From January to December, Rekha Mistry shares her gardening diary

Rekha Mistry (Pictures: Dorling Kindersley/Rachel Warne)

You won’t find a garden notebook on Rekha Mistry’s bedside table, or shelves stuffed with gardening books: the TV kitchen gardener grows by instinct.

And now Rekha has just published her first book, full of useful tips on how she has cultivated her own London allotment.

‘I’m a true believer in cooking and eating seasonally, and that’s why this book is organised by the time of year everything is most likely to be ready,’ says Rekha. ‘I’m not an artist, but I’d like to think I paint with plants as I start to plan next year’s artwork, always with my crop-rotation plan firmly etched in my mind.’

Here, Rekha shares her month by month diary and top growing tips.

My growing diary


Sow peppers in January

Sow peppers in January (Picture: Alamy)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow aubergines, chillies, and peppers (home).
  • Sort out seed packets; remove any that are out of date.


  • Prune the apple tree.
  • Rake debris from around summer-fruiting raspberry canes. Force rhubarb for an early harvest.


Plant bare-root fruit in February (Picture: Alamy)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow onions (greenhouse) and tomatoes (home).
  • Chit potatoes on a warm, bright windowsill.


  • Plant bare-root fruit tree or shrubs.
  • Cut back autumn-fruiting raspberry canes.


Harvest your last parsnips in March (Picture: Getty/EyeEm)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow peas in deep root Rootrainers (greenhouse).
  • Prick out lettuce.
  • Clean and sanitise the greenhouse.


  • Apply Fish, Blood Bone fertiliser and mulch around raspberry canes.
  • Turn in green manure.
  • Harvest the last parsnips (but leave some to flower).


Move tomato plants to the greenhouse in April (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow squash, courgettes, and French beans.
  • Move tomato plants to the greenhouse.


  • Plant out first early seed potatoes, and spring cabbages raised in the cold frame.
  • Prepare nettle and comfrey teas.


Plant out onions in May (Picture: Getty/EyeEm)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow cucumbers (greenhouse).
  • Move aubergine, chilli, and pepper plants into the greenhouse.


  • Plant out garlic, onion, and tomato plants.
  • Incorporate compost and straw into bean growing area, and erect bean poles.
  • Provide greenhouse shading.


Pinch basil plants to encourage side shoots (Picture: Getty/Cavan Images RF)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Give weak seaweed feed to aubergines, chillies and peppers. Pinch basil tips to encourage side shoots.


  • Thin out beetroot rows.
  • Keep on top of weeding duties. Earth up main crop potatoes and harvest first earlies.


Harvest the first aubergines in July (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Keep greenhouse doors and vents open.
  • Harvest first aubergines to promote further fruits.


  • Pin down strawberry runners to create new plants.
  • Feed French beans with comfrey tea when in flower.


Harvest onions in August (Picture: Getty/iStockphoto)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Feed aubergines and peppers when flowers appear.
  • Wet the greenhouse floor to create humidity.


  • Direct-sow winter radish.
  • Protect corn with netting as cobs start to form.
  • Harvest onions, then sow quick-growing green manure.


Harvest the last courgettes in September (Picture: Getty)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow romaine lettuce 
and onions (cold frame).
  • Water during early mornings to prevent mildew.


  • Remove leaves around winter squash to aid ripening.
  • Harvest last courgettes and main crop potatoes.


Stake Brussels sprouts in October (Picture: Getty)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Sow early peas (greenhouse).
  • Bring container-grown chard and mint under cover.
  • Wash, sanitise and store greenhouse pots.


  • Earth up leeks.
  • Stake Brussels sprouts.
  • Check netting on brassicas to keep out birds.
  • Weed and tidy around turnips.
  • Sow green manure.


The big tidy-up in November (Picture: Getty)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Plant garlic cloves in pots (greenhouse).
  • Ventilate greenhouse on mild days.
  • Clear yellowing and dead foliage to prevent disease.


  • Sow chive seeds direct.
  • Harvest parsley and cover with cloches. Gather fallen leaves from trees to make leaf mould.


