Carry on sowing: vegetables for summer
by Emma Cooper
Runner beans © iStockphoto / david hills
With the frenzy of spring behind us, and the hope of more settled weather to come, many gardeners are looking forward to the days when they can sit outside and enjoy the fruits of their labours. But if you’ve got a vegetable patch and would like harvests right through the summer, then it pays to think about sowing more seeds now.
The key to crisp summer salads is successional sowing – planting small batches of seeds every couple of weeks so that you never have a glut or a famine. On very warm days, sow lettuce seeds in the afternoon and keep them out of the sun, as they may fail to germinate if they get too warm. Other leafy salad vegetables, such as rocket, spinach, leaf beet and chard, don’t suffer from the same problem, but you will need to keep seedlings well-supplied with water to ensure that the harvested leaves are nice and tender.
Beetroot and carrot seeds can also be sown in June for harvests later in the year. If you want a quick crop, or have limited space, then choose a variety that’s labelled as being good for containers or for harvesting as baby roots. The carrots will grow quickly, but mid-May to mid-June is one of the peak periods for carrot fly damage so you may want to keep the seedlings safely covered with mesh or fleece.
Spring onions and radishes are also quick crops that you can sow now and harvest in a few weeks, and both are excellent choices for small spaces.
If you have a bit more room then it’s not too late to sow summer favourites such as French and runner beans, and peas. They all have dwarf and climbing varieties, so you can choose the ones that will make the best use of the space you have. Courgettes and summer squash can also be sown now; choose a bush variety for a small garden. The sprawling stems of larger plants can be allowed to scramble up a trellis, or to wind around themselves so they stay tidy.
Many of the oriental vegetables can be tricky to grow from seed in the spring time – a cold snap can damage the plants while the lengthening days can make them flower too soon. After midsummer they’re much easier so they’re good candidates for sowing in the second half of June.
Pak choi is lovely as a baby vegetable (good for containers) and can also be allowed to mature into larger plants. Either way, the whole plant is harvested – after about five weeks for baby veg. Although the green leaves and white stems of the standard varieties are stunning, there’s also now a lovely purple-tinged type called ‘Rubi’ to try. If you’re planning to harvest the plants as baby vegetables, thin seedlings until they’re 15cm apart but if you’re leaving the plants to grow to full size, thin to 45cm apart.
Mibuna is a bushy plant with strappy leaves which makes a great cut-and-come-again addition to salads and stir-fries. Sow now and begin to harvest in about a month.
Chrysanthemum greens (Chrysanthemum coronarium or Glebionis coronaria) will add an interesting new flavour to stir-fries and oriental soups, and seeds are best sown after midsummer. If you decide you like it, sow small batches successionally as the leaves are best harvested young. The plants are cut-and-come-again and should be spaced about 15cm apart. The first harvest will be ready in about five weeks.
With these leafy greens, the idea is to harvest them before they bloom, but with other oriental brassicas, the flower shoots are the part that you want. Oriental flowering shoots are a much better choice for small gardens and containers than traditional broccoli, which is a large and slow-growing plant. Look for choy sum and Chinese broccoli (or kailaan) and aim to space plants about 10cm apart. They’re quick-growing, and the flowering shoots should be harvested as soon as they appear, while they’re young and tender; regular harvesting encourages more shoots to grow.
With the tomato harvest on its way, it’s time to sow basil if you haven’t already done so. Now that the risk of frost has passed, the plants will happily survive outside, but you can also grow them in pots on the windowsill to keep them handy for the kitchen. Sweet basil is the classic, but there are plenty of other varieties to choose from if you fancy a change.
If you’d rather have salsa then sow coriander. Even if you buy the varieties selected for leaf (rather than seed) production, it’s still a tricky herb to keep happy. The easiest solution is to sow small batches every couple of weeks and treat it as a salad leaf. Once plants begin to flower, consign them to the compost and begin harvesting from the next batch.
Sow parsley now for harvests into the early spring (as long as the winter weather isn’t too frightful).
And if you’re going to be relaxing in the garden with a Pimms, then sow a handful of borage as well – the flowers and leaves were a traditional addition to the drink before mint took over.