Alison Swanson of the Scottish Allotments and Gardens Society reveals that growing tasty food doesn’t have to be a chore with her pick of  favourite low-maintenance crops.

Busily doing nothing?
In early summer when the air is sweet there is nothing better to “do” than watch the plants grow and listen to the birds. Luckily, a sufficient amount of easy grow allotment crops exist to allow the most languorous to have their harvest and relax too.

Scottish Gardener:

The all-time easiest crop is Jerusalem artichokes (Helianthus tuberosus). This enthusiastically prolific tuber with it’s luxuriant top growth can grow to 250cm, and properly cooked artichokes are delicious. To have them forever simply bury some tubers around 15 cm deep and 30cm apart in any soil from March onwards. Then do absolutely nothing and wait for the glut. The robustness of artichokes cannot be over-exaggerated. For example, if a clump were blown up, the smallest of smithereens scattered would re-grow wherever they fell. But please do not try this. The committee disapprove of reckless behaviour, including the use of gelignite. Several varieties are good to grow including “Fuseau” which is white, “Red Fuseau” which is red and “Dwarf Sunray” which is slightly smaller. Jerusalem artichokes can be susceptible to wind, so hammer a couple of strong posts into the middle of any clumps and tie a rope around the whole lot. Small tree stakes are suitable. Artichokes are harvested once the top growth has died down through until new growth starts sprouting in spring. Save a few tubers back to ensure an ongoing presence.

Nasturtiums (Tropaolum majus) are also embarrassingly easy and the volume of edible flowers with spicy glaucous leaves gained from a few seeds is amazing. Trailing varieties will scramble 200 cm or more and cover a lot of ground which is a blessing for those who relaxed slightly too much for digging or weeding. No one will know what lies underneath.  “Whirlybird”, “Peach Melba” and “Jewel of Africa” are all good varieties. Simply make a 1cm indent in the soil with your finger, place a seed in, cover, and wait. Nasturtiums enjoy any soil type and do not need feeding. This annual can be re-sown yearly but nasturtiums self-seed, so you may not need to.

A lot is talked and written about pea plants (Pisum sativum). The easiest approach is to fill some toilet roll inserts with compost, plant a couple of pea seeds in each and grow them indoors until some leaves appear. Then dig a hole on the plot and pop them in. The cardboard will rot away naturally, pea gorging mice will be foiled and the plants will grow well. Choose dwarf varieties which require only a bundle of twigs thrown on top for support and don’t overthink it. “Maestro”, “Olympia” or “Alderman” are good varieties or try a self-supporting variety like “Boogie”. Plant peas from around March through to July. A more advanced approach including growing tall peas can follow on from your first harvest.

Scottish Gardener:

Salad days
Salad days with beautiful rows of puffy green lettuces (Lactuta sativa) are perfectly achievable by working the soil to a fine tilth, making a shallow drill, sowing the seeds lightly, watering regularly and thinning out seedlings to a few inches between each plant. Other easy leaf crops for the same treatment are Chard (Beta vulgaris subsp. Beta), red veined Sorrel (Rumex sanguineus), and Rocket (Eruca vesicaria ssp. Sativa). You can also sow Salad Burnet (Sanguisorba minor) or get hold of a plant. This is a pretty perennial tasting of cucumber which will grow for years, so long as you keep back and don’t annoy it. You could also try Claytonia (Claytonia perfoliata), otherwise known as miner’s lettuce. I was introduced to this recently by a new plotter whose PhD investigated the reasons why mice become overweight.  Scatter Claytonia seed straight onto frost free soil and water them in. Individual leaves can be picked and its hardier than lettuce. Claytonia grows well in Scotland, but it is an American plant originally discovered during the California gold rush where its indiscriminate growth provided free sustenance to threadbare gold panners and treasure hunters.

Looking busy
Having an allotment provides a place to escape, relax and to think and food for the soul should have equal importance to food for the table. But please don’t get carried away. Always keep the committee on side, so whatever you’re not doing have a tool in your hand, so you look like you’re doing something, or hide behind some artichokes.