Harvest romaine lettuce in December (Picture: Alamy)

At home/in the greenhouse

  • Harvest fresh mint and romaine lettuce.
  • Check stored produce; discard any that 
has spoiled.
  • Pick up seed catalogues, place orders to avoid disappointment in spring.


  • Plant out bare-root 
raspberry canes.
  • Harvest parsnips and Brussels sprouts.
Creating your own compost is cheaper and more sustainable (Picture: Alamy)

Growing organically

The organic ethos is at the heart of Rekha’s gardening, she says. ‘Each technique I adopted was a small step towards sustainability.’

Homemade compost

Ordering compost for my beds would be unsustainable and expensive, so I make my own. When I started, I had just one cone-shaped bin. In went most of the annual weeds I cleared, although not the perennials; those, like invasive bindweed (Convolvulus) I disposed of at my council’s green waste site. Now I have four bays, which produce enough compost for a quarter of the plot, while the rest of my allotment is enriched with green manure.


Plants love water, particularly pure, untreated rainwater. Water butts are the best way to catch and store this precious, free resource, and mine collect rainwater via downpipes 
from both the shed and greenhouse roofs.

Organic feed

I make my own feed, which I give to my flowering and fruiting plants. It’s so simple to make. Add enough nutrient-rich nettle tops or comfrey leaves to almost fill a bucket, weigh them down with a brick, then top up with rainwater. Cover with a lid, leave for six weeks, strain, and it’s ready to use: combine one part feed to ten parts rainwater in a watering can and apply once a week, once flowers start to form.

Green manure

Crops deplete the soil of nutrients, but green manure plants put the goodness back. In winter, I sow a green manure crop – field beans with deep roots, Italian rye grass, or phacelia – over any bare ground. The plants protect the soil, while their roots draw nutrients up into the leaves. Then, in spring, I dig over the top growth back into the soil, where the plants rot down, ready to feed my vegetable crops. I sow more green manure in summer: at this time, buckwheat is ideal for covering bare ground and suppressing weeds.

Take care when choosing pesticides, they could harm beneficial insects like bees (Picture: Alamy)

Crop rotation

Vegetables from the same family group are best grown together, but they also tend to suffer from the same pests and diseases. To prevent these building up, I move each crop family to a different position on the plot each year. My system is very basic: I divide the long plot into four sections and allocate one to each group. I then move each group around the plot and after four years, it is back in its original position. Legumes, for example, leave behind beneficial nitrogen, so I plant nitrogen-hungry brassicas where they grew. Potatoes always follow brassicas, while onions appreciate the crumbly soil of last year’s potato bed.

Pest control

Even after pests destroyed some of my first crops, I’ve never used off-the-shelf pesticides, which contain chemicals that can harm beneficial insects.

Instead, I encourage diversity by growing different flowers amongst the vegetables, which help attract predators for any would-be pests.

Cabbage white butterfly caterpillar on a Brussels sprout leaf

Cabbage white butterfly caterpillar on a Brussels sprout leaf (Picture: Alamy)

For slugs and snails, I sink a container into the soil, fill it with the cheapest beer then cheer when I find molluscs floating on the surface. To prevent cabbage white butterfly from laying eggs on my brassicas, I drape soft netting over canes topped with bottles, and secure it with tent pegs. Henry, my trusty hawk kite, takes care of the bigger flying pests – especially pigeons. In summer, I water the greenhouse floor and leave out a bucket of water. This discourages spider mites, which love dry heat and hate humidity.

Preventing disease

Good ventilation, whether outside or indoors, is the key to disease prevention. Dampness that persists on leaves and stems can encourage the spread of fungal spores, but leaving space between plants encourages good air circulation, movement, and water evaporation. When watering, aim the flow at the base of the plant, where it’s needed, to avoid splashing the leaves.

Companion planting

Growing beneficial plants next to crops is a chemical-free method of attracting natural predators and controlling pests. Calendula flowers and foliage repels aphids, borage is a bee magnet, while herbs such as mint and chives not only add flavour to dishes but keep pests from attacking brassicas and carrots.

Rekha’s Kitchen Garden by Rekha Mistry (DK, £18.99)

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