Casual Gardener: Playing catch-up in the edible garden

Salad leaves sown now will be ready in a matter of weeks. Picture by Charles Dowding/PA
John Manley

There's still time to sow vegetables for eating later in the summer...

I STRUGGLE to find explanations or excuses for what has been a poor showing so far this year in the edible garden. Ordinarily at the beginning of July the raised beds are brimming with rows of lettuce, rocket and spinach, waiting to be picked fresh and added to a plate of salad. Meanwhile, I’m usually readying myself to harvest the garlic and onions planted in the previous autumn and preparing for the inevitable glut of courgettes and a flurry of green beans.

But this year has been different. I’ve planted two beds with second early spuds that are almost ready to be harvested, I have tomatoes growing in the greenhouse, and I plan to spend the coming days picking gooseberries and blackcurrants, the former for chutney, the latter for making a liqueur.

I’m not sure what accounts for my failure to sow more stuff. Work’s been busy, but nothing new there. The weather’s been a bit changeable but again, this is Ireland where a few consecutive days of sunshine can often make news headlines.

I’ve spent lots of time in the garden but for various reasons have tended more to the ornamental side this year rather than focussing on the veg patch. I’ve cleared a bed – or rather my wife has – yet the only thing growing in it at present is loveage (Levisticum officinale) that’s waiting to be rehoused.

Thankfully, it’s not too late to make amends as there a number of crops that can be sown which will either mature quickly or grow through the autumn.

Salad crops of various kinds will provide the quickest turnaround. If sown in the coming days, lettuces should be ready to start eating by mid-August, if conditions are good. Faster growing varieties include ‘Buttercrunch’, ‘Jericho’, ‘Red Sails’ and the popular ‘Little Gem’, the seeds of which are widely available.

Rocket, as its name suggests, doesn’t take long to mature and is the perfect peppery flavour for spicing up a salad bowl. Among the most vigorous varieties are 'Runway' and ‘Sky Rocket’.

Radishes are another vegetable that reaches its prime in a relatively short time. Suited best to succession sowings that ensure a constant supply rather than a sudden glut, radishes are at their most flavoursome when about an inch across. ‘Cherry Belle’ is said to be the quickest to grow, taking just 22 days to reach the desired size. ‘Early Scarlet Globe’ takes a little longer at 28 days, while ‘Crimson Giant’ matures in a month.

Other crops worth sowing over the coming weeks include scallions, Swiss chard, fennel, kohl rhabi and Oriental vegetables like chicory and pak choi.

The key to success with your edibles will be primarily down to your growing medium and after care. Your soil should be fine, fertile and free draining, characteristics that may sound easy on paper but take many gardeners years to achieve to their full satisfaction. A combination of home made compost, loam and either grit or sharp sand will help immensely. A lot of virgin soil is probably inadequate in terms of its nutrient content and texture but you’ll soon know after rubbing it between your fingers – dampness is a good sign, a dust like texture is not.

With quick-growing crops be wary of bolting, which is when a stressed plant panics and flowers in order to make seed. This is triggered either by poor soil or lack of water. Follow the above advice regarding soil and water at least one a week.