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Good enough to eat - Prevent cauliflower problems

They are known to be tricky to grow, largely because they suffer from the same problems as cabbage, including insect pests such as cabbage root fly and cabbage white butterflies. The best way to prevent such insects is to cover newly transplanted plants with garden fleece or fine netting. Cabbage caterpillars can be a real nuisance as they burrow inside the developing curds (heads) and ruin them. If your netting is securely anchored and held clear of the plants on wires or hoops, the adult butterflies will not be able to lay their eggs on the cauliflowers.

Cauliflowers can also be prone to clubroot disease, a fungal infection which attacks the plant through the soil via its root hairs. In a short period of time this will lead to massive swelling, distortion and severely hampered growth.

Clubroot can infect whenever the soil is moist and warm, so most new infections will tend to occur from mid-summer until late autumn. Resistant varieties such as 'Clapton' and 'Clarify' are available, and a combination of crop rotation and liming should help to prevent the disease.

Florence fennel

Florence fennel is grown for its fleshy stem and it's also an extremely pretty plant with its feathery foliage, so looks good in an ornamental border.

Fennel's aniseed stem base adds depth to many dishes including casseroles, or combined with new potatoes or salads.

It is known to be temperamental, as it is prone to bolting in fluctuating temperatures, and needs an open, sunny site, growing best during warm summers in warm, moist, fertile, sandy soil.

It doesn't like having its roots disturbed, so if you want early crops, sow seeds in modules as single seedlings to avoid root damage and plant them out in April, once the roots fill the container.

For later crops, sow in drills 60cm (24in) apart when the soil has warmed up, in May or June, then thin the seedlings to 38cm (15in) when they are large enough to handle. They should grow to around 1.25-2m (4-6ft). It grows rapidly, producing a 'bulb' in 10-12 weeks.

Runner beans

Runner beans, need to be planted out by late may as the weather should then be warm enough for these tender plants to thrive. Before planting them, make sure you have supports in place, either in the form of a wigwam made of bamboo canes, or pairs of crossed poles with one horizontal support, or parallel avenues of hazel twigs to give a natural look to the framework. When planting out your beans, keep them protected from slugs and snails, which love the tender leaves of young plants.

if you don't like using slug pellets, protect plants by surrounding them with a collar made from an old plastic bottle. Water the plants in well and once the flowers set, spray them with water regularly. Whatever you do, don't let the soil dry out completely or you'll lose them. I also plant sweet peas with my runner beans, which attract more pollinating insects, thereby increasing my crop of beans and adding more colour to the vegetable garden.Dwarf runner beans won't require much staking, although they may benefit from the support of some unobtrusive pea sticks around the plants, to stop them flopping. In really dry weather, give the plants a good soaking and mulch them with compost or old newspapers.

If your plants have gone into well-prepared soil, they shouldn't need extra feeding but those in containers will need a weekly application of liquid tomato feed while the plants are carrying crops. Good varieties include 'Lady Di', which produce long, slim, tasty beans, and 'Sunset', which will give you a fine crop early in the season.

Chitting potatoes

Give seed potatoes a head start by 'chitting' them now. Buy seed potatoes from garden centres and lay them on trays or in egg cartons on a well-lit windowsill, but out of direct sunlight. When the dark green shoots appear on the tubers in four to six weeks, plant them in well-prepared ground, enhanced with compost or well-rotted manure and within a few months you'll have crops of delicious spuds to last you throughout summer and well into autumn. Don't let the shoots on the seed potatoes become too long before you plant them out. If they get too long, say four inches, they start to become leggy and may break off when you plant them in the ground.

This will slow the crop down as the tuber has already expended so much energy producing the shoots. Prepare your soil in winter, before planting your potatoes. They are really hungry plants so add compost or well-rotted manure to the soil in January onwards and up to early spring, but don't overdo it. One wheelbarrow of compost for every 10 square metres is adequate. Too much compost will encourage lots of dark green foliage at the expense of the tubers underneath. Dig organic matter into the top 30cm of soil where you haven't grown potatoes for three or four years and plant the tubers four to six inches deep, keeping them well watered but not waterlogged. By June or July you should be harvesting early varieties.

Broad beans

Tender young broad beans may not be as popular as French or runner, but they are packed with protein and highly versatile, ideal for eating hot or cold and they also freeze well. Sow the seeds in November in small pots or cell trays in an unheated greenhouse or cold frame and stand them in a protected spot outdoors in late January or February, bringing them in at night if frost is forecast. Plant them out when the soil starts to warm up in early March in well drained, not too acidic soil, which has been enriched with compost or manure a month before planting.

Alternatively, sow any variety in a greenhouse in early spring and plant out when the seedlings are around 10cm high, spacing plants around 20cm apart in double rows. Early sowings will produce a good crop of beans in early summer. They should be harvested when they are just showing through the pods. Good varieties include 'Meteor', which produces an early crop from an early spring sowing, while 'Red Epicure' has reddish-brown beans with a superb flavour.


