6 top ‘larder plants’ to grow this summer

Posted in All posts, February, on

At around 6pm, I ask myself ‘What’s for supper?’ Provided that there’s some pasta and olive oil around, and maybe an onion or a bit of cheese in the fridge, I can usually rustle something up. And in the summer, the garden is the larder – I like to stand in the veg patch to ask what I can cook.  As I make my final decisions as to what seeds to buy for 2015, my list is distilling down to what I call ‘larder plants’ –  veg that do well in most summers, and will go in lots of different dishes.

Larder plants are the ones that grow easily for me. They seem to enjoy a certain benign neglect. And they crop for a long season – without any special protection or storage requirements. They’re there when I need them, and aren’t much bother when I don’t.

1)      Parsley. My mother told me that parsley only grows in households where ‘the woman wears the trousers’. I hope, in these enlightened times, that we both wear the trousers here. Flat-leaf parsley romps around my garden, self-seeding beautifully, and there is always a handful to cheer up a pasta or a stew. It took a while to establish though – I didn’t get much in the first year. Now I don’t even have to buy seed.

2)      Potatoes. Nothing beats a potato straight from the ground and I haven’t had a failed harvest in 10 years. Last year, I harvested the potatoes when I needed them. Even in late September, I was able to rootle around in the veg bed, and dig up the odd tuber for a meal for 2. This might not work so well if you get blight, but all my spuds were fine. I bought a mixed variety bag, which also helped lengthen the growing season.

3)      Courgettes. Three courgette plants lasts us for months at a time. We don’t get gluts, and there is always a courgette when you need one.

4)      Beans. Possibly the easiest veg to grow in the entire universe? I grow a mix of French and runner beans, and get about 3 months’ worth of harvesting.

5)      Chillies. My super-surprise larder plant. I didn’t think chillies worth growing until a friend gave me one. I neglected it, but it survived. And I was astonished to find that properly fresh chillies do make a difference to pasta or a stir-fry. So last year I grew about a dozen chilli plants of 4 different types. They germinated well, thrived obligingly, survived the slugs, and I was literally still picking them on Christmas Eve. I live in the mild UK hardiness zone 8b (otherwise known as South East England), so others may not find chillies as easy, but it’s certainly worth a try.

6)      Rhubarb. In my childhood, every garden had its neglected patch of rhubarb. Not as widely found in the shops as apples, it’s making a bit of a gastronomic come-back. It’s another that takes a season to get established, but after that, it seems to muddle along with virtually no attention. This year, however, I am going to treat my rhubarb to some compost.

With the exception of the parsley, all of these ‘larder plants’ work best if you plant several different varieties to extend the cropping season. And I’ve realised that neglect only gets you so far – this winter I am making a big effort to improve my soil, as I’d like to increase my larder plants beyond six. I’d love to hear anyone’s recommendations.

Thanks for reading,