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The Selection Process - your garden for 2014

PUBLISHED: 14:35 04 December 2013 | UPDATED: 14:35 04 December 2013

Tomatillos - exotic yet easy to grow, they make fabulous salsa

Tomatillos - exotic yet easy to grow, they make fabulous salsa

Archant

As the wind howls and the rain lashes down its time to snuggle in an armchair in front of the fire with your seed catalogue and review your edible options for next year

The first of the 2014 seed catalogues has arrived, which signals the start of the growing season. Though it may seem a bit early to finalise plans for the garden, it is certainly a good time – for both experienced and novice gardeners – to reflect on which vegetables should be grown this coming year. With hundreds of varieties to choose from, the ones you grow must be whittled down to a manageable number. A successful harvest depends on making the right choices, and any vegetable you choose should meet certain standards.

Making your short list

To state the obvious, what’s the point in growing something that no one will eat? Before you order your seeds, survey your family for their preferences. The second thing to consider is suitability. Not all vegetables are created equally, and some will be better suited to your garden than others. To get the most from your plot, take a long, hard look at what it offers - soil type, sunny or shaded, large or small - and grow only those vegetables that are right for the conditions. To help here are some basic things to consider:

• Long-rooted carrots and parsnips are not the best choice for gardens with heavy clay soils unless plenty of organic matter is added.

• Peppers and aubergines are from the tropics, so only grow them if you have a poly tunnel or greenhouse that can provide the heat they need.

• If your garden is shaded, grow leafy crops such as perpetual spinach and lettuce rather than sun-lovers like tomatoes and beetroot.

• Where space is tight, avoid tall growers such as sweetcorn and climbing beans that shade any plants growing next to them. Other no-no vegetables in small gardens are pumpkins and winter squashes – their creeping vines spread everywhere and crowd out less aggressive vegetables.

Quick and simple

If you’re an impatient gardener with little time on your hands, you are better off growing quick and easy vegetables that can be ready in a few weeks or months after sowing. For ease of growing, you can’t beat lettuces, courgettes, perpetual spinach and dwarf French beans: once they are up and running, they need little attention other than watering during dry spells.

In contrast, growing brassicas (members of the cabbage family) can often be more trouble than they are worth. They can be attacked by a daunting number of pests that includes root fly, aphids, flea beetles, caterpillars and pigeons; these crops are doomed to failure unless you provide some sort of protection. And don’t even think about purple sprouting broccoli: not only is it a brassica, but it can take up to nine months before it is harvested!

Pushing the envelope

Gardeners can easily get into a rut, planting the same old things year after year - so force yourself to grow one or two new vegetables every year. Try something completely off the wall like tomatillos, a physalis relative used in Mexican cooking, it is very easy to grow and makes a great salsa. Or, if you want to be a little less radical, grow one of the Oriental greens such as pak choi and mizuna. If you are the cautious type, simply try one of the many new varieties of standard vegetable like cabbage, beetroot or leeks – new ones are coming out all the time. For example there are some wonderfully colourful varieties of beetroot available to grow these days - from golden to candy-striped. With luck, some of your experiments may even become regular garden features.

A good return

Gardening takes a lot of work, so choose vegetables that produce enough of a crop to make your efforts worthwhile. Whichever ones you grow, remember that they don’t have to be the best yielders, they just has to be good yielders. Climbing beans, courgettes and perpetual spinach are generally good yielders that represent good value, and at least one of them should be in any productive garden. And under no circumstances should the cost of the seed be a consideration; often the seeds of high yielding vegetables are hybrids that don’t come cheap.

Though it is hard work, vegetable gardening is neither a penance nor a punishment for past transgressions. Done right, it is an immensely satisfying pleasure that appeals to an innate need to be self-sufficient and independent. And the way to do it right is to choose easy-to-grow, productive vegetables that your family likes – there is no other way.

About Michael Michaud

Michael and Joy Michaud run Sea Spring Seeds, a Dorset-based company specialising in the production and sale of vegetable seeds and chilli plants. They also breed chillies and have developed several new varieties, including the world’s hottest chilli the Dorset Naga. For more details visit their website seaspringseeds.co.uk.

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