Choosing What to Grow
Once you have made your mind up about where in your garden you can grow something nice to eat, the next important step is deciding what to grow.
This may sound a little obvious – but if you read traditional gardening books you can sometimes be overwhelmed as they set out for you a pattern of vegetable growing which covers all the vegetables and all the year.
Start small, and let your successes and failures guide you.
I would say, start with the herbs you like to use in food – it’s such a pleasure to add (for example) a handful of chopped parsley, mint, oregano and chives to a salad or to stuff a roasting chicken with rosemary, lavender, mint and garlic (or add to barbecued fish) – or whatever combination pleases you.
Garlic, if you like it, is easily grown, but takes quite a long time to mature - I’ve put mine in pots now, to get it ready for planting out in the spring, and it should be ready by mid-summer. Even if you don’t like the taste, it seems to be a good pest deterrent when grown close to other food plants (and also roses – some of which need all the help they can get to tackle pests).
Friends and neighbours, your local garden shops, books and the internet will all be useful in guiding you to what grows well in your part of the world – gardening is a very good way of making friends. It always pleases me when I drive along a road and see the same plant recurring in neighbouring gardens as it is a pretty good bet that cuttings or seeds have been handed from friend to friend.
As well as herbs add salad plants to your yard or pots – but don’t expect them to come up overnight. Those grown for supermarkets have often been dosed with chemicals in order to force them into maturity as quickly as possible - which is why they don’t taste of very much. Tomatoes are useful and delicious, and if you are really in a hurry try the oriental salad plants as they are fairly fast maturing.
Things like Pak Choi (also called Bok Choi) and Mizuna greens.
Don’t forget to add a few edible flowers – pansies, nasturtiums, marigolds, chive flowers all look pretty and taste good in salads. Check in books or a good internet site to make sure you are only growing the safe ones.
The most difficult habit to acquire is that of succession sowing, (sowing every couple of weeks can mean ground sowing or starting in pots or trays), basically anything you want to continue eating throughout the season needs to be sown in small quantities and once a fortnight.
There’s a terrible temptation to sow lots of lettuces, say, but then they all mature at the same time and have to be handed out among friends!
You will soon learn which methods of seed raising suit you. I can never be doing with raising seed in seed trays, for instance, as I think life is too short to transfer 200 minute plant-lets into far too many pots – so I grow a few in little fiber pots that can be planted out and the pot disintegrates as the plant grows. Of course it’s a little more expensive, but nearly every one grows away well as they haven’t been disturbed just as they were starting out in life.
In the following weeks I’ll write about specific useful and easy to grow plants; until then...