Urban self sufficiency

Posted in All Gardening Advice, February, on

I've drawn up a plan for a small, highly productive veg plot  - perfect for an urban self-sufficiency garden -that can be looked after in only a couple of hours a fortnight, but will give our family of four (with a few more people around on some weekends) two or three meals a week throughout the year. With the right numbers of the right plants, I think I can do it.

Planning a veg garden

In my highly productive, urban self-sufficient  veg plot, I'm including stalwart, space-saving veg varieties, plus one or two unmissables such as carrots, potatoes, beetroot and dwarf bean. I aim to have five beds, with four 1.75m (5ft 9in) squares, plus one longer and thinner (4ft by about 20ft) for roots, beans and sweet peas (more on these later). Here is my plan for the first four beds.

Salad mixes

The first of the square beds is devoted to cut-and-come-again salads. To start with I'm sowing a salad mix that we perfected last year for cold weather sowing and picking. This includes two mustards: 'Red Frills', which tastes of new potatoes, and 'Golden Streaks', with bright frilly, acid-green leaves with a horseradish taste. There's also mizuna - the classic and invaluable cut-and-come-again leaf for salads and stir-fries - as well as cress 'Bubbles', pretty with its gathered and crinkled leaf and hot, cressy flavour.

Salad rocket, a peppery, very hardy cold weather plant, is in here, as well as lettuces 'Cocarde' and 'Green Salad Bowl' to harvest as background flavour baby leaves. These two grow at twice the rate of others so they won't get swamped by the rapidly growing salad mix. This selection should provide plenty of delicious and varied salads and stir-fry greens until May, when I'll resow with a mix for hotter weather.

A place for herbs

My second bed will be devoted to my favourite herbs. Half will be filled with annuals - 'Giant of Napoli' flat-leaved parsley, chervil and coriander.

The parsley will stay where it is for a good six months, but the other two will bolt when the weather heats up and I'll replace them with basil and oregano. The other half of this bed will be filled with permanent or semi-permanent herbs. I want French tarragon, ordinary and garlic chives (which crop in succession). I'm also going to plant apple mint (for cooking) and Moroccan mint (for tea) straight into the grass by the hedge.

I find the grass and mints compete and keep each other in check, which is much better than planting mint in a pot with its roots restricted and where the flavour rapidly disappears. I also want a corner bush or two of rosemary 'Miss Jessop's Upright', which looks quite tidy even when it's heavily picked, and a couple of plants each of culinary sage and thyme.

Room for greens

The next bed contains leafy greens, the ones that crop lightly for months at a stretch and don't bolt as soon as you fail to water them. The best of the lot are Swiss chard (or try perpetual spinach as an alternative) and cavalo nero, good in cold and frosty weather when the sugars in its leaves are released. And I can't resist lovely soft-textured and tasty spinach 'Dominant', not so long-cropping, but excellent to eat raw as well as quickly wilted for a quick delicious side veg or salad.

The best courgettes

The final square bed will, in time, be filled with courgettes - one plant of four different varieties, in three different colours, so they look as well as taste good.

The first is 'Defender', a high-yielding, dark green courgette, which crops over a long period and is resistant to mildew and mosaic virus. It's also good for courgette flowers. I'll also plant another dark green 'Romanesco', a wonderful courgette with ribs down the fruit. It has excellent flavour and texture, never turning watery, even when quite large.

I also like 'Bianca', a pale ivory-green equivalent to 'Defender', very healthy, quick growing, early, tasty and productive, and finally 'Soleil', one of the best yellow courgettes, which has excellent flavour and is good raw or cooked. The skin is slightly thicker than the other courgettes, so eat these small, or leave them to grow to marrow size. They will then store in a harvest festival arrangement and look great.

That's it - everything I need to include in my plan, with enough space for each plant to do its best and no room for any weeds.