With Covid-19 looming over both our family’s health and economy, now has never been a better time to turn to growing our own food. We all know that it is a good idea to have a plan that will keep us well stocked in fresh, and healthy food. However, our best attempts at stockpiling will eventually fail. While we are eating through our tins of beans and bags of pasta, we can turn our attention to that neglected vegetable garden. This article is full of suggestions and tips on crops you can grow now, to help you through the current crisis. In a month or two, you will have a glut of healthy, home-grown vegetables for you, your family and local community to share.
Important factors to keep in mind when planning your crop:
- What is the nutritional value of the crop?
- Can it be stored?
- What is the current growing season for this crop?
Throughout this article, I will be addressing these points as well as giving a list of excellent vegetables to grow now to get you through the current Coronavirus pandemic.
Vegetables will provide varying amounts of essential nutrients, depending on the crop. Getting the correct vitamins and minerals will keep you healthy and more able to fight-off infection. Some crops will be good for protecting your immune system, whilst others will give you energy and prevent fatigue.
Time of year to grow vegetables
The majority of vegetable crops are seasonal. Unfortunately, there is very little hope of growing anything during the Winter months. Stockpiling seeds during Winter is essential, as such supplies may run out by Spring. This has largely been the case this year already. However, there are still some stockists with supplies of seed. I have found, unlike the larger shops, the smaller, local outlets still have a reasonable stock.
Quick growing crops for planting now
Top-tip: As with all vegetables, unless you are planning to pickle or dry-store your crops; only pick when you are ready to prepare and eat it. The nutritional value of that vegetable will start to decline as soon as you harvest it.
Time to grow: April-Sept
Time to harvest: 4 weeks
How to harvest: Cut one leaf off every plant every two to three days.
Usage: Great in salads to add a little ‘pepper’.
Nutrients: Vit K/C and Calcium – Salad, cook like spinach – cut tops if flowers start to form.
Time to grow: Mid-March-May
Time to harvest: 6 weeks
How to harvest: Harvest younger leaves, one leaf off every plant.
Usage: Salad, or steamed/boiled.
Nutrients: Calcium, magnesium, potassium, vit A and Iron.
Top-tip: Start by eating the older leaves and work your way through to the younger, tastier leaves.
Time to grow: Feb-March
Time to harvest: 2-3 Months
How to harvest: Loosen soil with fork and gently pull by leaves.
Usage: Salads, steamed/boiled, baked.
Nutrients: Vit C/A, carbs, fibre
Top-tip: Do not eat leaves as they are poisonous.
Time to grow: March to mid-August
Time to harvest: 4 weeks
How to harvest: Pull by leaves
Usage: Great in salads
Nutrients: Potassium, folate, riboflavin, niacin, vit B-6/K, calcium, magnesium, zinc, phosphorous, copper, manganese, sodium.
Top-tip: Sow in between slower growing crops like sweetcorn or beans.
Time to grow: mid-April to July
Time to harvest: 13 weeks
How to harvest: Pull by leaves.
Usage: Pickling, roasting, grated raw in salads.
Nutrients: Vit B9/C, iron, potassium, manganese.
Top-tip: You can eat the leaves like Swiss Chard.
Time to grow: (Indoors) April to early May
Time to harvest: 12 weeks
How to harvest: Keep on harvesting for a higher yield.
Usage: Steamed or boiled.
Nutrients: Vit C/A/K/B6/E, thiamin, niacin.
Top-tip: Pick when young and green.
Time to grow: Mid-March-April
Time to harvest: 6-10 weeks
How to harvest: Harvest whole plant from stem with sharp knife.
Usage: Salads or stir-fries.
Nutrients: calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, sodium, zinc, vit A/C/K.
Top-tip: Protect from frosts.
Time to grow: late March to late July
Time to harvest: 45-55 days
How to harvest: Take one leaf from each plant every couple of days.
Usage: Great in salads and Asian soups.
Nutrients: Vit A/C/K, calcium, folate, phosphorus, magnesium, potassium.
Top-tip: Sow at 2 week intervals for a continuous crop. Thin-out/eat seedlings to encourage larger lettuces.
Time to grow: March to June
Time to harvest: October onwards
How to harvest: Harvest young leaves from top of plant
Usage: Great in stir-fries or steamed
Nutrients: Protein, fibre, vit A/C/K, folate, omega 3, lutein and zeaxanthin.
Top-tip: Leave the plants in the ground over winter for an additional harvest in February and March the following year.
Spring Onions (Salad)
Time to grow: March-Sept
Time to harvest: 8 weeks
How to harvest: Pull from ground and eat whole plant.
Usage: Good for salads, soups and stir-fries.
Nutrients: Vit A/B6/C, thiamine, folate, fibre, calcium.
Top-tip: Sow every 2 weeks for a continuous supply. Onions like lots of water.
Time to grow: July to mid-August
Time to harvest: 6-10 weeks
How to harvest: Eat the bulbous root, or the leaves.
Usage: The ‘bulbs’ can be eaten raw in salads or gently blanched.
Nutrients: Vit A/C/K, folate, calcium, fibre.
Top-tip: Harvest once the turnips are golf ball size.
If you are pushed for growing space, or perhaps you don’t have a garden: here are some excellent vegetable growing techniques you can try now.
This is a harmonious, inter-cropping technique from the Souix Indians of North America. Combine three complimentary crops in one, small spot on the vegetable patch: Sweetcorn, Runner Beans and Squashes.
Still short on growing space?
Many leafy salads and smaller vegetables can be successfully grown indoors. Sow your seeds into compost in the largest pots you have. Place in the brightest part of your home, preferably on a veranda or on a window ledge. Don’t allow the compost to completely dry out. Protect from pigeons! If you have a wide flight of stairs, outdoor to your property, try placing pots of tomatoes, peppers and salad leaf in a safe place on the steps.
Storing your crops
You want to grow enough to keep you and your family. But how do you store the fruit of all of that hard work?
If you are only planning to keep your leafy vegetables for a couple of days, then try the following (great technique for lettuces, kale, pak choi, Swiss chard and spinach):
- Rinse and dry each leaf carefully.
- Store between sheets of paper towel or clean tea towel (for reuse).
- Refrigerate in a sealed container or plastic bag.
Root vegetables & Squashes
Generally, root vegetables should be stored in a dark, cool and dry place. A cupboard or pantry is a perfect storage place. It is important to check each stored root every week or so, to remove any vegetables that are showing the signs of rot. This will limit infection and keep the rest of your crop fresher for longer. This method is great for onions, garlic, potatoes, and most squashes.
Tomato plants often produce a glut of fruit that can prove impossible to get through in one season. If the tomato fruits are still green when harvested: store them out of direct sunlight at room temperature until ripe. Once they have ripened, place them in a fridge.
I’ll end with this great video on the subject of good fast crops to try during the Covid-19 outbreak.