There's nothing more satisfying than eating vegetables you've grown yourself, and I'm especially happy with how my own garden has taken shape this year. That's not to say it hasn't seen its own success and failures. This year has been a war against the slugs and snails, which seem especially prolific. The slugs have won with my carrots, borlotti beans, parsley and salad leaves, but fortunately they are not partial to any of the allium family or the chicories.
Still, there have been numerous successes that I'd like to pass on as examples of easy to grow vegetables that anyone can grow in their garden or allotment. It gives one a glow of satisfaction to pick, cook and eat produce from ones own patch! So what are you waiting for?
For those planning a new vegetable garden I highly recommend 'how to create a new Vegetable Garden' by Charles Dowding, for quick gardening tips I go to The Royal Horticultural Society excellent website.
Courgettes are one of the easiest and most prolific vegetables to grow. They like to spread out but you can always plant them in big patio containers if you're short of space. Keep them well watered and pick the courgettes when they are small, this encourages more to grow. Well worth growing yellow courgettes which are just as easy to grow, but far more difficult to buy. The flowers are edible too and are delicious stuffed with herby ricotta and fried in a light tempura batter.
Growing your own broad beans gives you the pleasure of picking the young beans which are sweet, tender, and succulent. When the beans are very small you can eat the whole pod too. Sow them in the Autumn and if the mice don't eat them you will have an early crop in late April, alternatively sow in March for a May harvest. The advantage of an Autumn sowing is you are likely to harvest before the black fly emerge.
Mange tout are one of the easiest pea varieties to grow. All peas need to be supported with canes otherwise they just trail along the ground. Mange tout should be picked when the pods are about 7.5cm long, just as the peas are starting to develop. Use them as quickly as possible as they lose their sweetness once picked. Lovely to eat raw in a salad or steam them lightly.
There is nothing like the sweetness of home grown peas, they like a rich soil and regular watering and must be supported with canes. Pick when the pods have filled out, but tastiest when the peas are small and sweet, as they mature the peas turn starchy. Use the pea shoots for salads and dont discard the pea pods as they make excellent vegetable stock.
French beans are easy to grow in small gardens, so long as you choose a dwarf variety. Just a few plants will reward you with a copious and reliable crop. French beans also come in a variety of colours – the usual green but also cream, yellow, flecked, and purple French beans. Do note that purple French beans turn green when you cook them.
Rocket is an easy-to-grow and as its name implies when it gets established it grows fast. Rocket flourishes in a warm, sunny position. I grow both the rounder leaved and wild more toothed varieties. The younger leaves are milder and less peppery.The yellow or white flowers are a pretty addition to salads. A glut of rocket can be turned into a pesto or salsa verde. Leaves can also be lightly cooked like spinach, added to sauces or sautéed in olive oil.
The Chicory family (Cichorium intybus) is an exciting and greatly varied family of leafy plants with so much variety compared to the forced "Witloof" white 'chicons' that we buy in the Supermarkets. In Italy, there are more than 600 different varieties. They grow right across the year and are available as green shoots in the spring and as puntarelle and big-hearted vegetables in the summer. Wild chicory grows widely in Britain. Bright blue flowers signal its presence in meadows and is a foragers delight. All the chicories can be grown in your garden and grow through the winter, with varieties such as Treviso and Radicchio turning a beautiful deep crimson colour as the weather gets colder. Castelfranco is another stunningly beautiful chicory with leaves that look as though they have had crimson paint flicked over them. I use chicory as a slightly bitter salad and as a cooked vegetable.
Leeks are easy to grow and its one crop that the slugs and snails are not partial too. Sow leeks in the Spring in seeds trays and then plant out when they are about 20 cms high into a deep round holes made with a 'dibber' (or wooden broom handle). As leeks grow straight up you can dot them around your summer cropping vegetables. Harvest through the winter.
Cavolo Nero tolerates cold weather and is relatively free of pests and diseases. You will need to net your cavolo nero against the cabbage white butterfly, which flys in July, lays eggs on the underside of the leaves and within a few days the ravenous caterpillars can decimate your crop. All through the winter pick the leaves, leaving the plant to keep on growing.
Chard, or Swiss Chard, is one of the most visually appealing of the leafy vegetables and looks good in a herbaceous border. I find it easier to grow than spinach. It is grown both for its leaves and the stalk. try growing the spectacular Rainbow chard. Chard is the oldest form of beet and unlike beetroot it does not form a bulbous root but a mass of stalks and leaves which carry on growing as individual leaves are cut. When cooking chard It's worth separating the leaves of chard from the stalks and cooking the sliced stalks for a few minutes before adding the leaves and, like spinach, they reduce down dramatically so always pick more than you think you need!