The summer harvests are still in full flow, bucket loads of tomatoes, aubergines, beans and enough courgettes to warrant opening a roadside stall. Plus, many of the autumn crops are just starting to harvest too: kale, borlotti beans, the occasional early pumpkin and a late sowing of beetroot. It’s the perfect month, an abundance of summer and autumn harvests at the same time.
But September is wonderful not just for the harvests. There are organic veggies you can plant this month, either for a quick crop before the frosts, or for hardy plants to keep you going over the winter. There is warmth enough left in the sun, daylight hours are still more than 12 and the first frosts won’t creep in until November.
So, here are my top three crops to grow yourself. All can be grown in pots or window boxes and all are ideal for first time growers.
1) Winter lettuce
Delicate summer lettuces like ‘Little Gem’ might germinate in September but they are unlikely to survive the chill of late October, when they would be reaching full maturity. However, more hardy lettuces like ‘Merveille des Quatre Saisons’ (Marvel of the Four Seasons, the clue’s in the name) are fast-growing and have thick, reddish-green leaves so are ideal for cooler months. You might also get away with a sowing of ‘Lollo Rosso’ which has similar properties. To grow them, fill a rectangular container with peat-free organic compost, make a thin line with your finger down the middle of the container from one end to the other then sprinkle the seeds into the channel you have made. Water well and, once the seedlings have germinated, thin them out so you have one strong seedling every 10-15cm. It seems brutal, but that’s gardening! Keep watered and weed-free and in a few weeks you’ll have lettuce. Pick the whole head if you want, but I prefer to pick just the outer leaves so the centre keeps growing, I find you get more harvest that way.
2) Pea shoots
Another quick growing salad option is pea shoots. Green, succulent and tasting intensely of peas, these shoots look beautiful in a salad or as a garnish. You can use any old pea seeds for this – mange tout, main crop, early – it doesn’t matter because you are only growing them for the shoots not the peas. Fill a container with peat-free organic compost – it only needs to be 10cm deep, so a seed tray is ideal if you are short of space. Then poke the peas into the soil to a depth of 3 cm and with 5 cm between each seed. Water and wait. In 4-5 weeks the peas will have sprouted and be 15-20 cm tall. To harvest, just pinch out the top sprig of growth. The plant will then re-grow to give you another cutting. I usually get 2-3 harvests from a tray before the seedlings get wise to my plan and give up the ghost. (Incidentally, you can do this in early spring too and, after the second shoot crop, let the plants grow on to full maturity.)
Radishes are a must for new vegetable growers and especially great to grow with children. They take just 4-5 weeks, are pretty bullet proof, look beautiful and taste amazing. If a vegetable was ever aiming for a perfect score, it is the radish. They come in pinks (like ‘Cherry Belle’ and ‘French breakfast’) and purples (‘Purple Plum’ and ‘Diana’). They also come in white but they are tougher and a little bland so I recommend choosing the more colourful ones.
Grow them just as you would lettuce, but don’t thin them out unless they look especially cramped when they get bigger. Radishes need watering regularly, especially if it’s warm, to prevent bolting (when they send up a flowering stem and make the radish woody), but that’s all. Pick them when they reach gobstopper size and slice them into salads or dunk them in soft, salted organic butter for the ultimate snack.
Growing your own food isn’t just for people with allotments or big gardens. And it is worth doing even on a small scale. Apart from the wonder of seeing a lifeless seed transform into something you can eat, which is enough of a joy alone to make it worthwhile, there’s also the environmental benefits. Use peat-free organic compost, recycled pots and organic British seeds and you will be helping reduce your footprint at the same time as making a lovely meal for you and your family.