Top of the Crops
Living sustainably has become a priority for a lot of people over the last few years. Many families have started to make the most of their gardens by growing their own food. This ‘Top of the Crops’ guide will give you all the information you need when it comes to growing the most popular fruits and vegetables.
This ‘Top of the Crops’ guide, provided by our friends First Tunnels
Tomatoes are one of the most popular plants to be grown in the gardens of the UK. Although they can be pretty fussy to cultivate, tomatoes are extremely rewarding as not only do you get a great harvest from these plants but there are a huge number of varieties available.
There are only a small number of tomatoes that can be grown outside so a poly tunnel or greenhouse is definitely the best place to keep them if you’d prefer to grow a variety of tomatoes.
Planting: The best varieties to grow at home include latah, red cluster pear and harbinger. None of these plants are difficult to grow from seed but if you want to achieve great results it’s best to plant them as early as possible in order to give them a long growing period. In most areas of the UK it will be fine to place the plants on a sun exposed windowsill. However, in the north, where the temperatures can struggle during the early part of the year, it may be best to buy a young plant that’s already established as it will be far more likely to survive than a plant that’s grown from seed.
Tomato seeds should be sown around mid-March and left in a warm, light spot such as a windowsill. They can be moved to a poly tunnel or greenhouse during April and then transported to pots when they reach around 3cm in height.
Tomato plants will be typically ready to harvest in June and July and once picked the tomatoes will last a few days. If the tomatoes are kept in the fridge they will last much longer, up to a couple of weeks – although you will be making a sacrifice on flavour.
Growing: When the plant’s roots reach the bottom of the plant pot it’s important to re-pot them into something larger in order to ensure the plants reach their full potential. As soon as the first flowers have formed you’ll have to move them again, this time it should be into a grow bag, flowerbed or large pot.
When flowers start to grow on the plant they need to be fertilised in order to ensure a strong plant and healthy growth. Tomatoes are exceptionally thirsty plants and need to be watered regularly if you’re going to get the great fruit that you want when it comes to harvesting. A self-watering planter such as the Quadgrow or Duogrow is ideal because it prevents under and over-watering – and b oth of these planters will keep your plants watered for up to two weeks at a time so that you can go on holiday without having to worry about getting a neighbour to care for your plants, or if you are growing in growbags consider using the Click & Drip for growbags to keep the tomatoes watered.
Lettuce is something that, in the right conditions, can be grown all year round. Whilst a lot of people consider lettuce to be a summer food it can also be used to create a spicy winter meal by adding mustard and rocket.
There are many different varieties of lettuce and you can really grow any you like. Many people deem Paris Island and Webbs as being the best quality type of lettuce.
Planting: Although lettuce plants can be grown at any time of year, it’s best to avoid November to January unless you can provide a lot of light – whether in a poly tunnel or on a windowsill. You should sow lettuce seeds on the surface of compost as unlike tomatoes; they will not grow if they’ve been submerged. If you’re sowing the seeds in the summer then it’s best to plant them a little deeper – about 1cm into the soil – and once there are a few leaves growing move the plants into a soil bed.
Growing: Most varieties of lettuce are pretty hardy and don’t require much attention – if you plant them during the winter months then some may require protection from frost. Lettuce can be grown all year round so there’s no specific harvesting time. When picking lettuce from your garden, avoid waiting for full heads to be ready as it is likely this will never be the case as lettuce is extremely attractive to slugs. Instead, pick a few outer leaves off several crowns and then continue to go back for more as and when you need to. The Saladgrow planters help you to produce a bumper harvest.
Strawberries are a summer fruit but if you grow an early variety at home then you could be enjoying them almost a month before anyone else. In order to do this you need to choose an early variety of strawberry. Honeoye is the perfect choice as it can be planted during the summer – in order for a strong root system to develop through the winter – but has a hardiness that will help it to survive both humid and cold weather.
Planting: You can grow strawberries in beds or containers such as the Saladgrow. If growing in the ground you should dig a bed early on in the summer and ensure it remains weed free until the strawberries are planted later on in the season. It’s a good idea to order young plants from a nursery as opposed to trying to grow strawberries from a seed because the plant stops growing over winter. Plants that are already established before they stop growing over winter are likely to bear fruit much earlier than plants that aren’t planted until spring.
Growing: Once fruit begins to appear you should put straw on the surface of the bed in order to prevent the fruit from touching the ground and weeds from growing. Strawberry plants can be kept for around three years and will produce three good harvests – you’ll generally get more fruit in your second year than in the first.
If you do wish to keep the same plants for a couple of years then it’s essential to remove the straw as soon as the plants have finished producing fruit for the first year. You should also make sure you cut the plants down – to around 5cm in height – and use a fertiliser during the spring in order to ensure they grow healthily and produce a strong harvest.
Carrots are another veggie favourite that can be grown all year round. It’s not an issue if you forget to sow another set when you harvest either because baby carrots grow exceptionally quickly so you won’t be without them for long.
Nantes 2 is a great variety of carrot. It’s sweet and provides baby carrots quickly. If you can’t eat them as fast as they’re being produced though, there’s no need to worry because unlike other varieties, this one keeps its taste and doesn’t become woody.
Planting: Carrots can be grown in large containers such as the Quadgrow Veg, or in the ground. If growing in thr ground before planting any carrot seeds it’s a good idea to dig the soil to a good depth – probably down to about 15cm. Make sure you remove any weeds and break up any lumps of dirt. Once you’ve broken up the soil it’s a good idea to water it thoroughly before sowing the seeds. It is also good practice to plant the seeds in rows, pushing them about 2cm into the soil. Once you’ve planted them, water the area again but be careful not to wash the seeds away.
Growing: Once planted, carrots shouldn’t need to be fed. The only time you might need to consider providing them with extra nutrition is if you don’t rotate your vegetable patch and plant them in the same place year after year. Your carrots will need to be watered every now and again and they may also require a sprinkling of fresh compost if the tops of their roots start to turn green.