As far as I’m concerned, one of the great benefits of growing your vegetables, fruit and herbs from scratch is that you can raise (and later enjoy on a plate) varieties that are not readily available in supermarkets. Take carrots, for example. You’ll be lucky to find anything other than anonymous orange roots in most supermarkets. However, this humble root veg comes in a wide range of colours, shapes and sizes. The answer, if you want to try something a little bit different, is to grow your own from seeds by following my advice below.
Mention carrots and most people will automatically think of tapering, orange coloured roots. Well, that’s all you’re likely to find in supermarkets but grow your own from seed and you can enjoy round, stumpy, conical or slender carrots in shades of white, yellow, red, purple and of course…orange. Among my faves are ‘Purple Haze’ and yellow ‘Jaune du Doubs’. Carrots prefer light, stone-free soil in a sunny spot. Prepare the soil by forking over and raking the surface to a fine finish. Make a shallow trench, 2.5cm (1in) deep, and sow seeds thinly. After germination, nip off the leaves of weaker seedlings to leave plants 7.5cm (3in) apart. Harvest roots within 12 to 16 weeks of sowing, depending on variety.
Long life herbs
It goes without saying that if you’re a keen cook then you should grow some of your own herbs. However, many traditional favourites struggle to survive over the summer months, requiring lots of attention and lashings of water to keep them in good shape. My advice to those wanting plenty of pickings, but none of the hassle, is to choose long-lived perennial varieties that hail from the sun-kissed climes of the Mediterranean. Rosemary, sage, thyme, fennel, French tarragon, bay and oregano will thrive in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Alternatively, set them in glazed pots for an authentic Mediterranean feel. Try combining several containers in different shapes and sizes together to create an attractive display.
Whether you are growing them in pots, growing bags or hanging baskets, tomatoes are thirsty plants when raised in containers. They need watering regularly to reach their full potential and to ensure fruit isn’t tainted by a physiological problem known as blossom end rot. If compost is allowed to dry out while fruit are swelling, it can result in a hard, black sunken patch forming at the base – this is caused by a lack of calcium that is found in water. Avoid problems by ensuring the compost remains consistently moist. Although unsightly, affected tomatoes can still be eaten if the damaged parts are cut off.
Thinning out apples and pears
Don’t panic if an apple or pear tree suddenly dumps loads of its baby fruit onto the ground. This is perfectly normal. A phenomena known as ‘June drop’, trees naturally thin out overcrowded clusters of developing fruit to provide those remaining with space to develop. Despite its name, this process is not limited to June and trees will actually shed fruit at any time from late May until mid July. It may be necessary to follow this up with some thinning out by hand to ensure fruit has sufficient space to grow to its correct size. First remove small or misshapen fruit, including the large, central ‘king’ apple if it is damaged. Less thinning is necessary for pears.
Hopefully you’ve enjoyed lots of fat, tasty spears from asparagus plants over the past couple of months, but now is the time to stop harvesting to allow plants to build up energy for next year. In order to ensure a bumper crop, give plants an extra boost by feeding with a general fertiliser. Shoots will extend into tall stems covered with a mass of ferny leaves. Unfortunately, both shoots and foliage are loved by asparagus beetles and their larvae, which will strip bark and defoliate stems. Keep a close eye out for the black, red and white beetles and pick them off by hand. Alternatively, spray with an organic pesticide based on pyrethrum, such as Richard Jackson’s Pest Control Concentrate.