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What vegetables to plant now for summer

Get planting now for your summer on a plate

A clean slate is a wonderful thing, and never more so than when it’s time to clean up the vegetable garden and start planning what you want to eat in a couple of months’ time. Or starting a new vegetable garden from scratch, which you might never have done before. Either way, growing vegetables is fairly straightforward and you’d have to be a complete idiot not to get something to eat at the end of it all.

If you have an existing vegetable garden like mine – neglected over winter and full of bedraggled, half-dead bits of unidentifiable foliage – get into clean-up mode. The Partner refers to this phase as “stripping out”. Fortunately, he enjoys it, and cheerfully and diligently removes every bit of extraneous greenery, rotting stakes, broken string and the carcasses of small animals the cats have deposited there.

Next, he gets into assessment mode. He rakes all the garbage off the top and reviews the state of the soil. After weeks of rain, our soil was unidentifiable so we [he] dug in barrow-loads of compost and turned the stuff loose. It’s onerous but it aerates the soil, which wakes up the worms, who help out with the job.

Never one to do things by halves, he follows up with fertiliser and blends it in with all the skill and thoroughness of the chef he was in a former life. I’m surprised not to see him out there with the sifter.

Actually, the blending is important, because if you’re inclined to leave little lumps of fertiliser lying around, it will burn your seedlings.

Whether it’s on the ground or a raised bed, a vege patch is better flat. Vegetables will grow in gardens with slopes and depressions, but your job will be easier if it’s level and you’ll have fewer problems with pooling water, which can compromise the soil.

If you’re a novice, you’ll need to decide whether to grow from seeds or seedlings. Because I like instant gratification, I go for seedlings but some vegetables can only be grown from seed, so if you’re into carrots and parsnips (parsnips are the vegetable of the moment), you’ll have to get a handle on that.

Your summer greens will grow equally as well in raised beds as they do in the ground.

Onions, lettuces, salad greens, beans, corn, parsnips, carrots, beetroot and radishes can all be sown outside now. But you might want to hold back on cold-sensitive seedlings like basil, tomatoes, cucumbers and melons – sow them in trays inside until it warms up more.

Broccoli, leeks, spinach, celery, cabbage and cauliflower can all be planted too, but don’t plant everything at once or you’ll be eating the same stuff every night for ages. Succession planting every few weeks is the key to interesting meals.

This applies particularly to lettuces and salad greens. Salads have changed over time and the contemporary versions use many different greens, so you may need more space than you thought. Mixed packs of rocket, spinach, Italian parsley, mint, nasturtiums, mizuna, Chinese greens and others make the job easy.

Ever-popular parsnips can only be grown from seed, so you will have to consider sowing them in trays before planting them out.

Keeping a vegetable garden watered is vital, especially if you have sandy or dry soil, which drains quickly. Many vegetables will bolt and die if left dry. Visit the patch daily and check moisture levels.

Also check for bugs. Slugs and snails start celebrating the minute you plant and they tell all their mates, so be vigilant. If you prefer not to kill unwanted wildlife in your garden, you can use eggshells, sheep dags and pine needles to deter them.

Spuds you’ll like

It’s a frightening thought but it will be Christmas before you know it and if you’re cooking Christmas dinner, you must have new potatoes.

Potatoes grow from seed potatoes. Get certified seed potatoes and sprout them before you plant them out. Choose middle-sized models about the size of an egg. Put them in a tray or an egg carton with the eyes (buds) facing upward, keep them warm in a light room and wait until the shoots are about 2cm long before planting them out.

Rich, free-draining soil is the key. Dig trenches about 15cm deep (and maybe 60cm apart if you have more than one) and space your seed potatoes, with the green shoot facing up, about 30cm apart. Cover them with a low ridge of soil and wait.

Now here’s the heartbreaking bit. As soon as the shoots push through the soil, cover them, leaving just a few centimetres of new leaves poking through. Potatoes like the dark and the damp so “earth up” about once a week, and water regularly.

When the little white flowers die off and the leaves wither, you can start harvesting – hopefully in time for Christmas dinner.

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