Social media still filled with memes about tomatoes being swapped for the proceeds of the Brinks Mat heist?
As arguments break out about whether the shortage of fresh produce in the UK is caused by Brexit, supermarkets, cold weather in Spain, or a little from columns A, B, and C, you could do a lot worse than seeking solace in the garden. Time to grow your own salad.
As well as being a better use of time than typing furiously about vegetable supply chains on the Facebook page of someone you last saw at a party sometime in 1995, gardening is relaxing, rewarding, and a great way to bond with curious kids or grandkids.
You don’t need acres of land
March and April are great months for planting a range of edible crops, no matter how much or how little space you have. Patience is, as ever, a virtue – you’re not going to be able to pop a few seeds in the ground and magically have enough tomatoes for a Greek salad and a truckload of Bolognese sauce next week. But the good news is that there are plenty of things that should be going in the ground – or into pots or window boxes if space is tight – just in time for some spring sunshine.
You’d better be quick – beetroot does best when it’s planted in cooler weather, so try and get your seeds in the ground while March is still pretending it’s December. It needs low temperatures to germinate and you will need a bit of space. The seeds are sown just 1 cm below the surface, but they should be placed 10 cm apart with 30 cm between rows.
Once April rolls around, you can plant carrots in shallow drills in the ground or, if you like a short, round carrot, they do well in pots. Expect to harvest your carrots in July or August. If your soil is stony, swap it out for something softer – unless you find forked carrots amusing.
These babies really do require some serious patience. Plant them now and they will be ready for harvesting by next autumn or winter. Keep them covered while the weather is still cold.
These tend to do better in pots than in the ground, especially if you have a nice, sunny spot. This means that you don’t even need a balcony, as chillies are perfectly happy on windowsills. They also do well in greenhouses, but if you don’t have the room or the funds, you can make a mini greenhouse by covering the indoor pots with a clear plastic bag secured with a rubber band until the seedlings sprout.
Equally at home in pots or the ground, chives are embarrassingly easy to grow, they grow pretty quickly, and a quick snip with a pair of scissors is all that’s required to harvest a handful to add flavour to everything from a pasta sauce to a salad to the dollop of sour cream on a baked potato. If you’re into bees – and if you’re not, you should be – the pretty purple flowers are good for attracting industrious little pollinators to the garden.
What the hell are cucurbits, you might ask. It’s a collective term for cucumbers (one of the veggies currently being rationed by supermarkets), marrows, courgettes and pumpkins. They should be started off in small pots under cover and then you can move them outside (or into a greenhouse in the case of cucumbers) once this damn frost season ends.
The national vegetable of Wales and a less teary, easy-chopping alternative to onions, you do need a bit of space for leeks. But if you plant them in April, you should be rewarded with an autumn crop. Do not plant them too close together – your correspondent speaks from bitter experience. They were really skinny and disappointing. Some of them grew really high but, ahem, lacked girth. However, when they reached the four-foot mark, they may potentially have been used as microphones for Elvis impersonations in the garden.
Like chillies, peppers are happiest in pots. And like chillies, peppers appreciate a sunny spot, an actual greenhouse, or a mini greenhouse with the aid of a clear plastic bag. With peppers among the main items that have been running low in shops, homegrown peppers are definitely a good investment for the months ahead.
Commonly associated with large fields on farms, you don’t need to buy up half the county to successfully grow spuds. They do well in the ground in pretty much any plot of soil, as well as sacks or large pots. Make sure you’re generous with the compost no matter where you put them. You can even start the potato process indoors. Put the seed potatoes in seed trays on a windowsill in a cool room that gets plenty of light. Give it a few weeks and the sprouting seed potatoes can then be moved to their permanent home.
These leaves of green goodness grow well in containers. So they are a good option for small gardens that are more paving stone than soil. Whether you pop them in the ground or in a container, cover the top of the soil with a layer of compost.
Yes, the love apples that have been the source of so much angst can be planted in March and April. They grow pretty easily with cherry, tumbling, and bush varieties doing well in pots, growing bags, or the ground. Use a peat-free multi-purpose compost, make sure they get plenty of sun and give them plenty to drink.
It has been said that tomatoes can be a lot of work so you can save about £3, but if you end up with a prolific crop, you can end up with more tomatoes than you bargained for. That said, if you do end up with a surplus of tomatoes, they freeze pretty well, either whole or as a puree for easy sauces, stews and curries. And if you grow a nice crop of tomatoes, you can smugly stockpile them, step away from the internet and spare yourself an argument.
For more advice on growing your own, check the Royal Horticultural Society website