Gardening: Diarmuid Gavin's crop stars - a guide to vegetables that will thrive
My easy-to-follow guide to the vegetable varieties that will thrive in every type of garden
The soil is warming up and veg growers are busy sowing seeds indoors and outdoors - good crops to sow now include beetroot, broad bean, carrot, cauliflower, kohl rabi, leek, lettuce, onion, pea, radish, salad leaves, spinach, summer cabbage, Swiss chard and turnip. In addition, tomatoes, sweet and chilli peppers, cucumbers and aubergines can all be sown indoors now with warmth. Here's my recommendations on a few of the best varieties…
This is becoming increasingly popular, but it's not an instant crop so it requires patience. Plant the crowns now but let them mature for a couple of years before harvesting the spears. After that, they can keep going for as long as 20 years. They like rich soil, so dig a trench and place well-rotted manure at the base. Create ridges and plant the crowns on top, with their roots draped over. Cover with soil, so the buds are just showing. Male varieties produce the best crop - try 'Connover's Colossal', 'Gijnlim' and 'Stewart's Purple'.
Broad beans can go straight in the ground now and are a good crop for beginner gardeners. Sow them at monthly intervals to avoid a glut. Add compost to the soil, use a general fertiliser and choose a sunny spot. Try 'Aquadulce Claudia' for early cropping. If space is limited, 'The Sutton' is the most popular dwarf variety. They will need support, so make your own climbing frames with bamboo canes.
'Boltardy', as its name suggests, has very good resistance to bolting (where the plant goes to seed too early and the crop becomes unusable, usually as the result of a change in temperature) and is very hardy. I've found germination very reliable with this cultivar.
Purple sprouting is the most popular variety. Sow this now, but you will need to wait until next spring before you can harvest it. If you haven't the patience, try 'Calabrese' instead which will be ready for harvest this autumn.
A crop that doesn't like heavy soil or fresh manure so keep it light, and stone-free to avoid forking your crop. Carrot fly can be a nuisance but the varieties 'Flyaway' and 'Resistafly' both have good resistance. Be careful when thinning your seedlings as that's when the dreaded carrot fly smells dinner - remove thinnings, or wash and put in salads. Try 'Rainbow' and 'Purple Haze' for a variety of colours from purple to yellow.
'All the Year Round' is the top favourite. Plant in fertile soil and keep well fed for good crops.
If I had to choose one it would be 'Lollo rossa' - with its curly red leaves, it both looks and tastes good. Lettuce germinates easily from seed, so remember to sow successively every fortnight to keep you in fresh salad throughout the summer.
'Sturon' has good bolting resistance and stores well. If you have less space, you can plant spring onions, I'd recommend 'White Lisbon' as a problem-free variety.
'Tender and True' is an heirloom variety with good canker resistance. Sow next month and you could still be harvesting them this time next year.
Try 'Kelvedon Wonder' but immediately protect it from birds after sowing using netting.
A great way of improving heavy soil, as they break it up and also help suppress weeds. It's time to get your chitted first early potatoes in the ground now. Second earlies are planted early-to-mid-April and maincrops from mid-April onwards. If you're short on space, or are a novice gardener, I'd recommend the early varieties such as 'Orla' and 'Colleen' which are ready to harvest before blight descends. That said, the 'Sarpo Mira' and 'Axona' maincrop varieties have been bred to be resistant to virus and blight. They are also slug-resistant and give great yields. Grow bags are a practical way to cultivate potatoes if you are a balcony/patio gardener.
'Bloomsdale' will produce tons of dark green crinkly leaves and is slow to bolt.
If you've never grown them before, don't think you have to have an expensive greenhouse. There are plenty of outdoor varieties which will do well in a warm, sunny position. Plant in grow bags, a veg patch or containers. If space is at a premium, try trailing varieties such as 'Tumbling Tom' and 'Cherry Cascade' that will thrive in hanging baskets. Thompson and Morgan have just introduced a blight-resistant salad tomato called 'Mountain Magic' - it's a cordon variety, so will need support on the vine. Start off seedlings indoors now and plant out when danger of frost has passed.
Short on space? There's plenty you can grow
If you have a small patio or balcony, there's still plenty you can grow. Stick to smaller, more manageable crops such as herbs, salad leaves, spring onions, radishes or very compact tomatoes such as 'Red Robin'. Some veg that you would think are too big for small spaces are available in compact sizes, specially bred for container growing. Aubergines such as 'Ophelia' and 'Baby Belle' are dwarf versions that give you tasty baby-sized fruit. Similarly, there are dwarf varieties for courgettes, cucumbers, French beans, broad beans, even squash. And there's nothing to stop you from having fruit trees either - as long as you have a good sunny and preferably sheltered spot, you can grow dwarf self-fertile apples, cherries, peaches and pears.