Home Grown – salads and veg for quick return during Covid-19

The following notes accompany the BBC Radio Leicester Gardens Hour between 1 and 2pm on Sundays, on your smart speaker, DAB, 104.9FM and BBC Sounds. I’m writing this in advance so you can follow what seeds I might be talking about.

It’s been difficult over the past week getting hold of any fresh fruit and veg. Quite dismaying to see empty supermarket shelves. I didn’t stockpile, so we are literally running out of everything.

After a bit of a panic, I’ve settled down to this plan of action. Here’s what I’m growing.

Microgreens and Sprouting Seeds

All you need is a kitchen windowsill to grow sprouting seeds. This tiered growing kit comes from Johnsons Seeds, but you could just use a plate with moist kitchen paper, or a shallow tray with compost for the microgreens. Cheap and easy to grow, adds nutrients to soups stews and sandwiches. Perhaps you’ve done this before with children, growing cress and mustard. It’s the same principle.

I’m growing:

Radish Mino Early

Microgreens Gourmet Garnish

Basil

Beetroot for leaves

Mung beans for stir fries.

Microgreens are grown until they are a couple of inches tall, and then trimmed using scissors. You can repeat this process a few times.

Bean sprouts and seeds are grown for 3-5 days and harvested when approx 2.5cm long

Mixed cut and come again salad

I like the idea of these pre-sown mats. All you have to do is pop the mats on top of a pot of compost snd water them. Fuss-free growing. Pick leaves from the outside when they are 5cm (2″) high, leaving the centre of the plants to carry on growing. Anyone can use these. They are great for children too.

PEASHOOTS

I’m growing peas in shallow trays. They will be harvested when the shoots are 4″. The plants will regrow snd you can repeat the process several times. After this, I plant the peas in a 10″ pot in the greenhouse and they grow on to produce a good crop of pea pods. Any edible pea variety can be used. Friends have even used dried peas from the supermarket.

Herbs in Pots

I’ll sow herbs in individual cells, a few seeds per cell. The cells will be moved on to 5″ pots and eventually they will stand on a sunny patio. Meanwhile, I will just keep pinching out the tips to use to liven up pasta and rice dishes, and this will also make the plants bushy.

Spring Onions

Spring onions will be sown in 10″ pots and kept in the cold polytunnel. They are ideal for growing in containers. They are quick growing and can be sown successionally from March to September. One item I do have is a huge bag of potatoes, luckily. Some mashed potato topped with grated cheese and chopped spring onions turns a simple dish into a tasty treat.

SPINACH

Baby leaf spinach is a favourite here, full of vitamins and goodness. I’ll grow these in recycled polystyrene boxes from a delicatessen, garden centre cafe. You could also use window boxes, or 10″ pots.

DILL

Nano is a new dwarf variety perfect for containers. A few clippings of dill turns any dish into a feast. I make a sauce with mayonnaise, butter and dill to add to fish. Totally delicious and full of vitamins. I’ll sow this 3 or 4 seeds to a cell and then the plants will be moved into window boxes.

CARROTS

Round carrots, such as Paris Market or Rondo are perfect for containers and are relatively fast growing. You can also clip some of the leaves to use in salads without it depleting the roots.

TOMATOES – more long term, but starting now …

I’ve a selection of dwarf cherry tomatoes for eventually growing in pots on the patio. These won’t need tall canes for support and won’t need pinching out. They naturally branch into small bushy plants. Started now in a warm window or a propagator at 18C, I’ll be eating tomatoes in June. Hopefully.

CUCUMBERS

I like baby cucumbers for summer salads. I’m growing Beth and La Diva. I’m also trying a new variety, Swing this year. Half fill a 3″ pot with compost and place the seed on edge. Water with tepid tap water. Keep warm at 18-21C. As soon as the seeds grow out of the top of the pot, add more compost around the stem. Harden off carefully, putting the delicate plants in the propagator over night and out in the greenhouse in the day to prevent damping off disease. Keep warm until June. I’m planning to grow some outdoor and some in the poly tunnel.

