Growing Vegetables Our Biggest Ever Guide

by Daniel | Last Updated: 10/02/2020

Welcome to our guide on growing vegetables. We hope to turn this page into a repository on all things veg! Keep checking back as we keep adding to the long list of veg.

Vegetables

Carrots

One of the most popular vegetables grown in Britain. When planned correctly, you can harvest carrots for month after month.

Forced

Carrots sown early in the year, generally around February are often referred to as forced crops. These carrots will be ready to harvest as soon as June. Your young seedlings will need protection from the elements. This is achieved by using cold frames, greenhouses or cloches.

Certain varieties suit being forced. They often include the name forcing in the variety such as Amsterdam forcing, a particular favourite amongst gardeners.

To sow forced carrots first dig 2cm deep furrows, ensure your furrows are roughly 15cm apart. Then sow your seeds along the furrow and lightly cover with soil. Once seedlings appear you will need to thin out your plants to 10cm intervals.

Main Crops

A maincrop carrot will commonly be sown around April – May here in the UK You would expect to then harvest these carrots around November time.

To sow main crops again make furrows roughly 2cm deep but this time around 30cm apart. The extra distance will give your main crops much more room to grow, they will generally be a lot bigger than forced varieties. Sow the seeds thinly and then cover with a small amount of soil. Once seedlings start to appear, they will need to be thinned to 5cm apart.

Soil Conditions

Carrots do particularly well in nutrient-rich soil with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5. You want the soil to be really light as this allows then carrots to grow long, uniform roots. It is also essential to remove stones, or solid lumps of clay as these can cause the carrot root to fork and bend.

Soil 

Light, rich and as stone free as possible. With a pH between 6.5 and 7.5

Light

Grows best in full sun or partial shade.

Care

If growing early varieties cover with a cloche. Ensure the plants are kept well weeded and don’t let them dry out on hot summer days.

Harvest

Depending on varieties you can be harvesting carrots for a large chunk of the year, even possibly from June-January.

Common Issues

The main threat to your carrots will come from Carrot Fly. This is a flying pest that lays maggots which then burrow into the carrot killing the plant. Because they are a flying pest, a polythene barrier can work as an excellent deterrent. Above you can see what method of protecting your crop from carrot fly.

Leek

Leeks are one of oldest cultivated plants, once grown for its healing properties it is now a staple in western diets. Leeks are easy to grow and can provide excellent flavour for numerous dishes.

Sowing

While not a fussy seed leeks do require a temperature minimum of around 7 Degrees Celcius in order to germinate. So, if you are planning an early crop sow indoors or use a cloche.

If sowing outdoors later in the season then sow 2.5cm deep in rows 15cm apart.

Planting On

Leeks are known for liking a fertile soil so always add compost or manure before planting out your seedlings. When making holes for your seedlings, a dibber is a great tool. Make holes 15cm deep set at 15 cm intervals. Plant rows 30cm apart to give your leeks plenty of room to grow.

Harvesting

You can leave Leeks in the ground for a few months while they are ready to harvest. This gives you a great chance to spread your crop out and really make it last and last. To harvest your Leek plants lift them carefully with a spade or fork, ensuring you do not snap or cut the white stem. Many varieties of Leek are incredibly hardy and can be left in the ground throughout winter with no issues.

Combination Planting

Leeks are quite a slow-growing vegetable, so planting them in combination with a quick-growing crop can be a great way to maximise your plots output. Radish is an excellent option to grown in between your leek rows.

Soil Conditions

Rich, crumbly soil with lots of compost or manure added.

Light

Grows best in an open, sunny spot

Care

Clear weeds regularly and water until plants are well established.

Height

30-60cm

Common Issues

Small orange patches on the leaves of the plants mean that your crop has been hit by a rust fungus. You should remove and destroy any affected plants quickly. Onion fly is also quite common with leeks, look out for drooping yellow leaves on your seedlings. Lift and destroy any plants you think may be infected with onion fly. It is always essential to rotate your crops to help avoid disease. Do not plant where shallot, onion or other leeks have grown in the last 2 years.

Tomato

This UK allotment favourite is originally from the Americas but quickly became a massive favourite over here! No allotment is complete without the sight of bright red tomatoes.

Variety

The biggest question when growing tomatoes, particularly in the UK, is which variety to grow? Cordon or bush? Indoor or outdoor? In pots or in the ground? Well, the answer, unfortunately, isn’t clear cut, it really does depend on your circumstances. Tomatoes love a warm climate which makes many varieties unsuitable for growing outdoors, particularly in northern England, Scotland and most parts of wales. The greenhouse is where most British gardeners grow their tomatoes, and it really is an excellent place for them, the extra warmth and protection from the elements can lead to exceptional yields.

