common Mistakes

Failing to pollinate. Planting too close together. Rotation group A Space between plants

Summer: 15—60 cm/6—24 in

Winter: 60-120 cm/24-48 in Space between rows

Summer: 1—1 -5 m/36—60 in Winter: 2-3-8 m/72-120 in

Onions

Onions have more culinary uses than any other vegetable. You can eat them raw or cooked, in salads, stews, sauces, pickles; or you can fry, stew, boil or even roast them.

Soil

Onions need a deep, friable, well-worked soil, yet they are one of those crops that you can grow in the same spot year in year out. Dig a trench 25 cm/ 10 in deep and add in all the compost and well-rotted manure you can, as well as 87-112 gms/m2: 3-4 oz/sq yd of fertilizer. Prepare the ground by mixing these thoroughly in the soil. Do this work in the autumn and allow it to settle over winter before planting. In successive years add the same amount of the balanced fertilizer at the same rate, as well as forking in a 5—7-5 cm/ 2-3 in layer of compost or old manure.

Sow

There are two ways you can grow onions – from seeds or from sets. Sets are simply small onions that have been half-grown. Sow the seed or sets 1-3 cm/i in deep in March/April. Just hoe occasionally to remove weeds.

Grow

Onions grow leaves in cool weather, and fatten up their bulbs in warm weather. That is what dictates when you plant and when you harvest. Keep the onions well watered through their growing season. Then withhold water. You can tell when the growing season ends: the leaves start turning yellow, then fall over. For extra large onions apply a general purpose liquid fertilizer at fortnightly intervals while the bulbs are making top growth.

Harvest

Once the leaves have yellowed and shrivelled, lift the bulbs carefully with a fork and leave them upside down for a few days in the sun to dry out. Then trim off any straggly roots and cut the tops back. Store in a dry place either in a wide-mesh bag or plaited into an onion string.

Common Mistakes

Planting in the wrong season. Planting in unprepared ground. Leaving the plants in the ground too long — they will start to grow again.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 5—7-5 cm/2—3 in Space between rows 30-60 cm/12-24 in

Peas

If you are going to grow peas, you need to grow them well, and to do that you need to spend rather more time on them than on most other crops.

Soil

Peas need an alkaline soil to do well. If you suspect your soil is rather on the acid side, apply hydrated lime at the recommended rate to correct this. Peas need plenty of humus but very little nitrogen. Plant in ground that has been manured for a previous crop – never in freshly manured ground.

Sow

Sow seed 5 cm/2 in deep in April/ June. If you sow before this, cover the seeds with cloches till the seedlings are well up and all danger of frost is past. Transplanting is not necessary. Peas usually do best sown where they are grown.

Grow

Two weeks after planting apply a mulch of compost or peat about 7-5-10 cm/3-4 in deep along the rows. Don’t use peat on acid soils. The bush varieties can be grown without staking, but for the taller growing varieties you will need to provide some sort of support. Drive stout stakes 1-5 m/5 ft tall into the ground at each end of the row, making sure at least 60 cm/2 ft of the pole goes into the ground. Nail plastic mesh to the poles.

Harvest

Peas are ready to harvest when the pods are well-filled and firm when lightly pressed between thumb and forefinger. If in doubt pick too early rather than too late. Cut the pods from the haulms: never pull them. Pick the peas low down on the plant first. When the peas have finished cropping, put the haulms and roots into the compost bin as they have a high nitrogen content.

Common Mistakes

Planting out too early.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 5-7-5 cm/2-3 in Space between rows 46-60 cm/18-24 in

Peppers, Sweet and Hot

The peppers of the vegetable garden are not related botanically to the black-and-white peppers of the cruet set. There are two different species of vegetable peppers and they have different culinary uses; one also needs higher temperatures than the other in the garden. There are sweet peppers, which can be red or green, and these are varieties of Capsicum annuum, large growing with a mild flavour. Then there are the varieties of Capsicum baccatum, known variously as chillis, pele-pele, capsicums or hot peppers. The fruits of these are much smaller than those of the sweet peppers, and they need hotter summers to grow well. General cultivation is the same for both. Seed won’t germinate at a worthwhile rate under 15-6°C/60°F. The plants will turn yellow, stop growing and never get away again unless they get a daytime maximum temperature around 24°C/ 75°F and a night-time maximum of around 15-6°C/60°F. The small fruited hot peppers need temperatures higher than the sweet peppers, but like them must have a clear-cut day/night temperature differential.

