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Gardening: Crops to try out

24 April 2020

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FOR families in lockdown, meal­times take on a heightened signifi­cance. They help us to maintain routine and they tear us away from sad news. But, as we have more meals at home, so groceries are harder to come by.

A threat of further shortages has led to a surge of “Dig for Victory”-type messages across social media, and seed companies report record de­­­­­mand for vegetable seed and seed potatoes. Perhaps it is not the time to be too ambitious with growing our own, but a few ex­­perimental crops can be fun and rewarding.

I would recommend starting with a few pots. Any waterproof con­tainers will do, provided that they have a capacity of about 12 litres or more. You will need to make drain­age holes in their bases if there are none. If you need to buy contain­ers, I would recommend “Root Pouches”, available from Amazon: fabric con­tainers made from con­­tainers mater­ials. They fold flat, re­­ducing trans­port costs, and, visually, they sit well in a traditional or con­­temporary set­ting.

Whichever vessels you use, fill them with a peat-free compost and arrange them in a sunny spot. Most easy crops can be direct-sown out­side now. Small seed such as salad leaves, baby beetroot, baby carrots, and spring onions can be scattered thinly over the surface of the com­post and covered with a thin layer of sieved compost. Larger seed, such as courgettes and dwarf beans, can be planted, three to a 30cm-diameter pot. If all three germinate, sacrifice the weakest.

It is too late to grow tomatoes from seed; so order plug plants — per­­­­­­­­haps a hanging-basket variety such as “Romello” or “Tumbling Tom”. It is important to remember that containers (especially fabric ones) dry out quickly, and will need daily watering.

Productive pots can be decorative and rival more traditional summer bedding displays. Chard “Bright Lights” has bright-green leaves and stems of yellow, orange, pink, and red. It can be harvested as baby leaves for a salad or left to mature for use like spinach. Nastur­tiums provide leaves and flowers that can add a peppery twist to salads. The seeds are large and easy for children to push into pots of compost.

If younger members of the family show interest in grow-your-own ex­­periments, there are two new books that could extend their explorations. I Ate Sunshine for Breakfast, by the ecologist and educator Michael Holland (Flying Eye, £14.99 (Church Times Bookshop £13.49)), cel­ebrates useful plants, and includes fun DIY pro­jects for young gar­deners. The Pocket Book of Garden Experiments, by Helen Pilcher, published in as­­soci­­a­tion with the Royal Horti­cultural Society (Blooms­bury, £14.99 (£13.49)), is aimed at slightly older young scientists and gives fam­ilies ideas for experiments involving plants, wildlife, and household items.

www.rootpouch.com

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