Soil

An ideal soil for growing tomatoes will be rich in nutrients and loose, crumbly texture. Slightly sandy soil with lots of manure or organic fertiliser is our recommended option. Always try to apply a general fertiliser before planting your tomatoes.

Seeding

If you are planning on growing your tomatoes outside, then an early start is essential. Sow in a propagator from March to April. Remember that many varieties of Tomato require temperatures around 16°C to germinate.

Potting On

Pot your seedlings on when the first “true” leaves start to appear. True leaves are the second set that appears after the first set that initially breaks through the soil. You can then transfer again into larger pots later if needed, this may be necessary if the weather is particularly poor and you don’t think your plants are quite ready for life outdoors yet!

Pinching Out

With cordon grown tomatoes it is important to remember to pinch out side shoots. The image above illustrates which side shoots should be pinched out. Also pinch out the tip when the plant has reached its optimal height.

Delicious, Cherry Tomato
Tomato ‘Gardener’s Delight’

An easy, large cherry tomato you can grow inside or out.

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Lettuce

Grow your own lettuce and always have fresh for those summer salads.

Preparation

Your soil needs to be well-drained, moisture-retentive and fertile.

Choose the type of lettuce. There are 2 types of lettuce the loose-leaf which have no hart and the denser hearting type, all in various colour and flavours.

Sow

Sow seeds thinly in spring, directly onto the ground in furrows 1.5 cm deep, keep about 30 cm apart. Stagger your sowing and you can extend the season. Sow every 3 weeks from mid-Feb to April and you should be able to pick leaves from early summer right through to the autumn. Protect the early and late sowings with fleece or a closh.

Thin the plants as soon as the first leaves appear, too dense a crop may be the cause of your plants bolting.

Care

Keep the weeds down with regular hoeing, water in the morning when the soil is dry.

Harvest

You should be able to harvest loose-leaf lettuce 2 months after sowing, only harvest as much as you require leaving the rest for another meal. The Harting type is ready to harvest when a dense centre has formed, harvest by cutting the leaves or the whole plant.

Lettuce can be kept in a bag in the fridge, don’t do this with the loose-leaf variety since you only need to pick as much as you need.

Issues

Deter birds with string and silver foil tied to stakes. Slugs are the usual problem, there are many forms of deterrent, use your favourite.

Bolting can be caused by failing to water when very dry or growing too dense. Remove plants that have bolted and dispose of. If your plant dies back quickly in late summer, this could be the lettuce root aphid, to avoid this keep the plant well watered, you can even pull the plant up and replant after washing the aphid off the roots.

Onions

A very versatile vegetable featuring in many dishes so easy to grow you should always have some available for the kitchen.

Preparation

Prepare the bed by digging over in late autumn or early winter, adding well-rotted manure or compost. Onions do not thrive on acid soil, consider adding lime.

Sowing

Although seeds are available, baby onions which are called sets are the easiest and quickest way to grow onions. From mid-March to April, sow sets between 5 and 10cm apart in rows 30cm apart. Plant gently into the ground with just the tips showing, firming the soil around each one. Until the roots have established, cover with fleece to prevent uprooting by birds.

Growing

When the weather is dry, water well, use a general liquid fertiliser as an occasional feed. Stop feeding and watering when the onions have swollen in mid-summer. Keep the weeds down with regular hoeing.

Harvesting

When the tops of the onions start to turn yellow, wilt and fall over this is the time to harvest. Lift the plants, lay them on racks or straw for 2 weeks to allow the bulb to ripen. The bulbs are ready to store when the foliage is dry and papery.

Issues

To avoid onion fly, rotate the crop and avoid growing onions, leeks or garlic in the same spot for 3 years.

Endive

An alternative to lettuce can be used in salads or the outer leaves can be cooked as greens.

Preparation

In spring, dig in well-rotted leaf mould or compost, at this point add slow-release fertiliser.

Sowing

Seeds are best sown directly into the soil, protect early crops with cloches. Sow thinly in cm deep furrows, keep these 30cm apart. Hardier varieties need to be sown July-August for a winter crop.

Sow in dappled or partial shade to avoid the hottest part of the day.

Growing

Keep the soil moist to avoid bolting. In hot dry weather, keep thoroughly watered and use a general-purpose liquid fertiliser every 2 weeks.

Blanching will lessen the bitter taste of endive, this can be achieved by covering the heart of the plant with a plate or plant pot, another method is to bunch the leaves together and tie with soft string. Before you begin blanching you must make sure the leaves are completely dry to avoid rotting.

Harvesting

Like lettuce, you can use the cut and come again method of harvesting, taking only the leaves you require and saving the rest for later. Endive can also be used as green manure, dig the older tougher leaves back into the soil.

Issues

As usual, slugs are a pest, use beer traps or whatever method you prefer.