Soil

Give peppers a sandy, well-drained soil in the sunniest position you can find.

Sow

Sow indoors in April. Sow the seed shallowly in a soilless growing mix and keep at a temperature of not less than 18°C/65°F. By and large you’ll get better results by starting with transplants, which should be bought from a reliable garden centre or specialist supplier. Set them in the ground in June. Don’t hesitate to put a cloche or tent over them if you think the weather’s getting too cool for the young plants.

Grow

Don’t disturb the soil around the plants. Keep weeds down with a mulch of compost. The plants should be kept moist at the roots but never soak them. As soon as the first flowers appear give the plants a feed of fertilizer applied at the rate of 87-112 gms/m2: 3-4 oz/ sq yd worked into the mulch, then watered well in. If the plants become dry at the roots, they will drop their flowers.

Harvest

Always cut both types of pepper with secateurs. You can harvest peppers at any stage in their development, so don’t worry about harvesting them too early. The real waste is harvesting them too late.

Common Mistakes

Planting out too early.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 46-60 cm/18-24 in

Space between rows 60—92 cm/24— 36 in

Potatoes

Apart from its food value, the potato is often grown to clean ‘dirty’ soil – soil infested with perennial weeds. The cultivation involved in growing potatoes, as well as their own peculiar mode of growth, also helps to bring soil to a good texture for subsequent crops.

Soil

Potatoes will grow in almost any soil although they prefer light, sandy soils. In heavy soils they are vulnerable to rots and moulds. If your soil is on the heavy side, make it lighter by digging in plenty of coarse sand, cinders, vermi-culite or perlite. For best results plant potatoes in acid soil. There’s no need to dig in manure though some humus to help keep moisture levels even is a good idea.

Sow

Potatoes are only grown from seed by people trying to breed new varieties. You normally buy what are called seed potatoes which are simply dormant tubers. There are several ways you can deal with your seed potatoes. The simplest way is just to plant them 10— 15 cm/4—6 in deep where they are to grow. If you want a maxi-crop from a mini-investment, cut the tubers into pieces, making sure that there is one eye (sprouting bud) on each piece and plant the pieces. If you want an extra early crop, start the tubers indoors

I before planting out. Do this by laying them on flats of damp peat in a temperature of about 12°C/55°F. Plant out pre-sprouted tubers when the shoots are 10 cm/4 in long. The usual time to plant out potatoes is March/April. You can produce earlier crops by growing them entirely under frames.

Grow

The seed potato you planted will grow in two directions simultaneously.

It will send roots down below itself and it will send shoots upwards. From the cropping point of view it is these up-growing shoots that matter. As they shoot up through the soil, roots will grow laterally from them, and it is these roots that will produce the potatoes you harvest. Cultivation is aimed at encouraging the potato to produce long shoots above the seed tuber, since the longer the shoots the more side roots and so the more new potatoes you’ll get. This encouragement is given by earthing up the rows. This is usually done by continuous ridging, building hills in straight rows up to 30 cm/1 2 in high at planting time. Soil should be heaped round the shoots so that only the green growing tips show. Earth up again a fortnight later, and again a fortnight after that. By then, you should have hills about 30 cm/12 in high along the rows. If you find earthing up a nuisance, pack light strawy compost or very old manure round the shoots: it’ll produce the same results. Orientate the rows north/south to give the crop maximum light.

Harvest

The time to harvest potatoes is when the leaves start to turn yellow. Don’t wait till they have died off completely. Lift the potatoes by placing a fork in the ground a little distance from the visible leaves and levering the soil gently loose. Turn the soil several times, picking out the fresh tubers from the soil as you do so. After harvesting, level the land and burn the old haulms. Don’t compost them – it’s a sure way to start and spread fungal infections.

Common Mistakes

Trying to grow potatoes in heavy wet soils. Letting the new tubers become exposed to sunlight: this turns them green. A green potato is a poisonous potato. Rotation group B

Space between plants 30 cm/12 in Space between rows 60-92 cm/24-36 in

Pumpkins

Pumpkin is a far more frost-sensitive plant than the squash, so is best grown in a large frame.

