Growing veg in the British climate can be a challenge at the best of times – late frosts, heavy downpours, a distinct lack of sunshine and periods of drought are all likely in a typical summer. If you live in a northerly or cold, exposed location, growing veg can be even trickier.
Tough, robust crops like leeks and sprouts do reliably well in our unpredictable climate, but don’t restrict yourself to these – with a little planning it is possible to grow a wide range of delicious crops. It’s a case of choosing the right varieties, pay attention to the weather forecast and being ready to protect seedlings and young plants – and if money allows, investing in a greenhouse.
Here’s our advice on growing 10 summer crops, whatever the weather.
Cabbage, cauliflower and kale are planted out firmly into shallow trenches, which gives protection against wind rock while they become established. In a cold spring, cover with fleece cloches.
A splendid cabbage
Sow carrots direct when the soil reaches 10°C. Patience is required, as the ground may stay cold well into spring. Cover the ground with black polythene or cloches to warm the soil. Grow early carrots and salad in raised beds, which tend to warm up faster in spring.
Pulling up a bunch of carrots
Plant courgettes out from late May, under polythene hoops. Leave them covered until July/August. Courgette ‘Best of British’ is good in dull summers as its open habit allows lots of light to get to the fruit, ripening it quickly.
A courgette beginning to develop behind the flower
This new, cucumber-like curiosity is easy to grow and gives huge yields. Grow in a humid, heated greenhouse. Provide strings and other supports and it will twine itself around.
A small developing cucamelon
Cover the soil to warm it, then plant out under well-anchored cloches or fleece tunnels until all risk of frost and cold, drying winds are past – probably in June. Opt for dwarf beans – they’re easier to protect than climbing beans.
A cluster of French beans ready to pick
Melons and squash
Melons and squash are best grown in a cold frame in a sunny spot. Once you have hardened off tender crops and summer bedding, fill the base with manure and plant short-season melons like ‘Sweet Granite’ or squash.
Armfuls of bright orange squash
Cover the soil to warm it, then plant chitted potatoes when the soil reaches 10°C. Late maincrop varieties are best avoided, as they need to stay in the soil very late in the year.
Freshly harvested new potatoes
Sow runner beans under cover, then harden off in a cold frame. Plant out when plants are 20cm tall, in the shelter of a warm south- or west-facing wall.
A handful of runner beans
Plant young sweetcorn plants into warmed soil, under well-anchored cloches or fleece tunnels. Remove covers in summer to allow the wind to pollinate. In windy spots, erect a low windbreak around the young plants. ‘Northern Extra Sweet’ is good for cooler areas.
Sweetcorn cobs on a table
In cold areas it’s best to grow tomatoes in a greenhouse, ideally set to a minimum temperature of 15°C. As the trusses form, remove the lowest leaves to maximise the amount of light falling on the fruits.
An enamel bowlful of small tomatoes