Tips for growing more interesting fruit and veg at home
Whether you’re a seasoned or aspiring home grower, National Allotment Week (14-20 August 2017) gives plenty of inspiration with events scheduled around the country. But you don’t need to go as far as getting an allotment to nurture your own harvest, or even a large garden – many varieties of fruit and veg will happily sprout forth in pots on a balcony.
It’s not all about British classics such as potatoes, carrots and strawberries either. There are lots more exotic options to try and many of them not only taste delicious but look fantastic too. Here are a few to consider.
A great example of a plant that looks as good as it tastes. With a strong, structural shape globe artichokes are ideal for growing at the back of a border or in a pot against a wall or fence. They reach 1m to 1.5m tall and need a bit of width to grow, so if you’re planting them in a group leave 60cm between each one.
You can grow artichokes from seed but it’s easier to buy ready-rooted suckers to plant in the spring. They need a spot that’s nice and sunny with well-drained soil.
Take good care of them and they’ll come back year after year, so you can look forward to artichokes on the menu each summer. Just make sure you protect them from the frost in the winter.
Grapes are a lovely way to bring a Mediterranean vibe to your garden. If you’re growing them outside, find somewhere as warm, sunny and sheltered as possible with well-drained soil. Prune them carefully and they need very little space – you can train them up walls, trellises and gazebos and over arches.
If you want to eat sweet, ripe grapes, choose a dessert variety rather than a wine-making or ornamental type, which are too sour to eat. The best time to plant a vine is between November and early March.
Although they grow well in UK gardens, if you're in the north it's safest to grow them in pots in a greenhouse or conservatory.
You’ll rarely find sea kale in the shops, and in many places in the UK it’s illegal to forage them in the wild. So growing your own really is the best option for this tasty brassica. Fortunately, it’s easy to grow and is very at home in the British climate.
With pretty, silvery leaves, sea kale sits well in an ornamental bed. Unsurprisingly, it likes sandy, free-draining soil and the best feed for it is liquid seaweed fertiliser.
You can eat young sea kale leaves – either raw or steamed – but the best bit is the forced stems, which have an asparagus flavour.
Sea Kale is grown from root cuttings called thongs. Plant these in compost in early spring and then plant the young shoots that grow from them in the garden in May.
Chillies inject a fantastic shot of colour to your garden and can be grown in even the coldest parts of the UK. They do need to be started off inside though. And while they can be grown in the ground they’re ideal for raising in pots.
You can plant them any time up to May, but January and February is the best period for planting to give them more chance to ripen before the summer. Snip off the first chillies when they’re green as it encourages them to fruit all the way through from July to October.
You may end up with more chillies than you can eat, but you can store them. Some varieties can be dried while others can be pickled, frozen or preserved in oil.
Asparagus can be a pricey buy in the shops, so growing your own is a cost-effective option if you love its distinctive flavour. You’ll need some patience though – you’ll have to wait two years from planting for your first harvest. The good news is that once it’s established it’ll produce a crop for as many as twenty years.
Asparagus plants are either male or female, with male plants being more prolific and producing better quality spears. Expect around 20 spears per plant each season.
You can grow asparagus from seed, but an easier option is to plant dormant plants, which are called crowns. They prefer an open, sunny area but don’t mind dappled shade too.