Growing Your Own Vegetables - Kohl Rabi, Turnips, French Beans, Radish, Spring Onions
10th Aug 2002
Someone asked me last week why he should bother growing his own vegetables when they are so readily available in the supermarkets, my answer was that they are fresher and therefore inevitably tastier and you can harvest them when it suits you to have them. The other important consideration is that having grown your own vegetables you will know exactly whether or not you sprayed them with any pesticide at all. At this time of year, most gardeners tend to leave their vegetable plots fallow when in reality they can still harvest good healthy vegetables right through to the end of October. If you have a greenhouse, a polytunnel or even your own makeshift polythene cover or cloches, you can extend this date considerably further. Believe me it's well worth that little bit of extra effort so that you can enjoy your own produce to the very end of the season.
There"s no doubt about it, the seasons are changing and I have noticed that September through to October can offer very good growing conditions for vegetables. If you are going to sow vegetables now then they must of necessity be the short harvest varieties, in other words they must be ready to eat, at the latest, in ten weeks time. We therefore have to think in terms of quick maturing crops and one of my favourites is Kohl Rabi, a member of the brassica family and sometimes referred to as the 'turnip cabbage' As a seedling the young plants look just like a cabbage or cauliflower but as soon as they start to mature they take on a different shape. The stem of the plant just above ground level swells out, this is the part of the plant that you peel and cook or grate into salads, it tastes delicious.
The breeders have down some good work on these varieties and where as we only had the choice of White or Purple Vienna we now have many more excellent hybrids. The first generation of the Kohl Rabi had to be eaten when the swollen stem was no more than two inches across, after that they became very woody and tasteless. Now however the newer hybrids such as Korist, a flat pale green globe shape and Kolibri a purple skinned variety, are perfectly tender when grown to over three inches across. Such is the appeal of this vegetable that a lady from London who stopped at my Chelsea display this year grows these right through the Summer so that she can peel and eat them raw, just like you would an apple!
Fork over and rake a small area, sufficient for a small length of row and if this is following another crop, then do make sure that when forking over you remove any perennial weeds that are there. Open a shallow furrow and sow the seed sparingly before covering over with the same fine soil. Germination should be quick, within ten days, later on they can be thinned to one plant spaced six inches apart. They are relatively trouble free from pest and diseases but do water well if we have a dry period as they need the moisture when swelling out if you are to harvest tender specimens.
Another delicious crop is the fast growing turnip, Tokyo Cross is the quickest variety to mature and can be ready for lifting after eight weeks growth, don't forget also that the tops can be eaten as well and are delicious stir fried. Tokyo Cross is a white skinned globe shaped variety whilst my favourite, ‘Arcoat' is a flatter type but with a beautiful light purple splash on the shoulder.
Perhaps we are asking a lot to be able to eat a fresh crop of French beans from a sowing made now. However I have consistently harvested pods of the old and still popular variety ‘Prince' in ten weeks from sowing. To be on the safe side, sow the seed in a greenhouse in small pots using some Multi Purpose compost and then pot them on into six or seven inch pots. These can then be set outside through September an into October. However should the weather turn cold or the night temperatures drop considerably, then the pots can be taken indoors or into a sunny South facing position in the garden to continue producing pods.
Probably the fastest vegetable of all to sow and harvest is radish, they can be ready anytime from six weeks after sowing and are therefore perfect for a late season crop. The problem many find with radish is that they can succumb to be eaten by soil pests, but if you sow them in a large diameter pot with Multi purpose compost as the growing medium, I find they are perfectly free from pest damage. ‘Sparkler' is a beautiful looking radish and one of the earliest to harvest, this can then be quickly followed by the small cylindrical shaped ‘French Breakfast'.
To complement the Radish why not sow a spring onion, the one that has impressed me the most with it's versatility is ‘Guardsman'. As the name implies, this one stands bolt upright in the rows from the day it produces it's first true leaf, but it also has the added advantage of being frost hardy. Sow this one sparingly in a shallow drill as well but do not thin out, rather leave then a while and use the thinnings to complement your salads. With no need for any protection, this variety will grow through most of Winter and by late Spring will be as big as a small leek, but still tender. Apply some high nitrogen fertiliser during late February to early March to give the plant a quick boost.