Made up mainly of annual crops, most veg beds require a constant cycle of sowing, planting, mulching and digging over every season. Many crops also demand early sowings indoors, followed by slow acclimatisation and careful planting out. This is before we even get on to the laborious process of pruning, training and protection. All things considered, the dream of a truly low-maintenance veg plot can seem distant.
It has always surprised me, therefore, that few books ever point out the range of crops that are enthusiastic self-seeders. Essentially these act like perennials by sowing themselves for you each year, slashing the work needed to grow them to virtually zero. Here are my top picks for tasty, super-easy crops that if sown just once could provide you with harvests for years to come.
Wild rocket and land cress
It might cost a fortune in little bags from the supermarket, but “superfood” wild rocket also lives a double life as a common garden weed, enthusiastically self-seeding every year in many a salad bed. Likewise, the peppery leaves of land cress might look and taste virtually identical to watercress, but are far less effort to grow. There is even a pretty variegated form with marbled yellow patterns that look striking in any salad.
New Zealand spinach
This attractive plant in the spinach family, also known as Tetragonia tetragonoidies, offers up more tasty, glossy green leaves than my family can eat, right up until the first hard frosts. Much quicker-growing than its more familiar relative, it even forms an attractive ground cover in sunny beds and borders. Tasting very similar to regular spinach, it has the added benefit of not cooking down to nothing in the blink of an eye and even retains its bright green hue for far longer once heated.
With the explosion of authentic Mexican restaurants in the UK, the fruit of this salsa staple have just started edging into the fancier supermarkets, sold at up to £2 each. Fortunately for greedy gardeners, these easy-to-grow tomato relatives can produce kilos of fruit per plant, popping back year after year from self-sown seed. Give them a sunny spot, allowing them to sprawl in every direction, and you will be rewarded with tart green fruit and flowers that are irresistible to bees all summer long.