As you may have spotted from the empty shelves in your local supermarket, a combination of drought, flooding and freezing conditions in parts of Europe has led to shortages and rationing of vegetables such as broccoli, lettuce and courgettes.
If you’re concerned about stocks of your favourite greens, why not take matters into your own hands and grow your own?
You’ll cut out the middleman, eliminate food miles, and have a decent supply of super-fresh veg to help you reach your five a day without having to rely on supermarket supplies.
Here’s how you can get planting:
Planning your vegetable garden
Firstly, pick your site. Make sure there is good drainage, some direct sunlight and it’s not too near trees (they take nutrients away from the crops), says Michael Hedges of The Organic Gardening Catalogue.
“Ideally the bed should be designed so you can reach the centre without walking on the soil and compacting it,” he advises.
“Prepare the soil by removing all grass and weeds, ensuring you have taken all the roots out. Covering with black polythene or old carpet for several months will do this for you. Loosen the soil by digging and feed it with organic matter such compost and leaf mulch. Good healthy soil helps to create strong, productive plants.”
If space is at a premium, you can still grow your own; just opt for pots and planters instead of a vast allotment.
“Compost is free food for your soil and plants, so from the outset it is advisable to start a compost heap close to your growing bed,” says Michael.
“All cuttings, grass mowings and vegetable waste from the kitchen can go into the heap, where they will be broken down into a nutrient rich, sweet smelling material that will build up the fertility of your garden. There are a variety of compost bins available or you can build your own, or you can try a wormery.”
Tips for growing lettuce
Now is a good time to create your own fresh supply of lettuce if you want a crop that’s ready to eat from April or May, says Mark Sage, head of horticultural buying at Wyevale Garden Centres.
“We expect easy to grow and tasty varieties such as Cut and Come Again Lettuce, Little Gem and Lollo Rossa to prove popular this year. More and more, we are seeing customers taking satisfaction from growing their own produce, making every bite taste that little bit better.”
When spring arrives, sprinkle lettuce seeds in a good compost within a propagator or protected area such as a greenhouse, Mark advises. “Ensure you scatter a few seeds every two weeks to ensure a regular and sustained supply of lettuce to eat. Water regularly and heavily once a week – they get thirsty! When your lettuce begins to form, move outside – they love sunshine.”
In six to eight weeks’ time, harvest and enjoy.
Tips for growing broccoli
“Sow broccoli seeds in mid to late spring, under cloches if necessary to protect against frost,” Mark says.
It requires dry conditions and watering thoroughly every 10 days. An occasional liquid seaweed feed and nitrogen fertiliser will also encourage growth.
“Covering your plants with fine netting or horticultural fleece will help to stop butterflies laying eggs on the leaves and birds eating the leaves,” Mark adds.
“Cut the central head once the broccoli is fully formed, but before the flowers open. If sown in April or May, the crop should be ready to harvest during July or August.”
Tips for growing tomatoes
With tomatoes, consider which type you want - cherry, salad, plum or beefsteak - and the space available for growing them.
“Tomatoes need warm conditions from the outset, at least 18C. A heated greenhouse or a warm, sunny windowsill will both work well,” says Mark.
They’ll need to be watered regularly and evenly, especially after the fruit starts to form.
“The crops will come to an end in October. If there are still any fruits on the vine that haven’t yet ripened, pick them and bring them indoors,” says Mark.
Do you grow your own veg? What do you grow? Tell us in the comments box below