Top of the crops

Top of the crops

Article originally published by: Kiwi Gardener

Fifteen vegetables to focus on right now.

With summer hot on our heels, it is timely to give you a heads up on the key vegetable crops to be looking at now, in terms of planting and growing as well as maintenance and care.

We are covering as much as we can this month and next month we will be looking specifically at root crops.

So, don’t panic that you don’t see carrots, beetroot and radish here yet, they will be making a big appearance next month, though all can be planted this month, too.

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1. Potatoes

Have you got yours in the ground yet? If so, your main jobs now are to ‘mole up’ the soil around the leaves as they come through the ground, forcing the plant to produce a larger crop. Water is the life line for spuds, with a deep watering at least once a week ideal. Make sure it’s about half a bucket of water per plant, rather than a splash every day. You can still plant potatoes now, especially main season ones like ‘Ilam Hardy’, ‘Agria’, ‘Summer Delight’ and ‘Maris Anchor’. These will be ready for harvesting in late summer/early autumn. Growing potatoes in ‘grow bags’ is easy and convenient, especially if you don’t have a garden or are on the move. Half fill the bags with vegetable mix, place three seed potatoes in the bag then fill with more soil. Sit these somewhere sunny and water them once a week.

2. Parsnip

This month is your last chance to get parsnip seed in the ground. The seed does have a hard coat, so once you have sown it in rows, pour a jug of boiling water over the seed to help break the seed coat and improve germination. The soil needs to be loose and friable to prevent wonky roots. They are a crop that takes up to six months to mature, so plant them somewhere where they will not be in the way. As the seedlings germinate, thin out to allow about three fingers between each plant you want to keep. If they get overcrowded, the crop will never fatten up beyond finger size.

3. Sweet corn

Can you ever have too much corn? I don’t think so. Corn readily germinates from seed, with soaking it overnight speeding up the germination process. As the seed is easy to handle in your fingers it is a good one for kids to help plant. Sow in rows, planting the seed 15cm apart. I drop two to three seeds into each small hole. Have at least three rows, as the pollen needs to move from one plant to another – if they are all in straight rows pollination is never as good. Seedlings are all in the shops now, so if you can’t be fussed with seed, just get a few punnets and you are in business.

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4. Beans

By now, your broad beans should be somewhere between knee and hip height. Stake them if the plants are looking a little floppy.

Climbing and runner beans can be sown and planted now, they need something to support them to grow up; stakes, canes, trellis, fences, or other crops like sweet corn are all good options. If you decide to use corn, the corn needs to be a good size before you plant the bean seeds, as the beans grow faster than the corn.

For something a little different, look for snake beans. These 40cm-long beans are delicious and look impressive. Climbing butter beans also do well and contrast brilliantly with the purple climbing bean. All of these look amazing gr owing up a fence. Why not plant a few different climbing beans along your fence this season?

Dwarf and French beans have lovely smooth skins, which can be eaten whole. Sow seed now directly in the garden about 10cm apart or look for seedlings, which will be everywhere. Yellow butter beans are quick and easy to grow and, for small plants, they produce a large crop. The trick with beans is to keep picking them as once a pod is picked it stimulates more flowers to appear, therefore more beans.

5. Lettuce

It’s salad time, so get as many plants in as you can fit. Yes, you still have time to sow seeds, but rather than waiting for a month for them to be ready to transplant get some seedlings going. With the large hearting lettuces, these need a little room to fully develop. Allow 25-30cm or two hand spaces between them. However, for the frilly and curly lettuces and cos types, feel free to cram them in as the outer leaves can be harvested as the plants are actively growing.

Lettuces are reliable options for tubs and pots, too. Lettuce is shallow-rooted, so a 20cm-deep container will suffice. Old spouting and guttering works well.

The downside to planting them really close is that it makes watering harder. Lettuces ideally don’t like a lot of water on their leaves, so if you have plenty of space give them room to move, and remember to put out the slug bait, as those slimeballs can munch a row of lettuces in one sitting!

6. Spinach

This speedy growing green starts growing flat out in the warmer months. A great options for tubs, spinach can be harvested leaf by leaf, so planting them closer together is an option if you plan to pick it as it grows. This is one crop that responds particularly well to regular drenches of seaweed tonic.

