Seedlings are so cute that it’s easy to forget that one day soon they will grow up into mature plants that need space, feeding, watering and harvesting. When you’ve poured blood, sweat and occasional tears into nurturing your plants to adulthood then it’s hard to accept that they have become monsters, that you are battling your way through their burgeoning bounty and that you’re churning out produce no one wants to eat.
The first step to resolving the issue is to admit that you’re in the Glut Zone. No two years are alike in the garden, and it’s impossible to predict what will grow well and what will falter. The best way to ensure a regular supply of food, and to avoid unwanted gluts, is to grow as many different kinds of crop as possible. But we all have limits on our time and space, and there are plenty of easy ways to ensure that you don’t get overwhelmed by productive plants.
It starts in spring, with those adorable seedlings. The key is successional sowing, in which you sow small batches of the same seeds over several weeks. By staggering sowing and planting you will stagger your harvests. This is an ideal way to deal with crops for which a regular supply is ideal, such as salad leaves and stir-fry veg. It really depends on what you’re growing and how often you’d want to eat it, but the usual rule of thumb with salad leaves is to sow a batch every couple of weeks.
Plants that need a long growing season (such as tomatoes and peppers) have to be sown early in the year, and so the tendency is for them to mature all at once. But if you choose two or three different varieties, they will grow at different rates and their fruit will mature at different times. Cherry tomatoes should be ready before larger ones, for example, but you can check the seed catalogues for ‘early’ varieties to give you your first crops.
When it comes time to prick out, or plant out, all of those seedlings,
then it’s heart breaking to throw unwanted ones away, and the tendency
is to plant them up anyway and hope you’ll find somewhere to put them
later on. It’s a glut waiting to happen, so if you really can’t bear the
thought of merely potting on the strongest, you need another strategy.
For plants with edible leaves, think of them as trendy microgreens and
add them to your dinner. Or pot them up and swap them with friends and
neighbours. Next year, find a friend with whom you can have a ‘sowing
pact’ – divvy up the crops between you, so you only grow half, and then
swap the extras.
Spread your sowing out through the year, so that
you have a range of crops (such as Oriental vegetables) to replace ones
you’re bored with, and to provide you with fresh harvests into the
autumn. Don’t be afraid to pull up and compost plants that are producing
food you’re just not going to eat. Ideally we’d all be making chutney,
but it’s not worth the time and energy if you’re just transforming one
glut into another.
It may be a bit late for this year, unless
you haven’t bought your plants yet, but consider replacing one or two
plants of your gluttiest crops with something a little bit different.
With courgettes you could plump for a round variety, or Rugosa friulana
(the ugliest, tastiest courgette in town, available from Seeds of
Italy). Summer squash are also an option – patty pans look like flying
saucers and make an eye-catching addition to meals. You could even go
for a butternut squash or a mini pumpkin, to push some of your harvest
to later in the year.
The same goes for beans. Replace a couple of plants of your normal variety with one that’s designed to be eaten as haricot verts, or one that makes nice dried beans. One or two small substitutions can make the difference between tired tastebuds and divine dinners, so come on and join the Glutbusters!
What are your top tips for avoiding gluts?