In many ways, growing veg in spring and summer is the easiest part. There are several reasons for this: weather and light levels; advice available; previous experience. Chances are, when you start to grow your own veg you’ll do so sowing stuff in late winter, to enjoy in spring and summer.
For us, spring is a time of preparation and early harvests. In particular, we’ll be looking forward to harvests from the polytunnel once the winter plantings are picking up speed once the light returns from late February. It is also the time of brassica flowers – we tend to leave all brassicas in place unless we’re desperate for the space, eagerly awaiting the time when they’ll go to flower. The flower buds are delicious and taste like broccoli, and they are very welcome after a long autumn and winter.
But spring and summer are also times that feel really out of synch here – while ‘everyone’ seems to be harvesting things we’re still looking at our small plants, and that can be disheartening and worth bearing in mind. Garlic, for example, tends to be a mid-/late July crop for us, same as broad beans. Strawberries, too. A general piece of advice would be to take all suggestions on seed packets as suggestions, and to spend a season noticing things and making notes – how long does it take for your seeds to germinate? How long until the plants are big enough to plant outside? When is your last frost date – work backwards from that so you don’t sow things too early for your conditions. How long from planting out to harvests?
A key aspect of growing in spring and summer is to embrace ‘little and often’ – think about which crops to sow once (because they’ll take a really long time to be ready to harvest), and which you can sow repeatedly. Salad greens, radishes, and peas are great starting points for successive sowings – sow a few of these once a month for a steady supply throughout the season. That’s a simplified version, though – because light and temperature levels change dramatically throughout the season the time it takes for your plants to grow also changes, so using the same sowing spacing throughout the season doesn’t quite give you a uniformly steady supply of plants. But – like so much in gardening, this is a case of trial and error. Try sowing lettuce once a month from March to August and see what happens – when are the plants ready? Do you wish you’d sowed more or less? Do you have too much ready at the same time?
In many ways, spring/summer is the time to think about the rest of the year – and to do your current growing on autopilot. This sounds a bit silly – after all, we keep hearing about how busy gardeners are during that time. But really, it’s all about thinking of veg growing as an all-year-round activity. Your tasks may shift, and you might be busy in different ways, but trying to space things out and develop a sowing/planting plan that works for your space and energy levels is key to this. During spring and summer it is also important to think of autumn and winter in terms of preserving – think about which of the spring/summer produce you’d like to be eating then, and how to do that. Freezing? Pickling? Storing in other ways? Things like rhubarb wine and rhubarb ketchup make the most of an abundant crop – because rhubarb stalks are so big you get a lot of yield from even one plant, whereas collecting berries takes longer and you need to collect quite a lot to get the same amount of food at the end. It might also be worth thinking about a system of ‘putting away’ – say, put away 10% of each harvest, no matter how small. Harvesting 10 pea pods? Put one or two of them away for later. If you want something specific to aim for, putting things away for Christmas is a good way to get into this way of doing things.
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