Suttons Seeds has just issued its official top five bestseller list for the season so far, and it goes like this: at number five is its pack of peppery wild rocket. At number four, an old favourite: "White Lisbon" spring onion. At number three, a recently launched mix of tasty, fast-growing lettuce varieties: "Speedy Veg Leaf Salad Mix". At number two, the sweet-flavoured, unchewy carrot "Nantes". And stillthere after months in that coveted number one position – a bit like "(Everything I Do) I Do it for You" by Bryan Adams – is Beetroot "Boltardy".
If you're thinking, "Old hat! I grew something far more interesting this year, which I swapped for home-grown rhubarb jam at the heirloom seed fair," you can just turn the page right now. But for those of us regretting that 2011 has yet to see us attend a single antique-potato festival, there's good news: as of today, even though it's mid-July and the school holidays are looming, it's still not too late: if you won't be leaving your garden without water over the coming eight weeks, you could still see in September with a home-grown veg or two.
First of all, salad. Salad is one of the fastest crops to mature, often ready in less than four weeks – especially if you eat the leaves when they're smallish. Suttons' Californian Mix has summery flavours, including chard, kale and spinach as tiny seedlings (£2.20 a packet from suttons.co.uk). In full sun, this salad will run out of steam quickly, so grow it somewhere that doesn't get baked all day long. Make sure the soil has some good nutrients in it, and consider protecting it from slugs in every way possible. Then just focus on getting it watered sufficiently. (That could involve the neighbours, mind: lettuce isn't fussy.)
Next, what about those salad onions? If well looked after, these could be ready in eight weeks, especially if you pick them while they are still skinnyish and mild-flavoured. "White Lisbon", says the wisdom of crowds, and who am I to disagree? The seeds are also rated "skill level: beginner", which is something we all enjoy seeing on a packet. Again, keep them watered, and most of your work is done.
Finally, what about those root veg? Carrots and beetroot turn out to be Britain's surprise bestsellers. "Nantes" is a good choice, edible in six to 12 weeks depending on how much sun we get and how big you want them to be when you eat them. Think about growing in a pot to ensure that no carrot fly get near them, and give them a sandyish soil mix, preferably, as carrots like light-going. Plump for Suttons' "Ideal Speedy Veg" with about 1,800 seeds for £1.35.
That just leaves the beetroot. And although it's too late for them to grow big, it's not too late to sow a thick row of "Boltardy", harvesting first the handsome baby leaves, and then later a smaller number of thumb-sized beetroot to go in that salad. Mmm.
For advanced growers
If your tomato harvest is already one to boast about, consider storing their pulpy goodness in a gorgeous one-litre passata bottle from Seeds of Italy £3.49, seedsofitaly.com
Blueberries fruit from now until autumn. Two large four-litre plants, big enough to fruit this season, are now £30 from Dorset Blueberries. trehane.co.uk
Treat yourself to a chilli-growing course from the experts who brought the world the Dorset Naga, Sea Spring Seeds: £20 for a morning of advice and practical tips in Dorchester, Dorset. The next available dates are 10 and 23 August. Also, seeds £6; seaspringseeds.co.uk
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