SOMETHING FOR CHILDREN

With children off school, cress seeds will be a winner. And also start off sunflowers, not to eat, but to brighten the garden and maybe for a competition to see who can grow the tallest.

My propagator glowing in the dark

It’s been a challenging time where stress levels have been through the roof here. But I feel calmer with a plan of action. Just sowing a few seeds has given me some respite from worries. It’s been a welcome distraction from covid troubles.

Let me know how you are getting on. Have you found it difficult to buy supplies. What are you growing their spring?

Links : seeds from Mr Fothergills https://www.mr-fothergills.co.uk/

Johnson’s Seeds: https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Little Gardeners https://www.johnsons-seeds.com/Home_4/Oriental-Seed_3/Sprouting-Seeds-Sunflower.html#.XnaUjoGnyfA

Plants of distinction : http://www.plantsofdistinction.co.uk/

Words and Pictures

THE DECKCHAIR GARDENER.

Anne Wareham (Michael O’Mara Books Ltd, £8.99)

In my little potting shed there is a kettle, toaster, radio- and a small bookcase. Between potting and sowing, I dip into the latest books, all with a gardening theme.

So, picture the scene, I’m sitting here, listening to a storm outside. The overhanging beech tree branches are beating a tune on the roof, and a there’s a howling wind which sounds like the sea. It would be easy to imagine the potting shed  perched on a cliff edge. Cold, driving sleet is thrashing the daffodils. There’s nothing more dispiriting than seeing spring flowers blown horizontal.

I’m feeling unusually glum, when our cheery postman (wearing shorts, of course) appears at the potting shed door. He’s in search of a hot cup of tea, and while he dips into the potting shed biscuit tin, I open the day’s post. And what I find is instant sunshine! Anne Wareham’s book gets us laughing from the very first page. The postman declares the Deckchair Gardener is the first gardening book ever written especially for him! I can still hear him laughing as he goes on his way. I, meanwhile, am  happily ensconced with my new book for the rest of the day.


Subtitled, An Improper Gardening Manual, Anne’s book sets out to suggest 101 “cunning stratagems”  for gardening avoidance, and sensible advice on your realistic chances of getting away with it.  I love gardening, but I’m always after short cuts and tips, and Anne has many good ideas for basically giving yourself the day off  to enjoy the garden you’ve created.

I loathe books that set out “five jobs to do today.” My heart sinks, as I’m set to fail and get behind. And there’s nothing worse than feeling the garden is getting away from you. But Anne delightfully lists “What Not to Do in Your Garden,” for spring, summer, autumn and winter. I could quite honestly kiss her.

One thing I won’t have to do now is dig the garden. Anne quotes advice from organic vegetable expert Charles Dowding on making compost, no-dig gardens and mulching. In fact mulching seems to feature quite regularly through the book as the answer to most problems. Also, I won’t sow lettuce seed every few weeks to keep the harvest coming. I’ll just pick off the outside leaves. The lettuce will apparently just keep growing through the summer. The secret is to pick, not cut the leaves, it seems.

It’s hard not to laugh at some of Anne’s mad ideas, but her book makes you think. Have I  just been doing things the same way for years and years, when there’s a better tactic? I know I am guilty  of doing daft things like growing vegetables I don’t particular like just because they are supposed to be in  a veg garden in the summer.

I am still chuckling over her tips and witty observations. And I love the gnome pictures drawn by Kate Charlesworth. So I shall be taking Anne’s advice to “accept the challenge and be brave.”

Anne describes herself as a garden maker – at Veddw, an editor of thinkingardens.co.uk and on twitter, @AnneWareham, as “trouble.” The Deckchair Gardener is available from Michael O’Mara Books  @OMaraBooks, and also as an e-book.  It would make a perfect Easter present for anyone looking to put the word “fun” back into gardening.