Another busy #BritishVeg hour on Tuesday evening. First up for discussion were cucurbits – which varieties to grow for large harvests, interest, flowers and flavour. Stephen recommended growing a range of varieties. For summer squash, round varieties like ‘One Ball’ or ‘Eight Ball’ are popular with customers. Courgette ‘Defender’ was recommended for its uniform shape, and ‘Taxi’ a yellow, thin skinned variety. Also mentioned were ‘Goldena’ a yellow, bush variety, ‘Jemmer’ also yellow, and ‘Astia’ – dark green and well flavoured. Bush varieties of courgette were recommended for growing in small spaces and containers. If growing for flowers – picking is best done early in the morning when there are fewer pollen beetles in them.
The best time for planting squash plants outdoors was generally thought to be when they are reasonably sturdy plants to help minimise slug damage. Some growers have plants under cover too, but Tamsin pointed out that for her they take up a lot of space that could be used for higher value crops. Lots of compost in the planting hole was recommended (or planting straight onto the compost heap), and keeping some fleece to hand if planting out early – just in case of a late frost. Once out in the ground, the main problems encountered last year were slugs and damage in windy weather.
Moving on to cucumbers, there were quite a few varieties popular with growers. ‘Marketmore’ was recommended for growing both under cover and outdoors. ‘Beth Alpha’ and ‘Pyralis’ are good indoor varieties, and ‘Fadia’ was recommended for mini cucumbers. ‘Crystal Lemon’ is also good, but needs to be eaten before it turns orange because it gets bitter. ‘La Diva’ and ‘Passandra’ produce good mid-sized cucumbers.
Just about everyone’s favourite winter squash was ‘Crown Prince’, easy, reliable, stores well, tastes great… But other squash varieties also got a mention – ‘Little Gem’, ‘Turks Turban’ and the butternut squash ‘Hunter’ have all been grown and liked by #BritishVeg growers. Vegetable spaghetti was also recommended, especially for children.
The conversation then turned to ways of capitalising on the current interest in locally grown food. Growers are noticing a change in the types of customers buying from them – more families wanting to grow veg and buy from box schemes. Education and good communication with customers was seen to be really important. Parents with young children are often interested in knowing where their food comes from, and encouraging their children to grow veg. Easy to grow vegetable plants, like broad and runner beans, sell well. Workshops teaching gardening skills to both adults and children were a popular idea. And keeping customers happy, so that they say good things about you to their friends who then become new (happy) customers is a good way to generate more sales.
Topics for discussion in next week’s #BritishVeg hour are tomatoes and chillies – which varieties to grow, cultivation methods, staking… and anything else that comes up. Why not join us on Tuesday from 8-9pm.