They are among the most popular root vegetables and are particularly favoured by children, who love their crunchy texture when eaten raw and their sweetness when cooked. Provided you have taken all the stones out of your soil and created a fairly fine tilth before you sow, you shouldn't go far wrong, and if you plant rows among onion crops, you should deter the dreaded carrot fly, which will be put off by the scent. Those with small, sweet roots are good for successional sowing, while maincrop varieties store better.

Sow them thinly, 1cm (1/2in) deep in rows 15cm (6in) apart every two to three weeks from spring until midsummer and keep moist. Thin out plants when they are big enough to handle until they are about 7.5cm (3in) apart. Keep the area well weeded and mulch after thinning, then harvest as soon as the carrots are large enough. Maincrop varieties can be harvested later and stored.

Onion sets

The advantage of planting onion sets rather than seed is that it produces a crop in a much shorter time. They are actually small, immature onions which grow to form a full-size bulb when ready to harvest. Plant the sets in spring or late summer to ground which has been dug over and enhanced with a little balanced fertiliser. They should be about 10-15cm (4-6in) apart in rows the same distance apart.

Use a trowel to plant them, don't just push them into the soil or the roots will soon push the sets up and out again. Onions prefer a sunny, well-drained site but other than that need very little attention while they are growing, just make sure you keep the area weed-free. By late summer, the foliage will start to yellow and fall over naturally. Then you can lift the bulbs with a fork to break the roots and leave the onions on the surface to ripen fully in the sun. Good varieties include 'Dobies All-Rounder', 'British Bulldog' and 'Red Baron'.

Oriental greens

They are as easy to grow as lettuces, an extremely useful follow-on crop after broad beans have finished and decorative enough for a small garden. Chinese cabbage, pak choi and other oriental veg are perfect for adding to stir-fries and spicy salads. Sow them between March and May, but be warned that spring-sown plants are likely to bolt if left too long, although the flower shoots are edible before the flowers open. Like European cabbages, they like a very fertile, moisture-retentive soil with a high nitrogen content. If you wait, you can sow oriental greens directly into their final position in June and thin them out later.

Keep the seedlings well watered and fork well-rotted manure or compost into the soil before planting. Soak the soil if it's dry and scatter a balanced fertiliser on it before planting. Chinese cabbage should be spaced 30-38cm apart to produce heads, while pak choi can be planted a little closer. Cover the crop with insect-proof netting and make further sowings throughout July for a continuous crop. Young leaves of immature plants can be harvested for salads, while mature heads are better steamed or used in stir-fries. Good options include 'Tat Soi', a small green rosette type of pak choi, while 'Giant Red', a type of mustard, adds a spicy tang to salads.


If you're just starting to experiment with vegetable gardening, then radishes are among the easiest starter veg to try. Sow them from March onwards, sowing in succession so you have a continuous crop rather than a glut. You can't leave them too long in the ground as the roots will go woody or the plants will bolt.

Radishes should be sown in rich, well-drained soil in rows, thinning them to 2.5cm (1in) apart and keep plants well watered and the area well weeded. They are a fast-producing crop which are best eaten straight away. Summer radishes can be sown up until August and harvested from May onwards, while winter radishes should be sown in July and harvested from August through to November. Good varieties include 'Scarlet Globe' and 'French Breakfast'.


It's one of the easiest veg to grow and can provide you with salad leaves for virtually the whole year. Spring is the time to start sowing a short row of lettuce every other week to ensure a regular supply of salad leaves throughout the summer. Sow seeds in small pots for containers and vegetable plots, sowing a few pots of different varieties and keep the pots somewhere cool and sheltered. If you're sowing directly into the ground, early sowings should be planted under cloches which should have been in place for a couple of weeks to help the soil warm up.

Space plants 30cm apart each way, unless you are growing small varieties such as 'Little Gem', which can be placed slightly closer together. Water the crop regularly and you shouldn't have to do much more. Early in the year they grow best in a sunny but sheltered spot, while in summer they will tolerate light shade and may bolt in full sun. If you're growing lettuces in a vegetable patch, grow them in a different part of the plot each year or incorporate them into a crop rotation.

French beans

They are the ideal veg - delicious to eat, ornamental and floriferous. Start sowing dwarf or climbing varieties indoors in April and they should be cropping throughout the summer. They are best started off indoors, in two seeds per pot at 5cm (2in) deep, then planted out once they are around 8cm (3in) tall, but you must wait until the last frost has passed as they are extremely susceptible to frost.

Plant them in their final places in early June and support them on bamboo cane wigwams or double rows of canes. Make later sowings directly into the ground in June so you have crops through to October. Train the climbing beans up trellises, over arches or along fences to make the most of their beautiful white or lilac flowers. Good varieties include the dwarf Purple Teepee, which turns green on cooking, and 'Blue Lake', a climbing type.

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