Spray aphids with a suitable insecticide.

Water early in the day to avoid mildew.

Aubergine

Best grown under glass, although more cultivars are fast becoming available, more suited to the English climate, Aubergine is fast becoming an essential ingredient in lots of Mediterranean dishes.

Sow

Using a heated propagator you can sow in a greenhouse from January if it is heated or February for an unheated greenhouse. if you intend to grow outdoors then sow inside in March.

Plant on a sunny sheltered spot, you may still need to use a cloche.

Growing

Warm the soil with either mulch or black polythene for about 2 weeks before you plant. when all danger of frost is gone then plant your aubergine seedlings about 60cm apart, keep the young plants covered with fleece or a cloche for 2 weeks to allow to acclimatise. When you have a maximum of 5 fruits then remove all flowers and side shoots, keep checking and remove any more that appear. feed with a high potassium liquid fertiliser and water regularly. a regular misting of the foliage will help the fruit to establish.

Harvesting

Aubergine is ready to harvest when the fruit is about 15cm long and shiny purple-black colour.  

Issues

Red spider mite will be deterred by the regular misting advised earlier.

Aphids could be a problem, spray with insecticide at the first sign of trouble.

 

Scarlet Runner Bean

A lovely splash of colour in the veg patch or even in the flower bed.

Preparation

on heavier ground prepare the soil by thoroughly digging well-rotted manure into the soil. If the soil is lighter, place a layer of compost beneath 15cm of soil with another layer on top. Do this in the winter and you will be good to go in the spring.  

Sowing

runner beans don’t like the early frosts so if you want an early crop then you would be advised to start them off indoors on a windowsill or propagator. Plant the young plants when the risk of frost has passed in early June when you can also sow directly into the soil. Make a framework of canes for your plants, most conventional is a straight row of canes 30-35cm apart with a 2nd parallel row 60cm from the first row tie the canes together at the top to form a structure which when in full flower will be quite a display. if your space is limited then a similar structure in a wigwam shape will work just as well. Plant 2 seeds to each cane twining them around the canes as they grow.

Care

A covering of mulch will help the plants retain enough moisture. Water around the roots when you see the first flowers on the plants. Keep moist during dry spells and throughout the flowering season.

When your plant reaches the top of the support structure then this is the time to pinch out the top of the plant and encourage side shoots to grow.

Harvesting

The best time to pick runner beans is before the pod swells too much. Pick regularly to ensure long cropping if a pod is allowed to mature then the plant will stop flowering and no more pods will be produced. Once you have exhausted the plant, chop it down close to the ground and leave the roots to rot as they will enrich the soil.

Issues

You may find you have fewer flowers than expected. This could be due to a lack of moisture at the roots, use mulch and humus which as well as retaining moisture, will also attract insects for pollination.

As usual, Slugs are a problem, deal with them using your favourite deterrent…

Cress

Popular salad ingredient which is very easy to grow, a wonderful way to introduce children to the pleasure of growing their food. can be grown anywhere and you don’t even need soil. Mustard seeds can be grown in the same way.

Preparation

Decide how you want to grow your cress. Cress will grow quickly and successfully on damp cotton wool or tissue and will be ready to harvest within a week, alternatively if grown on a layer of damp compost it will grow to its full potential, about 15cm in 5 weeks possibly producing flowers which are also edible. Before sowing, rinse the seeds and soak overnight.

Sowing

Drain the soaked seeds, sprinkle the seeds, gently pressing to ensure contact with your chosen surface. If using a container with sides then you can cover with cling film to help retain moisture, you can leave this on until the leaves are close to touching it, otherwise, keep the growing surface moist. Germination is quick, possibly within 24 hours.

Care

Place the container in a dark place until leaves appear then move to a spot inside but not in direct sunlight. Cress can be grown outside but will be less tender and flavourful and rain splashes make the stems hard to clean.

Harvesting

Cress is ready to harvest when the stems reach a height of 8cm. this could be as soon as 2 weeks after sowing. Cut off as much as required, wash and use immediately as cress is best eaten as fresh as possible although it will keep a couple of days in the fridge.

Courgette

Easy to grow and you will get a large crop, pretty to look at big yellow flowers and large pretty leaves, equally at home in the flower bed as a veg patch. As an ingredient in cooking, they are low in calories and rich in vitamins.

Planting

They are best started indoors in a pot but you could also sow them outdoors. 

Indoor sowing

Start seeds off in a pot from mid to late April, place individual seeds in a pot 2cm deep in compost. Place on a sunny window sill or cold frame, once you have two or three leaves you can harden them off before planting in their final position.

Outdoor sowing

Sow two or three seeds at 2-3 cm deep, courgettes need a temp of 18°C so wait for the night frost to be over before sowing. Once seedlings appear, thin out to leave the strongest plant. Courgettes like to spread out so give each plant about 1 square meter growing space.

