Time may be limited, but your veg plot doesn't have to be. However busy you are, you just need to find a few spare hours here and there to get outdoors and sow some veg - then you'll reap the tasty rewards non-stop through summer and beyond.
You don't need lots of space or time - we sowed a selection of speedy, tasty crops in a 2m x 1m raised bed in spring, and had fresh veg in just a few weeks. We continued to enjoy crops all summer.
Raised beds are ideal for growing veg. They are easy to use and their soil drains well and warms up quickly. You can plant closer together, which means fewer weeds. Position your bed in a sunny spot near the house, and ideally, near a tap so you don't have to drag the hose too far when watering.
All of the crops that we recommend below can be sown directly into the ground. This saves money on pots and compost and saves time on sowing, pricking out, potting on and transplanting.
This bed isn't about huge harvests but small amounts, sown and picked regularly, then eaten at their freshest, tastiest best for months to come.
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Discover seven ways to make the most of a limited space, below.
Choose your crops wisely
To maximise your output, choose crops that are quick and easy to grow. This means growing veg that will be ready to harvest soon after sowing, such as radishes and cut-and-come-again salad leaves, or those that crop over a long period, such as courgettes, chard, and beans.
Avoid crops that are in the ground for a long time, such as cabbage, main-crop potatoes, parsnips and sprouting broccoli. Or those that require a lot of your time and attention, such as cordon tomatoes. Consider opting for fast-cropping varieties of the crop, for example mangetout rather than podding peas.
Divide your time and space
Work little and often, dividing your bed into manageable chunks. Avoid sowing everything at once – regular sowing means you won't be overloaded with produce that you can't eat.
Make the most of your space by growing vertically too. Crops such as beans, mangetout peas and some types of courgette will quickly climb a cane wigwam.
Many crops can be sown direct in the soil, saving you time and money on pots, compost, pricking out, thinning and transplanting. Most crops can be sown direct from May onwards.
- Make a shallow drill with the edge of a trowel. Water along it to dampen the soil
- Sow seeds sparingly to avoid the need for thinning out later
- Sprinkle a thin layer of compost over the seeds or draw the soil back over them
Use plug plants
Plug plants are ready-to-go mini plants that can be planted out straight away. They're ideal for veg that's slow to germinate such as beans, courgette and chard.
- Gently ease each plug from the tray with your fingers or a pencil, making sure the rootball stays intact
- Make a channel in the soil, then plant each plug at the same depth it was in the tray
- Firm the soil back around them, then water generously
Never let plants dry out, so water regularly and frequently, every day if necessary. But don't overwater – the soil should be moist but not soggy. Always aim water at the roots, not the foliage, and water in the evening or early morning, so the moisture doesn't simply evaporate on warm days. To save time, buy a hosepipe so you don't have to lug cans around. A drip irrigation system is handy if you're away or very short on time.
Weeds compete with veg crops for water, nutrients and light. Check your beds for every few days and remove weeds at the seedling stage, when they're easy to pull out.
Watch out for slugs and snails
Be vigilant with slugs and snails, removing them by hand or using physical barriers such as copper tape to protect young plants. Avoid using slug pellets as these can harm wildlife, such as hedgehogs and birds.
Tips for quick and easy harvests
- Harvest veg when they're young so they're ready sooner and, if you've sown regularly, you'll get bigger overall harvests, as you'll fit more into a season. Pick beans at 8cm long, salad leaves when tiny and tender, and pull up baby carrots, radishes and beetroot.
- Keep veg such as beans, chard and courgettes cropping by picking them regularly. Left alone, they'll soon stop producing and will run to seed. The more you pick, the more they'll produce.
- Sow crops that continue into autumn: chard and rocket will continue through if given a little protection. Sow in summer and cover with a cloche in autumn, for an early spring harvest.