Self-sufficiency is the dream, but be realistic

Winter brassicas thrive in frost, but take months to mature.
Winter brassicas thrive in frost, but take months to mature.

Total self-sufficiency in growing your own vegetables is the allotment holder’s dream – mine too. But I settle for the reality of having grown something fresh and tasty to pick every month in the year, augmented by market purchases to add variety.

Growing vegetables for the pot is no sinecure, but the buzz that comes from viewing the crop, let alone harvesting, more than compensates for your labours. Furthermore, it can be consumed with confidence, thanks to organic manures and absence of pesticides.

The choice we have in this early January garden covers sprouts, winter cabbage and cauliflowers, leeks and spinach. Spears of purple sprouting broccoli will be available in February.

I regard these vegetables as key to the year’s supply because the majority cover the period from October until March with their cropping potential. Unlike many summer vegetables, which progress from sowing to dining table in a matter of weeks, winter brassicas take months to reach maturity.

For example, Brussels sprouts are traditionally sown in an unheated greenhouse or frame in March and planted outdoors late April. An alternative is sowing a small drill in the garden during April and transferring resultant plants to their growing space later.

What follows sounds bleak – months of protection from slugs, snails, caterpillars, white butterflies and pigeons. But if you get supports in place for taller plants, cover the crop with fine netting at an early stage, and attend to pest control, sprouts from pre-Christmas to March is the reward.

Vegetable seed remains inexpensive and most of mine are started in this way, but if only a handful of plants are required, it makes sense to purchase young plants, ready to go. Major seed firms’ catalogues have been offering them for some time.

Imagine wanting three plants of Alicante tomato for the greenhouse and a packet of 60 seeds costs £1.99 (Suttons). Not expensive, and given a successful germination, you could find homes for the remaining 57 plants. But there are easier ways, albeit more expensive.

You could order three super plugs of Alicante for £5.99 (Suttons Garden Catalogue) for April/May delivery, or visit the garden centre and select plants.

D.T.Brown is another useful, well-established fruit and vegetable grower (www.dtbrownseeds.co.uk).

Its all-in-one catalogue offers a similar option on Gardener’s Delight tomatoes. Buy a packet of 50 seeds for £1.39 and grow your own from scratch, or have five plants for £6.95 delivered when daylight hours and temperature have increased.