Life

Late summer redemption in the veg patch

If you've slept in when it comes to planting vegetables there's still time to redeem yourself...

Purple-sprouting broccoli is ideal for planting where early spuds have been harvested
Purple-sprouting broccoli is ideal for planting where early spuds have been harvested Purple-sprouting broccoli is ideal for planting where early spuds have been harvested

The sense of melancholy that comes with the passing of the summer solstice is often accompanied by the disappointing realisation that you haven't fulfilled many of those promises you made to yourself and the garden at the beginning of the year. When the days are cold and the evenings dark, we are full of good intention and grandiose plans: "This year I'll be self-sufficient in vegetables – I'll even grow exotic stuff like kohlrabi and Florence fennel."    

But it's July already and I've yet to eat anything from the garden bar a handful of strawberries. With the exception of tomatoes, spuds and French beans there's no annual crops growing. Normally I'd blame too much time spent working on the ornamental garden but it too is neglected as other distractions and reduced energy levels allow time to slip rapidly but unobtrusively through my hands. All is not lost for 2023, however, if there's a little urgency combined with right plant choices. 

It's also important that your ground is well prepared. The addition of organic matter like home-made compost will improve the soil's texture as you seek to find that happy medium where it is both moisture retentive and free draining. Fertilisers and feeds can be used to boost growth but not until the plants are at least juvenile, as you'll either kill them with kindness or end up with too much tender growth on which slugs and snails will easily prey.   

It's some time since I grew the aforementioned kohlrabi, a vegetable more popular with gardeners than supermarkets. If you like your brassicas, kohlrabi is a relatively quick crop to turn around, coming with green, white or purple skin, the latter making an especially attractive addition to the veg plot. The young, tender bulbs are great in salads or they can be steamed like neeps. It's recommended using the hardier purple varieties for later sowings – in July and August. Popular varieties include 'Azur Star', 'Korist' and 'Purple Vienna'.

Many oriental vegetables thrive on a late sowing and pak choi – another brassica – is among the best performers. A versatile leafy crop that works in broths, salads and stir fries, pak choi is easy to grow but is prone to bolting, meaning the plant gets stressed and therefore prematurely begins the process of making seed. This is bad news for the gardener because all the plant's energy goes into making flowers rather than leaves for photosynthesising. Planting in partial shade and ensuring your crop is never too thirsty are two ways to mitigate against bolting.

'Green Revolution', 'Karaoke' and 'Joi Choi' are among the recommended varieties.

Two crops ideal for taking ground vacated by early potatoes are purple-sprouting broccoli and Florence fennel. The latter's gourmet appeal relies on its swollen leaf bases or tennis ball-sized ‘bulbs’, which are best steamed or grilled and served alongside fish and meat, or as salad leaves. They retain the aniseed flavour but not in an overwhelming way. Another plant prone to bolting, it grows best in a sheltered but well-ventilated site and with warm but moist conditions.

Young purple-sprouting broccoli plants can be bought over the coming weeks and planted as you lift early potatoes. Ensure the plants are firmed in well and guard against cabbage white butterflies, whose caterpillars will quickly devour them if not removed. The tender stems should be harvested next spring when the flower shoots are well developed, but before the flowers actually open, cutting the head with a sharp knife.