Soil

Well-drained soil that’s full of humus is required. Make hills about 1 m/ 3 ft across from rich compost or well-rotted manure. If the soil is heavy, add in coarse sand, cinders, vermiculite or perlite.

Sow

Sow seed in peat pots indoors in April/May. Push the seeds blunt end down into the growing mix — preferably one of the soilless types — and only just cover the pointed tip. In June transplant seedlings in their peat pots without disturbing the roots into 30 cm/12 in pots, tubs or half-barrels to be grown on in frames or the greenhouse.

Grow

Avoid disturbing the roots by keeping weeds down with a thick mulch of compost, peat, pine needles, shredded bark or sawdust. Apply a lot of water to each plant, and pour it slowly so that it can soak right down to the feeding roots 60-90 cm/2-3 ft below. Pollinate as for marrows/squashes.

Harvest

You must let the pumpkins ripen on the plants. Then cut them from the vines and leave them lying around on the ground for a few days before storing them. This helps to toughen the skins. Don’t leave them out for more than a week or you will toughen the skin so much it will feel like rhinohide. Overripe pumpkins and pumpkins that have been cut and left out can make you ill; so eat them all at once or deep freeze. Never re-heat pumpkin pie.

Common Mistakes

Failing to pollinate. Planting out too early in an attempt to give the pumpkins as long a growing season as possible. Overplanting: you don’t need more than one or two plants per person. Rotation group A

Space between plants 76-91 cm/30-36 in

Space between rows 2—38 m/72— 120 in

Radishes

Radishes are a first-rate crop and no trouble at all. Unlike every other root- crop, they do like a well-manured soil. They take only three or four weeks from seed to maturity so are a good crop for children to grow.

Soil

Radishes like a light sandy soil but with lots of compost worked into it. At the same time, dig in a general purpose fertilizer at the rate of 58-87 gms/ m2: 2-3 oz/sq yd. Work it in well and evenly; it’s little patches of fertilizer that will cause the radishes to distort.

Sow

Sow seed 1 -3 cm/i in deep in January under cloches. Sow March onwards outdoors making successive sowings every two weeks right on through till September. The seedlings do not need thinning.

Grow

Keep the crop moist at the root from seeding till harvest.

Harvest

Pull the radishes from the ground. Don’t wait till they’ve grown to the full size the catalogue tells you they’ll reach; always pluck them a little smaller. If you wait until they are full grown they will have lost some of their crispness.

Common Mistakes

Overplanting and not harvesting small enough. Rotation group B

Space between plants 2-5—5 cm/1 -2 in Space between rows 1 5-30 cm/6-1 2 in

Spinach

Soil

Spinach needs a rich, moist soil. and a position in partial shade may help to slow down its tendency to bolt. Grow in a nitrogen-rich soil, preferably one into which plenty of humus in the form of well-rotted manure or compost has been worked, together with a fertilizer at the rate of 58 gms/m2: 2 oz/ sq yd.

Sow

Summer spinach should be sown from February to May, making suc-cessional sowings at ten day intervals. Sow winter spinach between July and September.

Grow

Keep the weeds down by hoeing, don’t mulch. Soil moisture content must be high for summer spinach, not so high for winter spinach; either way keep the supply even.

Harvest

Leaves should be plucked, not pulled. Take the leafstalk between thumb and finger and give it a slight twist at the same time as pulling it downwards and outwards. It should come away cleanly.

Keep picking the leaves so long as the plants go on producing succulent ones.

Common Mistakes

Sowing the wrong type at the wrong season. Sowing too early and too late.

Rotation group C

Space between plants 5—10 cm/2—4 in

Space between rows 30-46 cm/12— 18 in

New Zealand Spinach This is a first-rate substitute which is less resistant to cold but more resistant to heat, and has less tendency to bolt. Soil: as for spinach. Sow: April/July. The leaves and young stems can be picked and used just like spinach. The more you pick the more the plant will produce. Though drought-tolerant, leaves and stems will be more succulent if you keep the soil moist. Can be harvested right through the autumn into winter.

Malabar Spinach This is a warm-weather vine, quite unlike any other spinach in its climbing habit. The leaves are bright green, very glossy. Grows best as a cool greenhouse crop. Sow seed in spring against a trellis. The growing tips and the young leaves can be harvested and used like spinach all summer into autumn.

