Welcome to our IDEAS & ADVICE pages
There is nothing more satisfying than sitting down to a meal where one or more of the vegetables or fruit have been produced from your own garden or allotment, rewarding all of the hard work and effort that goes into growing your own. Here are a few tips to help you make the most of your produce and hopefully keep ‘gluts’ to a minimum!
Take time to plan your production for the coming year. Research seed and plant varieties to make sure that they are suitable for your soil type and district.
Find out what the family like to eat! There is no point in growing large numbers of crops that no one really likes. However, part of the fun of growing your own is trying something different. Plan to have at least one crop available for harvesting throughout the year. Include an area for brassicas such as sprouting broccoli and kale or leeks, swede and parsnips which can be used through the winter and in early spring when there are fewer vegetables available. Quick maturing crops such as salad leaves, herbs and radish should be sown in short rows every couple of weeks to avoid a glut but ensure continuity.
Brassica plants are best sown in ‘modules’ or individual pots and grown on until they are large enough to be planted out when the ground for winter crops becomes vacant. Many other varieties can be sown in pots and planted out once established including peas, beans and loose leaved lettuce early in the season, when it may be advantageous to use plants rather than sow seeds directly into cold, wet ground. If the weather is wet and cold early in the season, cloches can be used to warm the soil and protect early sowings to achieve an earlier crop.
Some vegetables and fruit will not store for long once they are harvested and these should be picked little and often for use immediately or frozen or preserved, where possible for future use. Some such as parsnips, leeks and early potatoes can be left in the ground and dug when they are required for use. Others such as beetroot, carrots, onions and second early and main crop potatoes can be used from the ground and any excess lifted in autumn before adverse weather, stored and used through the winter months.
Below are a few ideas to ensure that as little of your produce as possible is wasted and your compost heap does not grow large on spent crops!
Salad crops and Herbs
These crops will not store for long and should be kept in a refrigerator once picked. Start to harvest young, individual leaves. Pull up lettuce plants and store in the fridge with the root still intact, wrapped in wet paper towels and sealed in a polythene bag. This will prolong the life of the plant. Alternatively, pick and wash salad leaves and herbs such as Parsley, Chervil and Coriander. Store them in a plastic container in the ‘fridge with wet paper towels in the base of the container where they will stay fresh for longer.
Herbs, such as chives and parsley can be chopped and frozen in ice cube containers with water added. Once the cubes have frozen, they can be bagged up and used in soups and stews. Some, such as Rosemary and Mint can be preserved as jelly. Many, such as Bay can be dried.
These can be left in the ground and dug as required for use. New potatoes are best stored in the fridge once they have been dug. ‘Second Earlies’ and maincrop varieties can be dug and stored towards the end of the summer for future use. Choose a dry day and brush off as much soil as possible but do not wash the tubers. Store in cardboard boxes in a cool, dark place such as a frost free garage.
These can be left in the ground and pulled for use as required. Many will also freeze if blanched in water or can be lifted and stored in sand boxes in a cold shed or in a ‘clamp’ outside through the winter months. These include beetroot, carrots, parsnips and swede.
Peas and Beans
These should be picked regularly and used immediately or frozen. Peas and Broad beans can be shelled and frozen on trays before being bagged up. French and Runner beans can be blanched or sliced and frozen on trays before bagging. The latter also make delicious chutneys and pickles!
Courgettes and Squashes
Some squashes such as Pumpkins and ‘Turks Turban’ will store for many months once the skins have been ripened by the sun, without any assistance. Softer squashes such as courgettes and ‘Patty Pan’ should be picked often and used as ‘baby veg’ to avoid being overrun! Because of their high water content, squashes do not freeze well but can be frozen as soups and purees or preserved by pickling or making into chutneys.
Onions and Shallots
These should be harvested as the top growth begins to die off and allowed to dry completely before storing in boxes or for onions, as ropes in a cool dry place. Garlic can be stored in the same way or used fresh from the ground. Spring onions will not store for long and should be treated as salad crops.
Amongst the hardiest of vegetables, many of these will stand through the winter and can be picked as required. Most can also be blanched or made into soups and purees, then frozen. Summer cabbage and spring greens should be stored in the refrigerator.
Top Fruit includes Apples, Pears, Cherries and Plums. Some Apples and Pears will store for longer than others in a cool, dry place in boxes. Cherries and Plums will not keep for long and should be preserved or frozen if they are not used immediately.
This includes Currants, Gooseberries, Blueberries, Strawberries and Raspberries. Soft fruit has a very limited life in the refrigerator and should be used within a few days of picking. Any excess should be preserved or frozen for future use.
There are many ways to use your home grown fruit and vegetables. Once your freezer and store room are full, why not get out your recipe books and try a new dish?