Winter blues? Go to seed

We made it! It’s a month since the shortest day and there’s a lightening in the air. Every day, we’re getting another minute or so of daylight. For me it’s like a heaviness lifting, the raising of a lead blanket, inch by inch. Are gardeners more prone to winter blues than other people? Is this why we garden? To remind ourselves that, with every new shoot, every seed sown, winter won’t last for ever?

The light at the end of the tunnel turns my thoughts to what I’m going to grow in my vegetable patch this year. It’s a very good time to order seeds and plan. What grew well for you last year? What wasn’t worth the bother?

For what it’s worth, here are my top 5 crops from last year. All, apart from the first one, will thrive in pots if you don’t have much space. None require ANY chemicals to grow. There are plenty more ideas in my book Crops in Tight Spots if you want more inspiration.

My jam – raspberries from Crops in Tight Spots. Photo by Sarah Cuttle
  • Raspberries

My 3x1m raspberry bed is seven years old now and last year I got it together to make jam rather than just grab a handful ad hoc. So glad I did since we now have jars of the stuff which will see us through to summer and it’s blooming marvellous. The secret of good raspberries is weeds. Don’t let them in! Spend a bit of time hand weeding around the bottom of the canes and all the rain and fertility from any compost you add will actually get to the raspberries not the dandelions.

  • Kale

In truth I’ve often struggled to eat the kale I’ve grown. The kids don’t love it and my enthusiasm wanes in the face of sprightlier spinach alternatives. But that was before I discovered Anna Jones A Modern Way to Eat and her insanely good tahini recipe so I’ll be growing this again this year with more gusto. Kale grows really well in pots. Cabbage white caterpillars will eat your plants, but live and let live. Last year I had some sacrificial seedlings in another pot and every time I found a caterpillar I carried it over to eat them instead. Seemed to work and I felt terribly good about myself.

  • Padron peppers

Winner. Sow now under a grow light – I got my Bittergurka one from Ikea last year and it was excellent. I got my seeds from Seaspring and grew the plants on in six terracotta pots outside. We couldn’t keep up with the peppers. Some were fearsomely hot but most pretty mild and super easy to fry with a little olive oil then sprinkle with salt – perfect tapas.

  • Edamame beans

Just like Wagamamas! These are just immature soya beans and really high in protein so great if you’re vegan or cutting down meat and dairy. I grew Summer Shell from the Organic Catalogue in a wooden crate I got from eBay. Sow them outside from late March and give them about 10cm space around them. Prop with twiggy sticks and pick before the beans start to yellow then boil the pods whole in salty water. I forgot and ended up with mature soya beans which were ok roasted in the oven – a bit like roasted broad beans – but this year I WILL do better.

Candelabra tomato from Crops in Tight Spots. Photo by Sarah Cuttle
  • Tomatoes

‘It’s impossible to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato’ said the US humorist Lewis Grizzard (no I’ve never heard of him either, but he has a point). Summer without homegrown tomatoes is no summer at all. When space is tight it’s tempting to grow tomatoes in a grow bag, but they’re tricky to keep well watered. An easier method is to grow one cordon tomato plant (such as Sungold or Gardener’s Delight) in a large pot and train it ‘candelabra style’. It’s really easy to do. Just grow a plant as normal and when it starts to sprout side shoots, leave the two lowest ones to grow on. Train these up canes so you end up with a three stemmed plant, each of which will produce loads of tomatoes. You get three times the fruit on one plant and only have one pot to keep watered. Result! There’s more about this method in Crops in Tight Spots.