Tampala This is a warm-weather relative of the amaranthus of the flower border. Several different species are grown as food, either for their leaves or seeds, mostly in the tropics, but this one, Amaranthus gangeticus is the cream of the spinach substitutes. Seed and cultivate as for any common garden annual. The young leaves are sweeter and tastier than spinach.

Sprouts

Sprouts are probably best described as an aberrant type of cabbage which, instead of producing a large single head of leaves, produces dozens of tiny, tight little heads in the leaf axils all the way up the stem.

Soil

Sprouts can be grown in literally any fertile soil. However if your soil is on the acid side of neutral, apply hydrated lime at the rate of 87 gms/m2: 3 oz/sq yd per planting.

Sow

Sow very shallowly in a seedbed in March/April. Thin in May/June and transplant in rows when the plants are about 10-15 cm/4-6 in high, about June/July. Ensure that they are firmed into the ground. The top growth becomes very heavy once the sprouts start to develop, and the top-heavy plants fall over easily in high winds.

Grow

Sprouts will grow perfectly well left to themselves from transplanting on, provided you keep them adequately watered and take control measures against cabbage root fly and the caterpillars of the Cabbage White Butterfly which sometimes almost shred brassica leaves.

Harvest

The sprouts will mature from the bottom of the stem upwards. The way to harvest them is to remove the lowest leaves with a sharp downward tug, then gather the sprouts growing at the leafy joints with a gentle twisting action. As the lower leaves and sprouts are removed, so those higher up the stem will mature in sequence.

Common Mistakes

Planting too early: the crop will wither in the summer heat. Rotation group A

Space between plants 30—46 cm/12-18 in

Space between rows 60-75 cm/24-30 in

Sweetcom

Soil

Corn likes a light sandy soil. If you haven’t got a light sandy soil set about improving it the autumn before you want to plant. Trench the ground 30-46 cm/ 12-18 in deep and dig in plenty of coarse sand, clinkers and peat; alternatively use an inert substance like perlite or vermiculite to lighten the soil. At the same time dig in barrowloads of compost or manure. Leave overwinter. In spring add 87-112 gms/m2: 3-4 oz/ sq yd of fertilizer, digging this well into the top 25 cm/10 in of the plot.

When preparing the soil, remember that sweetcorn grows best in blocks, not rows. It’s a grain crop and it’s wind pollinated.

Sow

Sow seed indoors in April/May. Sow seeds in peat pots in soilless growing mix, two seeds per pot. Once they’ve germinated pluck out the weaker of the two seedlings. Keep the plants growing well but gradually harden them. It is important that they never suffer any check in growth. Plant out in June and keep covered with cloches for four weeks, gradually admitting more and more air to the cloches. Finally remove the cloches.

Grow

Sweetcorn is a fast grower and a greedy feeder, so ensure at all times that there is plenty of fertilizer available. Keep the weeds down with a good mulch of strawy manure or compost. Never hoe the soil round the corn. Water well all season. Then double the water supply from tasselling time to harvesting.

Harvest

When female threads turn dark brown, ease the green bracts back gently to see if the grains of corn are ready. To be sure, press one grain with your thumbnail, if the cob is ripe a white milky sap emerges. When ripe, snap off the cobs, remove the remaining female threads and bracts, and boil in salted water as soon as possible after harvesting.

Common Mistakes

Planting the corn too early in the hope of giving it a long growing season. Rotation group C

Space between plants 25-35 cm/10-14 in

Space between rows 75—90 cm/30-36 in

Swiss Chard

Swiss chard or seakale beet is the group name for those beets which are grown for their leaves which are used as greens, rather than for their roots. The greens are generally used in much the same way as spinach.

Soil

Like crops grown for their roots, Swiss chard does best in a deeply-worked soil that has been manured for a previous crop. When preparing the soil work in common salt at the rate of 29 gms/m2: 1 oz/sq yd.

Sow

Sow seed where plants are to grow. Sow the seed 2-5 cm/1 in deep from April till August at fortnightly intervals. That will give you a succession of crops for roughly four months.

Grow

Keep the soil weed-free, preferably by applying a low-nutrient mulch such as garden compost. The moisture level must stay constant: if you try to grow the plants in dry soil the leaves and especially the leaf ribs will be tough and fibrous.

Harvest

Harvest the outer leaves first. This allows the inner leaves to grow on to be harvested later. Always pluck the leaves, never cut them.

