A guide to some of the more unusual vegetable and salad crops that can be grown from seed this summer
While it was surely one of the most challenging growing seasons that gardeners can remember, it’s time to put the trials and tribulations of 2013’s spring firmly behind us and start looking forward to the summer ahead. To help lick your kitchen garden back into shape, here’s a list of some delicious, unusual vegetables and salad crops that can be sown over the coming months.
Beautiful beans: If you’re lucky enough to have a polytunnel, a glasshouse or an especially warm, sheltered garden, June is a great time to sow climbing French beans. ‘Borlotto Lingua Di Fuoco 2’ (Chiltern Seeds) is spectacular, with tasty, crimson-splattered pods, ‘Blauhilde’ (Tamar Organics) produces stringless, violet-purple pods, while you can’t beat the green-podded ‘Cobra’ (Seedaholic) for productivity.
But while scarlet runner beans grow very well outdoors (sow these until the end of June), for outdoor French beans it’s best to use dwarf varieties. This summer I’m growing the yellow-podded ‘Helios’ (The Organic Centre), but I’m tempted by ‘Purple Teepee’, which Sarah Foster of Chiltern Seeds says is “splendid . . . stringless, tender, and with a superb flavour”. To speed germination and avoid seedlings being eaten by slugs, sow into liners/pots under cover and transplant once they develop their first set of true leaves.
Colourful carrots: This versatile root vegetable can be sown until early August, with the added advantage that later sowings are less vulnerable to attack by carrot fly (even so, it’s best to protect young crops with Bionet). For something very different from the traditional orange-fleshed kinds, try ISSA’s ‘John’s Purple’, a tasty, purple-fleshed heritage variety first collected in England in the 1970s, or the tasty ‘Touchon’ (Brown Envelope Seeds).
Scrumptious salads: A host of delicious leaves can be sown over the coming months to add flavour, crunch and colour to any salad bowl. Try vitamin-rich Chinese amaranth (Chiltern Seeds) with cherry-red leaves that are as decorative as they are tasty.
Equally ornamental is the bolt-resistant red mizuna (Real Seeds), which can be sown right into September and harvested three to four weeks after sowing. From mid-summer on, you can sow seed of cold-hardy strains of lettuce for harvesting into autumn (later in a polytunnel) as well as quick-growing oriental leaves including pak choi, mustard, mibuna and shungiku (ISSA).
Many seed suppliers offer interesting mixes. I like the Italian blend ‘Misticanza’ (Chiltern Seeds) and Cork-based Brown Envelope Seeds do a great range of season-appropriate collections, including a blend of spinach, rocket, Texel greens and mustard that can be sown in June-July to give a tasty autumn harvest. There’s also just enough time left to sow some edible flowers: borage, nasturtiums and English marigolds – my current favourite is ‘Indian Prince’ (The Higgledy Garden).
Or try the lovely February orchid (Orychophragmus violaceus) from Brown Envelope Seeds. Sow in modules from now until September, transplanting seedlings once large enough.
Brilliant beet: I grow chard ‘Bright Lights’ (Brown Envelope Seeds) every summer, as much for the appearance of its jewel-coloured stems as its spinach-like leaves. Picked when small and tender, these make a pretty addition to any salad, while bigger stems add crunch and texture to a stir-fry. Sow in modules from now until the end of July and transplant once established. Now’s also a great time to grow beetroot, including the candy-striped heritage variety known as ‘Chioggia’ and the cylindrical ‘Alto’ (Thompson & Morgan), which can be sown until the end of July.
Great greens: If you have a sunny, protected spot going begging, consider callaloo; seed of this exotically colourful Caribbean spinach (Amaranthus) is part of Sutton’s/James Wong’s Homegrown Revolution range. Another unusual leafy vegetable is Rapa Senza Testa, or turnip greens (Real Seeds). Fast growing and productive, it has a pleasingly buttery flavour. Also tasty and quick to crop is the Japanese Tsoi Sim (Real Seeds), which can be sown from mid-summer until mid-September.
Health-enhancing herbs: A huge variety of these culinary and medicinal plants can be grown from seed over the following weeks. Staples such as parsley and coriander can be sown until the end of July. For something more unusual, try lovage (Seedaholic). The tender, aromatic leaves of this lofty perennial – in damp, rich soil it grows up to two metres high – are delicious in salad or soup, made into a dip or sprinkled on new potatoes. Also useful is caraway, a biennial whose lovely umbelliferous flowers look at home in any flower border. Sow until the end of June for next summer. For a complete range of Irish-produced, certified-organic herb seed, check out The Herb Garden.
See: irishseedsavers.ie, brownenvelopeseeds.com, seedaholic.com, theherbgarden.ie, realseeds.co.uk, tamarorganics.co.uk, chilternseeds.co.uk, suttons.co.uk, higgledygarden.com