Courgettes like a sunny situation protected from the wind. Apply mulch to retain moisture and keep well watered, courgettes are thirsty plants. Water on the leaves could lead to rotting, one way to avoid this would be to sink an upturned plastic bottle cut in half, into the soil beside the plant and water into this so that the water goes directly to the roots.

Care

Once the first fruits have started to swell, now is the time to apply a high potash liquid fertiliser every 2 weeks. the plant roots are quite shallow so take care when hoeing weeds.

Pollination

Courgettes are self-pollinating which can be a problem in cold weather, you can self pollinate by pressing a male flower onto a female flower or use a brush to transfer pollen. The male flower is the one that doesn’t have a swelling at the base. This can be tricky and normally the issue will be resolved when the weather warms up.

Harvesting

If you harvest the fruit whilst still small you can encourage more fruit and a longer harvesting period.

Issues

Pest and disease will build up in the soil and reduce the crop if you plant in the same spot each year, grow them in rotation to avoid the problem. 

Plant the seeds on their sides to avoid moisture collecting on the seed surface and to encourage better germination.

Slugs are a common problem – use your favourite deterrent.

If you see mottled leaves which are yellowed – this is a sign of a virus known as cucumber mosaic virus. Remove the affected plant and destroy immediately.

when the weather is hot and dry you may find powdery mildew on the leaves, mulch and keep the plants well-watered and you should be able to keep this at bay during the growing season.

Perpetual Spinach

A form of chard from the beet family but very similar to spinach in flavour. Given the right care and attention, this vegetable can be harvested all year.

Preparation

There are other forms of spinach beet, Swiss chard which has thicker white ribs and thicker stalks also Ruby chard which has red ribs and stalks but common spinach beet is the most tender and tasty.

Prepare the soil in Autumn by mixing in well-rotted manure or compost, fertiliser should be added to poor soil.

Planting

 In April, sow straight into the soil, prepare drills 40-45 cm apart and 3cm deep. plant individual seeds 9 cm apart, Chard is tolerant of overcrowding so don’t worry if they seem a little close. Cover with soil and thin the young plants out after a few weeks.

Healthy Growth

Chard needs little care, keep well watered to improve the flavour and regular hoeing to keep the weeds at bay.

Harvesting

Chard will produce leaves after approx 12 weeks and will be prolonged if you keep harvesting. Take the outer leaves off the plant and leave the centre to develop. 

The harvest can be further prolonged by a 2nd sowing in July-Aug

keep covered from late Autumn and you will still be harvesting through to the spring. Leaves can be kept fresh in the salad tray of your fridge for several days.

Issues

Slugs may get at young plants. choose your favourite deterrent. Beer Traps, Crushed egg shells, sharp grit……….. the list is endless 

Potatoes (Early Crop)

Home-grown new potatoes aren’t these just the most delicious sign that summer is here? Grown early in the season this crop will avoid most of any blight issues.

Preparation

Work begins on your early potatoes in the Autumn when you need to dig plenty of compost into your soil, although potatoes are not too fussy about the soil type, choose a plot which will avoid too much frost. Buy your certified disease-free seed potatoes in February. the next process is what we call “chitting”, place them with the most eyes on the potatoes pointing upwards in a shallow seed tray. Now store them in a cool light room for up to 6 weeks until shoots have reached about 2.5cm which is when they are ready to plant out.

Planting

Plant your potatoes about 30cm apart in “furrows” which are approx 13cm deep and 55-65 cm apart with the shoot end pointing upwards. discarding any potatoes showing signs of disease plant the smaller potatoes as these will give you the best yield. When the plants have grown to approx 20cm above ground this is the time to start earthing up, use a small trowel to bank up the earth against the plants. ( the reason for this is to prevent any of the crop which is near the surface from turning green).

Healthy Growth

Water is essential. When the weather is dry be sure to water your potatoes every 2 weeks. continue to earth up your potatoes as the plant grows.

Harvesting

Your early potatoes should be ready to harvest between June and July when the flowers on the plant are fully open. check by carefully removing some of the earthed up soil and checking the tubers if they are still quite small then leave for a further 2-3 weeks. When you are happy with the size, use a fork to lift them using the fork gently at the base of the plant, lift carefully to avoid damaging any of the tubers.

Issues

Scabby areas on tubers, we call this scab disease, to avoid this, dig in plenty of organic matter, do not let your plants dry out when the weather is warm. Plant varieties such as Russett Burbank or Superior, which are known to be scab resistant. the potato, however, is still perfectly edible when peeled.

Wireworm damage is characterised by holes bored into the tubers. wireworm most often attacks crops that are planted in ground that has been left to grassland for several seasons, therefore best to avoid ground recently converted from grassland.