Common Mistakes

Overplanting and underthinning.

Rotation group B

Space between plants 1 0-20 cm/4-8 in

Space between rows 46—60 cm/18— 24 in

Tomatoes

The tomato is a native of the lower Andes, which makes it a warm-season crop. In the wild, the plant is a sprawling, spreading perennial, producing fruits about the size of a good cherry. Cultivated forms are more robust, and are normally grown as annuals. Whichever type you go for, you’ll find tomatoes probably the most exciting and rewarding of all the vegetables in the reper- toire. But to grow them successfully, make sure you choose a variety suited to your area.

Soil

Tomatoes are susceptible to a number of wilts and diseases that are soil borne. The safest way to avoid these is to grow tomatoes in new soil each season. If you’re growing tomatoes in the greenhouse, use the peat bale method, planting seedlings direct into plastic-packed bales of peat.

Give the soil a good dressing of fertilizer at the rate of 112-145 gms/ m2: 4-5 oz/sq yd or 1 98-230 gms/m2: 7-8 oz/sq yd if they are to be grown under glass.

Sow

If you start tomatoes from seed, the most important thing is to start them early enough. Sow indoors April/May in peat pots in a soilless growing mix. Sow seed as shallowly as possible, barely covering it. Seeds need a temperature of at least 15-6°C/60°F to germinate. Keep humidity around 75%. If you let it get much higher you vastly increase the chances of the seedlings damping off. If it’s lower the seedlings will dry out. Many people find it easier to buy in transplants than to raise their own tomatoes from seed. Plant seedlings out of doors in June. The main criterion is that night temperatures should not drop below 10°C/50°F -which can be tricky in Britain: even in the south frost can be recorded on odd nights in almost any month in the year. When buying’transplants look for plants with stems about the thickness of a pencil. Go for bushy, compact plants rather than long, drawn ones. Avoid plants that show any signs of yellowing of the leaves. Set transplants deeper in the ground than you normally set other plants. The first leaves should be only just above the soil. The part of the stem you bury will sprout extra roots and give the plant more growing and fruiting power.

Grow

There are two aspects to tomato cultivation: soil management and top growth management. The soil should be rich in fertilizer and kept at a high moisture content level. Outdoors apply a side-dressing of a fertilizer at the rate of 112-145 gms/m2: 4—5 oz/sq yd at monthly intervals. Double the dose if you’re growing under glass. Or feed the plants with a proprietary liquid tomato feed or foliar feed, following the manufacturer’s instructions exactly. Top growth management depends on the type of tomato you’re growing. If it’s a bush type, just let it grow. If you’re growing any of the normal varieties, you’ll need to train it. Outside, keep the main stem tied to a stake or let the plant scramble over a trellis. In the greenhouse, tie a string to a lath fixed across the astragals and take it down to the base of a plant. Then wind it loosely round the stem, and keep winding it as the stem keeps growing. When the plant reaches the top of the string, pinch out the growing tip. Do this for each plant.

Both indoors and out, remove all side shoots, keeping the plant to a single stem (except bush varieties). Keep the plants to five trusses each. When growing tomatoes out of doors, remove any trusses that form after the end of July: they won’t ripen and removing them will help to ripen the trusses that have formed earlier. Once fruits start to colour gradually defoliate the plants, carefully cutting the leaves away from the stem leaving as small a snag as you can. This lets more light get to the fruits, and helps them ripen. Don’t defoliate too early: the plants need their leaves to use the energy from sunlight for building good fruit trusses.

Harvest

Trusses ripen from the bottom upwards. You can either remove the fruits as they ripen, or wait till the whole truss is ripe. Either way, cut the fruit or truss from the plant with scissors, don’t just pull them away. If growing tomatoes outdoors, remove any trusses that have not ripened fully before your first frost. You can store any fully formed green tomatoes by wrapping them individually in newspaper. Store in a cool place. They’ll keep on ripening slowly as needed. After harvesting, uproot the plants and burn them. Don’t put them in the compost bin: if they’ve become infected, that’s the surest way there is of. spreading the infection to other crops.

Common Mistakes

Growing a variety unsuited to your area or method of cultivation. Planting out too soon and too late. Defoliating the plants too early. Rotation group C

Space between plants 46-92 cm/18-36 in Space between rows 92—1.52 cm/36-60 in

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