Blooming Times – Into The Veg Patch
by Flo Whitaker
The spring is really hotting up now which means the garden is bursting into life, your veg patch most of all. Get children involved in planting and make it a fun family activity.
In May, all areas of the garden are crying out for your attention, but the vegetable patch shouts the loudest of all. There’s so much to do! Never mind, with these early sunrises, you can start work at 5am…
Runner and French beans can be sown outside now. You can sow direct into the ground, but I like to start them off in small pots, transplanting into their final positions when they’re about 10cms high. This way you’ll have sturdy plants that will be less vulnerable to slug or bird damage. Beans hate root disturbance but will barely notice the move if you take the trouble to sow them in individual pots. This is an activity that youngsters can get involved in – the large seeds are easy for little fingers to handle.
Sowing fast-growing salads is another way to get children interested in gardening. A supermarket bag of salad leaves is expensive, but a £1 packet of ‘mixed leaf’ seeds makes enough plants to last all summer long. They grow brilliantly in containers. A cheap and cheerful plastic trough will do the job, so long as it will hold 10-15cms depth of soil. The plants will only root down a few centimetres, but the bulk of soil will hold in moisture and act as an insulator, preventing the soil warming up too much. If the roots become hot, your plants will ‘bolt’ and run to seed. When it comes to harvesting, carefully snip off the youngest growing shoots, leaving the bulk of the plant behind. Each plant will regenerate half a dozen times or more, making more leaves for you to enjoy. Kiddies’ plastic scissors will easily cut through the soft stems, so youngsters can help with harvesting too.
If you don’t have a veg plot, other salads that do well in containers include radishes, spring onions, and the small ‘ball-type’ carrots and beetroot. Many vegetables will tolerate light shade and the beauty of growing things in containers is that you can move them around and experiment with different locations. Even if you only have a tiny paved patio, there are vegetables to suit, and most herbs will do better in a pot than in heavy Sussex clay.
Tomato plants are on sale everywhere now. Avoid those looking lanky or yellowed; they have been in their pots far too long. Don’t stick to the same old varieties; try something new. Giant ‘beefsteak’ types are great for slicing or stuffing, ‘plum’ tomatoes contain fewer seeds, making them ideal for sauces, while ‘cherries’ add colour and sweetness to salads. Cherry-types also make fantastic displays in patio pots. A container filled with ‘Sungold’ tomatoes, French marigolds, parsley and basil is a feast for the body – and the soul.