As summer unfurls and the price of fresh food is likely to hike – due to the lack of pickers – it makes sense, and brings much joy, to turn to your garden or balcony or rooftop and say, “What can we do here?” If I can offer any gentle advice to those starting out, it is to choose vegetables that let you harvest all summer long (rather than waiting until the end of July for the first ripe tomato or early September for sweetcorn); that are edible at all stages, so nothing goes to waste; that don’t mind a wet August, can shrug off slug attacks and aren’t desperate for high fertility. Meet the gang that will feed you whatever the summer brings.
Humble, reliable swiss chard can withstand maltreatment, drought, neglect and even slugs to give you abundant glossy green leaves. Sow now, and again in August, and you’ll have plants for winter and a spring supply, too. Sow direct or in modules, spacing 35cm (14in) apart each way, so they can grow deep roots to mine the nutrients below. You need four or five plants for a family of four. My favourites are Fordhook Giant for monster leaves, Pink Passion for neon-coloured stems and Golden Chard to catch the long, slanting late summer light.
Japanese bunching onions are the giant, inflated versions of a spring onion, with a milder, sweeter flavour. The young seedlings can be eaten as you might spring onions: start pulling when they are about 10-15cm (4-6in) long, normally within six weeks of sowing. For large plants, thin to 5cm (2in) apart, aiming to leave a few of the largest to stand over winter. My favourite varieties are Kyoto Market or Ishikura.
Rocket is the easiest and most reliable of all the salad plants because even when in flower, there are leaves worth picking for salads. If you let the plant self-seed, you’ll never have to sow it again. Flea beetle will make lace doilies of the leaves, but it doesn’t affect the flavour. It’s also versatile in the kitchen.
Related: How to grow foxgloves | Alys Fowler
Everyone knows radishes are quick and easy to grow. What is often missed is that they need to be thinned early to get nice round, sweet roots. However, if you do find half of them are on the way to flowering, don’t waste them. Radish leaves are delicious, particularly briefly wilted into broths, or quickly sautéed. The stems are often sweeter and more tender than the roots could ever be. Some varieties have quite hairy leaves; rub salt in for a few moments before rinsing to remove this issue.
To get enough peas to the plate, you need space, sun, plenty of water and no pigeons. Instead, grow mangetout for a much longer harvest period: the more you pick, the more the plant will flower. They look prettier in pots, too, particularly if you grow the dark purple ‘Beauregarde’ which holds its colour even when cooked.