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Easy-care veg crops to grow

The most daunting thing about growing vegetables for many people is the time and effort it will require. While it's true that regular attention is the secret of growing top-quality crops, you can keep on top of things by doing 'key' jobs little and often.

When crops fail, it's usually for one of three reasons: because they've been smothered by weeds; they've gone short of water and feed (which makes them tough, stunted or run to seed); or been infested by pests or disease.

The big mistake that many novice veg growers make is to take on too much. When you are short of free time, restrict yourself to a small salad patch, a raised bed or some tubs of veg on the patio watered by a home-made irrigation system. Few of us have time to grow absolutely everything we might like, so it's important to be selective when choosing which crops to grow.

Make the best use of your time by growing the four crops recommended below.


Four time-saving veg crops

Courgettes

Courgettes, squashes and patty pans

Raise young plants on a windowsill indoors, then plant out in late May into well-prepared ground. Choose bush varieties and let them ramble over a mulch to eliminate weeding. One or two plants produce plentiful crops and stay productive for weeks (providing you keep picking).

Beetroot

Beetroot

Sow seed singly, 5cm apart, from late April to july. remove alternate roots when they are half-grown, leaving the rest to grow on to reach maturity. even these half-grown thinnings are useful and can be eaten as baby beet in salads. Beetroot seed is cheap and plentiful and the crop is largely pest-free.

Chillies

Chillies

Colourful, fun, stylish and trouble-free. choose your favourite strength and grow three plants in a large tub on the patio with a cane for support. They’ll provide ample crops, with enough over to dry to make chilli powder and paprika. A plentiful seed to swap with friends or to store for the following year at the bottom of the fridge.

Harvesting dwarf French beans

Dwarf French beans

Sow one or two beans where you want plants to grow, in open ground or containers, from mid-May to early August. Easy to look after as no thinning out or supports are needed. The same plants crop for three to four weeks, so sow a row every three weeks to keep yourself stocked all summer.

Tips on saving effort

Use mulches

Cover well- prepared ground with paper or a plastic mulch matting sheet, or use old carpet or old cotton sheets to prevent weeds – cut holes to plant through. This is useful for crops of sweetcorn, outdoor tomatoes, courgettes, pumpkins and squashes.

Direct sow

Sow rows of seeds straight into the ground where they are to grow. This is vital for root crops, which don’t like disturbance, but good for peas, beans, chard and fast- growing green crops, including spinach and lettuce.

Make a seedbed

Prepare a small patch of weed-free soil especially well, and use as a large open-air ‘seed tray’. Sow short rows of brassicas, kohl rabi and leeks, thin the seedlings out and transplant them to their final growing positions later.

Keep tools handy

Essential tools, like a hoe, hand fork and trowel, string line (for straight rows) and vinyl gardening gloves, are best kept in reach of a veg patch. Invest in a small garden store to lock them away.

Install an outdoor tap

Set up water butts to recycle water running off roofs. Use seeper hose or trickle irrigation kits, combined with a timer, to make watering quick and easy.

Weed quickly and often

For an easy life, find a favourite hoe and use it little and often. If you wait until weeds are big enough to dig out by hand, they will be competing with crops and hosting pests. But hoe between rows, weekly, while weed seedlings are tiny, to remove them before they’ve done any harm. It’s quick and the seedlings shrivel on the spot. Better still, in hot weather, hoe before weeds are visible to create a dusty, dry layer, which prevents seeds from germinating, and trapping moisture beneath it where crops get the benefit.


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