Deciding which variety of vegetables to grow can prove to be challenging. James Oakey is the Head of Horticulture at Westland, and has put together his top 10 choices, to give you some inspiration.
1. It’s got to be a Tomato
For me there is nothing that beats a home grown tomato in summer. I’m rather partial to cherry tomatoes. The sweeter the better. For this reason I grow Sweet Olive (image on left), an Indoor / Outdoor cordon variety. A crunchy bite with mouth- watering flavours. I also grow Garden Pearl in containers on the patio. They are an outdoor semi trailing variety and you can pick the sun warmed fruits for weeks on end. If I had a greenhouse I would definitely grow Tomato Cherry Baby. This will grow outdoors on a sunny patio, but are best grown indoors.
A versatile vegetable that looks good in the flower border as well as the vegetable patch. Beetroot is packed with nutrients and is delicious to eat. My favourites to grow are Gourmet Mix (image on left), which gives a range of flavour and colours, to the garden and plate. Alexis is also one of my favourite, producing beetroot of a long cylindrical shape which makes slicing an easier task.
3. Pepper Cardinal
The pepper Cardinal is a sweet block shaped pepper, which ripens from deep purple to bright red. Unripe purple peppers, which taste similar to a green standard pepper, brings extra colour to a salad. They are easy to grow and look pretty in containers on the patio.
4. Carrot Short and Sweet
My vegetable garden is quite stony, having once been a concrete floor for a large shed. Therefore, long carrots do not grow well. I grow Carrot Short and Sweet (image on left)) in containers or in a wooden raised bed which is only just off the floor. The 10cm long carrots are deliciously sweet, with a real carroty flavour. If you have deep, stone-free soil, try Carrot Resistafly, not only resistant to carrot root fly, but you can be assured of a decent crop harvesting right into winter.
5. Cucumber Mini Muncher
This is new to Unwins this year. It’s an outdoor growing sister to the ever popular, indoor growing Mini Munch. Prolific crops of 8cm long, lunch-box type cucumbers, on a plant that will climb if given support or scramble over a container.
6. Runner Beans
No English garden is complete without them. I grow them at the back of my flower border against the fence where they make a hedge of leaves and pretty coloured flowers in summer. I always sow indoors in May, using a module tray. They are so quick to grow, they are usually up within a week and ready to plant out in 2 weeks. I normally plant out early June, when risk of frost, or even cold wind, has passed. I grow the red flowered runner bean, Firestorm (image on left) and white flowered, Stardust, as they are self-fertile and really productive with bunches of beans to pick.
7. French Beans
I grow these to add height in the flower garden. I grow Climbing Isabel (image on left), Purple Cascade and Dwarf French bean Dorado at the base of the climbing plants for extra crops. This gives me a 3 colour mix of beans. The beans are best picked when young and fresh, and about the size of a pencil. Runner beans and French beans freeze well too. I don’t bother to blanch. I pick, slice onto tin foil trays as a single layer, freeze and then when frozen, put into an old plastic ice cream tub.
8. Salad Leaves
Everyday salad to me, has become leaves, rather than a whole lettuce head. I sow short 60cm rows weekly of Mixed Salad Leaves (image on left), Spicy Mix and Herb Mix. A packet will make about 3 rows. It is normally the case where after you’ve sown the 3rd week, the 1st week’s sowings can be ready to cut. I take cuttings when the leaves are about 3-5cm tall. I then put the cuttings in a bowl with cold water, stir gently and leave for 10-15 minutes. The leaves will float and dirt and creepy crawlies sink. I remove the leaves from the bowl and put them in a sealed poly bag in the fridge. Hey presto, you have your own version of a supermarket salad bag costing £1. With growing your own you get about 3 cuts off each weeks sowings, making 9 salad bags worth £9. A packet of seeds costs just £1.99.
9. Kale Black Magic
Kale Black Magic provides long season harvests. They are packed full of nutrients and taste delicious steamed. Black Magic is a British bred variety which is more compact in comparison to the Italian Cavolo Nero and makes a superb addition to patio containers. You can pick thinnings as baby leaf salads.
10. Spring Onions
These should definitely not be forgotten as they are so easy and quick to grow. We eat them in salads, but probably use them in stir fries more. Try White Lisbon (image on left) and Holland Blood Red as these are two of my favourites.