It happens so easily. You’ve done your planning, you know what you’re going to grow and where you’re going to grow it, you’re poised and ready to plant – but then…somehow…you fall behind.
Whether it was work pressures, other interests getting in the way, a disastrous crop failure or a spell of horrendous weather, before you know it your broccoli should have been transplanted into the garden weeks ago, you don’t have a long enough growing season left to start off your peppers from seed now, and it’s too late to begin the hard work of preparing a new plot of ground for growing food.
So what do you do when you’ve fallen behind? Well, you could admit defeat and give up on the idea of home-grown fresh vegetables this year – or you could amend your plans a little and push on regardless. Here are three proven ways to catch up on the gardening year…
Choose Fast-Maturing Plants and Varieties
Too late to plant maincrop peas? Pop in an early variety instead. Early varieties don’t have to be planted early, they’re just quicker to mature. The faster rate of growth is an advantage at the middle and end of the season as well as at the start. Many varieties of French beans (also known as green beans) and runner beans are quick croppers too – they can start producing in as little as 6 weeks.
Carrots are excellent for producing a crop in a short space of time, especially if you want to impress your dinner guests with deliciously sweet baby carrots and, of course, the humble radish can be ready in around a month so is great for filling gaps. Even the thinnings don’t go to waste in my garden, as my Border terrier loves these peppery-tasting roots!
Salad leaves are always a good choice for quick crops and as they don’t normally suffer from soil-borne pests or diseases there’s no danger of them upsetting your crop rotation plan. In the cold depths of winter all I want is homemade lentil soup or a filling bean chilli, but in the summer it’s amazing how many lettuces I can get through when lunch most days involves a forage in the vegetable patch for the makings of a salad sandwich.
Alternatively, if you just don’t have the time to maintain an edible crop, green manures such as buckwheat or phacelia will help keep the weeds down and protect your soil until you’re ready to plant again.
Buy Young Plants
Some hardcore gardeners think that buying plug plants is cheating and I have to admit I did feel a tad guilty buying some broccoli plugs recently after killing off my seed-started batch by distractedly leaving them sitting in a tray of water for a few days – but when time is tight, growing food from plugs is still cheaper and more satisfying than buying vegetables from a supermarket.
They’re also a great way to try out plants you haven’t grown before, by removing the sometimes tricky and time-consuming process of starting seeds indoors and then coddling tender seedlings in a protected environment. They’re also useful if you don’t have the climate or enough space under cover to start off those plants that need some initial warmth.
The downside is that plug plants are sold in a much more limited range of varieties than those offered as seed – nurseries need to be sure that they will sell and that the variety they’re growing is tough enough to cope with all the stresses of being transported to garden centres, so they choose from a smaller pool of tried-and-tested varieties. However, that does make them some of the more reliable ones to grow at home and you can also find grafted versions of some plants such as tomatoes and melons that are purported to produce much heftier harvests.
Try Alternative Growing Methods
If you haven’t had the time to get that new bed dug or built, take a look at our article on how to create new vegetable beds fast for a wealth of easy ideas.
Straw bales are becoming more and more popular for making instant beds. Hollow out the bale, fill it with compost and plant straight into it. By the end of the growing season, the straw bales will have turned the soil beneath into an instant vegetable bed that’s ready to dig over.
Don’t forget that containers of various types are suitable for a wide range of vegetables and can be moved to catch sunshine. For a super-fast and easy container, slit drainage holes into the base of a compost bag, lie it flat where you want to grow, cut holes out of the top and plant directly into the bag. Your plants will have a nice rich growing medium to thrive in, and you won’t have to break a sweat.
It can be hard to find the time to grow everything you want or need, so it pays to be flexible if you do fall behind. Adjust your plan a little, change the varieties you’re growing to something a little speedier, and – really – it’s okay to buy some plug plants to catch up if you need to!
By Ann Marie Hendry.