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7. Peas

The good news is that you can keep planting seedlings now, but the bad news is that they won’t be ready for Christmas. Peas are a crop that prefers to start off in the cooler months, so if you are in the warmer regions, you have missed the boat. Sugar snaps and snow peas are the best ones for this time of year, as they are quick to romp away. Keep them moist and you will be enjoying fresh peas in about eight weeks. ‘Greenfeast’ is a reliable podding pea, if you can find seedlings of this one now, plant them.

8. Onions

Bulb-forming onions should have been planted by now. If you haven’t put them in, you have a few weeks to get ready grown seedlings in the ground. It is too late to sow seeds of these. For crops already in the ground the only job is to keep the ground free of weeds.

Spring onions can be sown and grown all year round. I cheat and plant the entire plug of seedlings in one hole, which means when I harvest them they are a ready-grown bunch. It saves on room and energy.

9. Tomatoes

I hope you have prepared your soil in readiness. They need a fair bit of organic matter to help soil soak up the water tomatoes need to form decent fruit. Don’t forget to add tomato fertiliser to the ground as well. Secure stems to a stake to support the main stem. If growing in pots, choose a large container; the bigger the better, they have a big root system that enjoys good soil and plenty of water.

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10. Pumpkins

Seeds can be sown now and will germinate in a fortnight or so. Seedlings are in the shops, too. Pumpkins do require a fair bit of room to grow, so allow about 2-3m per plant, or try trailing the vines up a tree to save room. And they love manure, be it sheep, horse, cow, chicken or pig. Dig plenty into the soil prior to planting and over the season it will feed the vines and keep them flourishing. Giant pumpkins need even more room to move, and these need to be in the ground as soon as possible if you are after a monster one to pick in the autumn.

11. Courgette/zucchini

These should be a staple in every garden, whether growing in containers and tubs or planted in the soil. Once they start flowering they continuously produce fruit for months on end. And if you leave them on the plant, after a few weeks you will end up with marrows. Sow seeds now or look for seedlings, both are widely available. ‘Yellow Fingers’ is a goodie, as is ‘Black Jack’. Or for something a little different try scaloppini. Allow them 60-70cm to grow. They can take up a fair bit of room, so if you are planting them in tubs, choose a big one.

12. Cucumbers

Whether it’s the short fat stumpy Lebanese variety with edible skin, the foot-long Telegraph types, or maybe the sweet round white apple ones, seedlings can all go in now. Seeds are quick to germinate, but if you are impatient, just grab a few seedlings from the shop shelves. Treat the soil as you would for pumpkins. And ideally you should try to keep the stems off the ground to prevent the crop from going soft or rotting as they sit on the soil.

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13. Garlic/shallots

It is far too late to plant these now – some early garlic varieties will be ready to harvest next month. However, for crops in the ground, key tasks include keeping the area weed-free. Where possible, mulch around the base of the plants to keep the soil cooler and help fatten the cloves – plenty of water will help this, too. A deep watering once a week is ideal, you don’t want to encourage a shallow root system by watering little and often.

14. Capsicums/chilli

These heat-loving crops are just getting ready to leap into action. Both require the same conditions: warm soil, plenty of sunlight and a decent amount of nutrients. Be careful about adding too much manure. Treat these guys more like tomatoes. In fact, you can use tomato food on these as it encourages more flower growth and a stronger root system, both of which will improve the plants’ harvesting capacity. Chillies make superb container plants, and they continue to grow indoors over the colder months. Capsicum vary so much in colour that seed is the option for those looking for the widest range (the shops tend to only have green or red ones). Stake the taller-growing capsicum as when the fruit is maturing it can get rather heavy.

15. Eggplants

If you fancy growing your own aubergines this summer, you need to get them in the ground over the next month. Seed is a little slow to germinate, up to a month in some cases, so starting with seedlings is a quicker option. The little white and yellow egg types are novel and delicious, whereas the large stately purple ones are just divine. They are gross feeders and need a long, hot summer, so if you are in the cooler areas these are a crop for the greenhouse. Treat as for tomatoes and capsicum. They make wonderful patio and tub plants with their highly ornamental leaves and flowers.