Planning on using your isolation to grow some fruit, vegetables and herbs that might come in handy over the coming months? Stylist spoke to gardener and cook Aaron Bertelsen about the best plants to grow now, and the best part is, you don’t even need a garden.
Spring is in the air and, self-isolation or otherwise, it’s the perfect moment to be planting seeds ready to reap the rewards in a few months’ time. And despite what you might think, there are plenty of vegetables, herbs and fruit that can be grown successfully in pots on balconies, in window boxes or on windowsills if you don’t have any outside space of your own.
It’s exactly this type of gardening that Aaron Bertelsen, from Great Dixter house in East Sussex, champions in his new book Growing Fruit & Vegetables In Pots. “Vegetable gardening has suddenly come into its own,” says Bertelsen. “Herbs are a fantastic option at the moment. It’s the perfect time to be planting your crops, and herbs like parsley will grow quite quickly. Now is also the time to plant salad crops, like beetroot and radish.”
What equipment do you need to grow vegetables at home?
You needn’t have a whole potting shed’s worth of gear either. “The great thing about pot gardening is you don’t need a lot of equipment – for putting the seeds in you could make little trenches with a kitchen knife, you don’t need to have special tools.”
If you want to reap the rewards sooner, Bertelsen recommends plug plants, which are tiny plants that have already germinated. “There are lots of mail order nurseries that will send you plug plants (try primrose.co.uk). They’ve done all the hard work for you – the plant is rooting well, it’s growing, you just need a pot and some soil ready to put it in.” As for soil, he recommends loam-based compost that is full of nutrients to help your plants grow.
Can you grow your own fruit at home?
While you obviously can’t fit an orchard on a balcony, you shouldn’t rule out fruit entirely. “Because more people are living in urban environments, a lot of breeders are producing dwarf stock (fruit trees small enough to grow in confined spaces), so in pots I’ve got apples, lots of different berries, apricots, peaches, nectarines. On the label it will say ‘dwarf’ or ‘patio’ – that’s what you need to go for.”
The three plants to grow now for a home-grown boost to your meal
How to grow radishes at home
Grow: Plant from seed in a shallow container in a sunny spot in spring, then move to semi-shade when the temperature creeps up. Water every other day and replant seeds as you harvest to ensure you have a supply all summer.
Harvest: This fast-growing crop will be ready within a month if the weather is good.
Cook: Serve whole as crudités with hummus and tzatziki, or use to add crunch and pepperiness to salads.
Choose: French Breakfast, a long variety ideal for dipping.
How to grow chard at home
Grow: Large-leaved vegetables prefer a shady, sheltered spot. Sow seeds directly into a large pot and water every other day.
Harvest: After six to eight weeks. Cut leaves off close to the base and pick from both the middle and the edges to keep air circulating and ward off mildew.
Cook: As you would spinach or kale – you can eat both the stems and leaves, so add to soups, stews or serve wilted with butter and salt, or in a homemade pesto.
Choose: Peppermint chard, for its vibrant pink stalks (it tastes like regular chard, not mint, by the way).
How to grow parsley at home
Grow: Another fan of the shade, opt for a plug plant here to speed things up and place in a medium-sized pot. Water every day, especially when it’s warm. If growing from seed, parsley is great on an indoor windowsill as it is slow to germinate if it’s too cold.
Harvest: After eight weeks from seed, quicker if using plug plants.
Cook: Finely chop and add to tabbouleh or in a simple garlic and olive oil pasta dish, or use to garnish pretty much anything.
Choose: Flat-leaf, the best variety for flavour.
Grow Fruit & Vegetables In Pots by Aaron Bertelsen (£24.95, Phaidon) is out now
Images: Getty Images