If you didn’t manage to get your vegetable seeds sown in the greenhouse earlier in the year, you can still fill your veg beds for summer. Go into any garden centre now and you will find rows and rows of small vegetable plants, ready to plant straight out. These little plants are a great resource for those who don’t have greenhouses, but are also really useful if you just don’t want to be fussed with all of the faff involved in germinating and bringing young plants to planting stage. It’s a tricky job after all, which involves starting off tender, warmth loving plants in spring when the days are short, and the temperatures are low or at least highly unpredictable, and an unheated greenhouse may well be too cold or too changeable in temperature to allow you to grow good plants. If you don’t have a greenhouse you end up filling every windowsill with plants waiting for the moment when it is safe to plant them out, and very few houses have enough light for this. Plants end up getting drawn up as they pull towards the light, and this can lead to them growing straggly and top heavy, which is all very well until it comes to planting out time, when this makes them vulnerable to pest and disease attacks.
Buying your small plants in at the beginning of summer leaves all of that tricky growing stage to the experts, who are growing these plants in large, light greenhouses and sometimes with supplementary warmth too. This means you start off with the healthiest plants you could get, at an easy time of year, when the weather is warm and everything just wants to grow. I have recently bought myself a few plants to supplement those I have grown in the greenhouse – some courgettes, peas, mangetouts, cucumbers and some little lettuce plants for near-instant salad, and between them and the plants I have coming out of the greenhouse they will give me a near-instant veg garden.
I say near-instant, because the method of growing that these professionals use does come with its own – admittedly rather minor – set of problems. We run the risk with these garden-centre-bought plants that they will have been grown too ‘soft’: the conditions that they have been grown in are so very perfect for them, that they are unable to cope with those environments that are less than ideal. And one of those is likely to be your garden – if they are planted straight out and there is a cold snap, these plants are going to suffer a check to their growth, at the very least. Plants that have been grown in light and warmth will have particularly soft growth that is utterly delicious to our main foes of the moment, slugs and snails, and these are all sorts of other pests and diseases that will take advantage of this perfect green growth.
The answer is simple, though a little dull. Rather than planting them straight into the ground, give them a middle stage. Plant them up into slightly larger pots and then place them somewhere out in the garden but slightly sheltered and ideally away from the ground and the attentions of the molluscs, where they can start to get used to your garden’s conditions. This is what I did with my new plants last week, and they have put on loads of growth and look really content, and so I am happy to plant them out in the garden this weekend. I think that they will now romp away, and I will be eating bowls of little mangetout and baby courgettes in no time.