Sarah Coles



Why grow your own vegetables?   In these hard times, growing your own helps ease the family budget.   The mail order seedsman D.T. Brown for an initial outlay of £34.36 grew and harvested summer vegetables on a plot 30 by 9 feet, giving the plants and soil no special treatment.  Results included climbing beans at a market price of £48.22, courgettes costing over £30, and many more, altogether saving over £260.  You can find full results on their website

How does the novice choose & grow?  Mr Fothergills ( mark about 35 varieties in their catalogue with an easy-to-grow symbol, as well as giving tips.  It’s worth exploring the websites of various seedsmen which contain a wealth of advice as well as practical videos on digging and fertilisers.  Just make sure you haven’t strayed into a website based in California!  Thompson & Morgan ( suggest some starter vegetables and these include potatoes, mint, salad leaves, spring onions, broad and runner beans, tomatoes and peas.

Before buying seed, have a look where they’re going to grow.  If your plot has sun for most of the day, you’re in luck and can grow almost anything you want.   But if it only has a few hours of sunlight, sun lovers like tomatoes, peppers, aubergines, sweetcorn and sweet potatoes, are not going to flourish.

Potatoes will grow anywhere.  Essentially there are two types, waxy which won’t fall apart when boiled, and floury which will.  Unless you only have a patio or balcony, grow them in the ground where they will do far better than in a special potato growing module.   When the first shoots come through, earth them up, green leaves and all.  At harvest, children love digging them out; it’s like finding buried treasure. Charlotteis excellent for taste, and if you leave a few in the soil they will grow large enough for delicious jacket potatoes.

A lottery winner was asked on television what he really wanted.  He replied, to grow carrots.  Actually, it’s not that difficult.  Never buy carrots as seedlings, because the tap roots hate being moved and, more importantly, the cost works out at about £1.99 per carrot.  They hate cold wet soil, so don’t sow this month.  Wait until it’s warmer.   In the packet you’ll find hundreds of seeds, so just sow a few, and then some more if the first lot doesn’t come up.  What about the carrot fly?  It lays eggs around the plant in the soil, and the maggots hatch and infest the carrot.  You can buy carrot fly resistant seed.  Or, since the carrot fly cannot fly higher than 18 inches, you can erect a barrier, or grow them in a growbag on a bench.

Courgettes do well in all gardens.  It’s a case of keeping the soil moist, so you don’t get lots of male and not the female flowers which produce the fruit.  One or two males are necessary for fertilisation.   When watering, direct it at the base of the stem, and not on the flowers which may rot.  Every year try a new variety, like the spherical courgette Golden Balls, which is delicious semi-stuffed in the kitchen.

All the brassicas, the cabbages, sprouts, curly kale and the like, can perform well without  full sun.  They have several predators, pigeons, squirrels and worst, the cabbage white butterfly.  The best protection is netting or cloches.  However, I must admit I never got round to netting mine last year, and while the sprouting broccoli is holey as a colander, the curly kale Reflex is untouched and so attractive it should be among the flowers.  Maybe the broccoli acted as a sacrificial crop luring the butterflies away, or maybe the butterflies failed to find a landing spot among the lacy furbelows of the curly kale.

The name Kohl Rabi, another brassica, means ‘cabbage turnip’, which sounds far less  appetizing that it is.  It’s crunchy like an apple and has a light flavour.   Kolibri is an excellent variety.  Sow seed direct in the ground when the weather gets warm, and it should be available for harvesting after about eight weeks.  Don’t let is grow too large, or it will crack and develop a coarse texture.

Salad leaves of the cut-and-come-again variety transform the dullest shop lettuce into a goumet dish, and work out a fraction of the cost of bagged leaves in shops.  There’s Bulls Blood beetroot leaves, darkest red, golden Skyrocket, Wild Rocket and mixes containing coriander, mizuna, mustard and sorrel.  With these crops, in Hampshire you can carry on sowing after the last month recommended on the packet.  For something new, this year I’m growing the watercress Aqua in a pot sitting in bowl of water.  I’m told, let it come up, then carry on cutting!

If you want to grow garlic, don’t plant garlic from the supermarket.  This has nearly always been grown inChina, and is unlikely to flourish here.  Buy garlic by mail order or from the garden centre, and rip the bulb into individual cloves.   Make a ridge, Toblerone style, along the soil for drainage, and plant the cloves on top.

There’s a new runner bean Moonlight from Thompson & Morgan which comes from a breeding breakthrough of a runner bean crossed with a French bean.  The resulting bean has the virtues of both.  It’s smooth skinned and stringless, ten inches long, and it retains all the taste of a true runner bean.

Sweet corn needs the sun, and here you are best with an early cropper like Early Bird, either as plugs or seed.  Plant them en bloc, one foot apart, and not in a row, because sweet corn is wind pollinated.   It’s no good dotting them here and there to cheer up the flower beds, because they will only produce gappy cobs.  Keep the soil steadily moist, and with luck you might have two or three cobs off each plant.  You can grow lettuces in the spaces between the sweet corn, and then you’ll be cutting lettuces both during and after harvesting the corn.

Another sun lover is the sweet potato, but this only does well in a good summer.  You can buy rooted cuttings from DT Brown or Thompson & Morgan, pot them up, and plant them out when the ground is warm, ideally through black plastic sheeting.  Go for varieties with orange flesh like Beauregarde or Georgia Jet, not white.  They bear morning glory flowers, and are harvested in October.

But in the end, it’s not just about saving money.   It’s about the taste of fresh food.  It’s about sowing, planting and harvesting as our forebears have done for thousands of years.  And it’s about a final and magnificent sense of achievement.


  • Love in the mist, nigella, poppies and other self seeders are appearing, but herd them into places where they don’t interfere with other plants.
  • Damping off is the curse of seedlings in the greenhouse, when you have them growing happily and they suddenly keel over and say, whew, we can’t take it.  It is caused by too damp compost.  Sow thinly, and pot on, pricking out the little blighters the moment you can.
  • Lilies last for years in pots.  Top dress them with a loam based (John Innes No 2) compost, and two feeds of Gromore through the season.
  • Plants in plastic pots can be easily moved, and are brilliant for hiding eyesores.

Comments are closed.

Copyright Sarah Coles 2018
Privacy Policy
Website Design & Creation Forum Media and Design - Alresford