By Jo Poultney
There is a huge variety of vegetables you can grow easily in your garden. Once you have set out your plot and decided what to grow and how, it's time to populate your plot and start growing. However, simply planting vegetable plants into the ground and waiting for them to delivery fresh produce is not enough. Different vegetables like different conditions and some need more nurturing than others. Here are some handy tips on getting the best out of just a few popular varieties.
There is no better sound than the pop of a juicy fat pea pod bursting open to reveal those first few peas of the year. For me peas are the garden's sweets and it is a wonder that any make it back to my kitchen at all! When growing peas make sure you dig the soil well and work in plenty of manure before planting, as peas like rich moisture-retentive soil. Mulching around the base of each plant and regular watering will also help them through dry spells of weather which they dislike. First sowing outside will depend on location but is normally between early and mid-spring. But make sure the soil has warmed up sufficiently first. Peas should be well supported with sticks or stakes, allowing good space for the pods to develop on the plants. Peas are a favourite of birds so it might be a good idea to protect young plants with chicken wire or plastic netting. Harvest the pods regularly to make sure they are at their most fresh and use or freeze as required.
I would always recommend growing runner beans to those who have little experience of growing vegetables. They are easy to grow and require little effort. They look great and yield a big crop over a long period of time. Runner beans have only three main requirements - deeply dug soil, lots of well rotted manure and plenty of water. To grow runner beans you need a good support system. Tall bamboo obelisks or strong hazel sticks will make the perfect structure for them to climb up. Make sure you put your stakes in early and secure them well - it's amazing how strong these plants can become when they are laden with beans! Sow the seeds indoors in early to mid-spring and the young plants can then be planted out at the bottom of each upright support in early summer. Pinch out the growing tips when they reach the top of the support structure so the plants don't become top- heavy. Pick the pods when they are young and before they swell as older pods can be stringy.
You just can't beat the tangy sweet taste of fresh tomatoes straight from the vine. You can grow tomatoes in your greenhouse, in a grow-bag or in the garden. I prefer to grow them in the greenhouse as you are guaranteed a better crop because the plants are not so dependent upon the weather. Don't bother growing tomatoes from seed, they can be fiddly and you always end up with far more plants than you can use or give way, but buy small plants. Gardener's Delight is a favourite variety of mine. This variety produces an abundance of small cherry tomatoes that are very sweet and juicy. Pinch out the growing tip of plants once they have produced five or six healthy looking fruit-bearing side shoots. Water and feed your tomatoes well and they will reward you all summer long.
For the vegetable gardener, potatoes are an easy crop to grow that can be relied upon to produce a good crop. If you don't have the room to grow both early varieties and a maincrop, then my advice would be to stick to early salad varieties. There is nothing more satisfying than digging up the first summer salad potatoes and eating them with a good dollop of butter. Seed potatoes need to be chitted before they can be planted out. That is getting them to sprout short green shoots. Begin planting potatoes from early to mid-spring. The best way is to dig a trench. Handle each potato carefully so as not to knock off any shoots and plant to a depth of about 15cm, with 30cm between each potato. As soon as the shoots appear above the ground start the process of earthing-up by raking the soil around and over them to produce a ridge. This prevents the tubers becoming exposed to the light and turning green which makes them poisonous. Water young plants well to ensure a heavy crop of tubers. Watch out for potato blight which can be a particular problem in warm wet summers and will ruin a crop. Harvesting the first potatoes is like digging for treasure. The crop is ready when the plants have flowered. Choose a warm dry day and scrape away a little of the soil to check is the tubers are big enough. Leave the tubers exposed to the air for a few hours to allow them to dry off. This makes them easier to store.
You might wonder why bother to grow carrots when they are relatively cheap to buy and store well. But I think you have never truly tasted a carrot until you have tasted one you have grown yourself. The flavour is so much sweeter and more intense. Carrots can be sown regularly from March through to July, but don't start too early as the soil must be warm for germination to be successful. Carrots are a vegetable that doesn't like to be transplanted and therefore must be sown directly into the ground. Carrots need a light well-drained soil to prevent club or twisted root formation due to obstructions in the soil. Therefore, it is sometimes more successful to grow them in large garden planters in free-draining sifted compost or soil. Sow carrot seed thinly, but as the seeds are very small this can be difficult, so expect to thin out the seedlings once they emerge. Watch out for carrot fly in early summer. Try growing chives next to your carrots as the smell of the chives is strong enough to mask the smell of the carrots which attracts the fly. When harvesting, leave carrots in the ground until the last possible moment - the fresher they are the better they taste!
Jo Poultney is one of two people behind Garden Planters. I have an RHS general certificate in horticulture. Garden Planters source unusual outdoor and indoor planters, and other garden related gifts - whatever your taste, be it traditional, modern or just a bit quirky, we will have something for you. I believe garden planters are an integral part of any garden - they enhance the overall design and say a little something about the person to whom the garden belongs. If you would like to know more about Garden Planters, visit our website at http://www.gardenplantersshop.co.uk