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Gardening: There is still time to grow your own vegetables
If you feel that you have missed the boat this year, or do not have the energy, equipment or expertise to raise plants from seed, do not despair, says Elspeth Thompson. Not since the Second World War, when front gardens were dug up and planted with potatoes, have so many Britons been growing their own.
With the credit crunch and rising food costs on the one hand, and a growing interest in seasonal, local produce on the other, having your own kitchen garden – or even just a few pots of salad on a terrace or balcony – has never looked so attractive. But if you feel that you have missed the boat this year, or do not have the energy, equipment or expertise to raise plants from seed, do not despair. A growing number of mail order companies are offering “ready-to-plant plots” consisting of selections of seedlings sent out just at the point when they are bursting with life and begging to be liberated into open soil. Even busy weekend gardeners can find the time this way. Weekend one: dig over your plot and fork in some well-rotted garden compost or farmyard manure. Monday morning: order your plants on the phone or online, requesting delivery on Friday. Weekend two: plant out your plot. Weekends three, four, five and so on: water well, check for pests and diseases and await the harvest.
New on the block with nine collections of mixed vegetable pots for different-sized areas and uses (salads, children’s, greenhouse, various spring and summer and winter options) is Wiggly Wigglers, which will carry on sending most collections for another month or so; its winter vegetable selections (containing leeks, kales and cabbages, cauliflowers, swedes, beetroot and purple-sprouting broccoli) are particularly good and will be sent out from the end of June to mid-August. Prices are tempting: a salad garden consisting of 188 young plants is just £40. (www.wigglywigglers.co.uk, 01981 500391).
Also new to the home-growing market, but with 50 years’ experience of supplying commercial growers, is Fentongollan Farm in Cornwall. The plants are grown in special root-trainers and fully hardened off for planting before dispatch; they come in breathable plastic packs in which, it is claimed, they can remain happily for another week or two before planting. The prices are competitive, with “Bargain” and “Children’s” collections, of 63 and 29 plants respectively, each £14.95 (free p&p), while single vegetable packs including purple sprouting broccoli, red “Rodon” cabbage and flat-leaf parsley start at an impressive £3.50 for 10 young plants. (www.vegplants.co.uk, 01872 520209)
Growing vegetables in this way is clearly more expensive than raising them from seed, where hundreds of rocket plants, for instance, can be produced for a matter of pennies or nothing at all if you collect your own seeds. But it can still be good value, especially if you choose what you grow with care. Go for types of vegetable where you will get maximum return per seedling, for example cut-and-come-again lettuce leaves, peppers and tomatoes, and purple-sprouting broccoli which keeps on cropping over a relatively long period. The beautiful but notoriously expensive Petersham Nurseries (020 8940 5230; www.petershamnurseries.com) has recently launched its own “Home Grown” range of gourmet vegetable plants (anyone for organic pea-shoots or tasty round “Tondo d Piacenza” courgettes?) But on a visit there the other day, I was amused to see a single carrot seedling, resplendent in its eco-chic coir pot, priced at 50p (reduced, I was told, from £2). Forget the Harrods food hall, that must be the most expensive (not to mention labour-intensive) carrot in the country. Nice gift for a pampered pet rabbit, though.