Gardener's notebook: Don't get green-fingered envy — it's not too late to grow your own food this year

 (Alamy Stock Photo)
(Alamy Stock Photo)

I often get a feeling once we are in June that it is too late to start growing my own food.

At the moment all I’m growing this year is a single chocolate chilli plant a friend gifted me as a house-warming gift. They know me well.

On Instagram every tomato plant I see is almost flowering, and I have an underlying feeling that once again, I’ve left it too late.

But I shouldn’t let other people's successes get in the way of the facts. We’ve had a pretty cool, cloudy start to the year which means plants haven’t grown as quickly as they might have if we had experienced back-to-back sunshine since March.

Don’t get too envious of other gardeners on social media (Alamy Stock Photo)
Don’t get too envious of other gardeners on social media (Alamy Stock Photo)

That means lots of things sown now still have time to quickly catch up.

For the next week or so the days are still drawing out until the longest day of the year, and even for a few weeks afterwards, the amount of daylight will really support the establishment of new seedlings.

There are also some benefits to being a “late-adopter” when it comes to growing from seed. A quick look online at some of the bigger seed companies like Suttons and Mr Fothergills have cut their prices and are offering up to 50 per cent off many seed packets.

De-mystifying the Jargon

At this time of year, you’ll see the instructions on many packets of veg seeds, like carrots, beetroot, peas and beans is to ‘direct sow’. It then normally says something about drills.

I think this is quite inaccessible language if it is your first time growing so let me translate.

To ‘direct sow’ means plant the seeds in their final location. No need to start on a windowsill or in a greenhouse. And ‘in drills’ means in straight, shallow channels, normally made with the back of a rake, that you sow seeds into.

You don’t have to use drills, especially in pots. But it can be a useful way of distinguishing your seedlings from any weeds that might grow.

It’s too late for tomatoes but you can still grow carrots (Alamy Stock Photo)
It’s too late for tomatoes but you can still grow carrots (Alamy Stock Photo)

Too late for tomatoes

If you are starting from seed, there are some plants it is probably too late to start with now. These include cauliflower, chillies, peppers and aubergines, and tomatoes, all which have a long lead-time, and unfortunately need to be started early as our summers are not quite long enough.

However, lots of plant shops and garden centres still have a range of pre-grown plants that were started on time.

Bit more expensive, but you’ll get the joy without the hard work of getting them started.

Hold back on the really speedy crops

It’s also wise to avoid sowing very fast growing plants such as Florence fennel, rocket and coriander over the hottest months of the year, starting again towards the end of august.

That is because these plants have a tendency to ‘bolt’, which means they start producing seeds due to stress before getting fully established.

Once this process has started, there is rarely any turning back.

Don’t miss the Grow Urban Festival

Taking place this week across the capital, it’s an opportunity to learn and connect with other urban growers working to make London a greener place.

Visit for more information and a full list of events.