Now let’s get busy on some marvellous veg that you can grow outside, or in pots big and small, or (in the case of pea-shoots) just in an old butter-container on your kitchen window!
Getting Hold of Seeds
It is a very common rookie mistake to sow too many seeds at once. You DO NOT need to sow all the seeds in the packet at once, or even half of them – you’ll end up wasting dozens of good plants if they all come up, because they will be too crowded for space and you’ll have to ‘thin’ them, if you are to get any crop at all. Much better to sow a few, sow a few more the next week, and a few more the week after – it’s called ‘successional’ sowing, and will keep you in veg all summer when it’s done in an organised fashion.
Dwarf Runner/French Beans
This is the perfect time to sow some delicious dwarf beans because the soil has now warmed up a bit. They hate things soggy and cold (don’t we all!) Dwarf beans are great because they don’t need all the faffing about with supports that taller runner beans need. And even more good news, they are brilliant to grow in pots wherever you have the space for one.
Start them off indoors by sowing the seeds into compost in individual modules or little pots (yoghurt pots with a hole in the base, are fine) about 2″ (4 cm) deep. Water with tepid water, but don’t keep the compost permanently wet, or your seed may rot. Leave them to germinate on a windowsill – it takes between a week and fortnight usually.
They’ll grow quite quickly, but you mustn’t put them outside permanently until they have been ‘hardened’ off i.e. put outside for a short while each day to get acclimatised to cooler air, and brought in at night. Slowly leave them out for longer and longer – too much of a shock and they will repay you by promptly dying! They can’t take any frost, but should be ready to stay in their outdoor space by the end of May in most parts of the country.
Plant them in a warm sheltered place and light soil if you can manage it, with 6-9″ (15-20cm) between plants, and 18″ (45 cm) between rows. Go for a similar spacing if you’re growing them in a pot. A few twiggy sticks might help them to stay upright. And watch out for slugs – they love ’em! Put down organic slug bait or make beer-traps for them – pots of beer round your plants that are sunk into the ground, that the beasties fall into and then drown – what a way to go!
You should be picking beans by the middle to end of July, and just keep on picking them to encourage more to form. Don’t leave them to get dry and hard, unless you want dried beans for the winter months. If so, chop the plants down to the bottom of the stems in September, hang the stems upside-down to dry in the sun; when the pods are crispy-dry, pop out the beans and store them in an airtight container to use in stews. You don’t use the whole pods that you were picking to eat earlier in the year. How about saving a few to sow next year as well?
If there’s one crop that I CANNOT resist when I am wandering around the garden in the summer, it is fresh peas! Straight from the pod, they taste of a freshness and sweetness that you simply never get, no matter how well they have been frozen. They don’t often actually reach the kitchen……….
I like to soak the seed (dried peas) for a few hours before sowing just to soften the outer coat a little. It’s a handy way of telling which ones are worth sowing as well – after 15 minutes, the ones that are still floating are very unlikely to germinate. You could even try a few from a bag of dried peas from a supermarket packet – much cheaper as well!
When it comes to sowing, they don’t need lots of mollycoddling and are well-suited to our UK climate. They don’t mind a bit of shade (but are a bit grumpy on chilly, wet soils) and don’t need a lot of fertilising etc. They are super to grow in pots or patio bags outside as well.
Make a flat trench about 2″ (5 cm) deep and 6″ (15 cm wide) in your chosen spot. Sow your seed evenly along your trench, about 3″ (7-8cm) apart. Cover them with soil and firm them in. Use the same spacing and depth if you are sowing into a pot. A bit of netting is a good idea, to keep the birds off your precious seeds. Sow more in about a fortnight’s time, and then again a fortnight after that. Water the area, and they should germinate in a couple of weeks at most.
After that, it is just a matter of giving them something to scramble up – netting, trellis, canes and string….., watering them more when you start to see flowers, and harvesting the pods regularly (YUM!) to keep them producing more.
VERY short of space? How about growing fabulous pea-shoots in a little tray. You can even do this during the winter indoors, because peas are one of the few veg crops that don’t need huge amounts of sun. Almost any container will do, as long as it has drainage holes in the bottom, and will be fine outside in a shady spot, or inside in a cool place. Fill it with compost, water it, and then sow your seeds close together over the top. Cover with half an inch of compost, firm it down, and then all you have to do is keep the compost moist, and start harvesting your delectable pea-shoots in about 3 weeks. Sow a few every 5 days or so, and you’ll have pea-shoots to have in your salads all summer long – they look so pretty too!
Carrots are another brilliant thing to grow in pots, I reckon. They can be very choosy as to soil (not stony, not heavy, not too acid or alkaline, not too dry, blah, blah). Critters attack them when they are out in the veg patch – eelworms, carrot root fly….(I don’t think it is JUST me!) But when they are growing in a pot, planter, window-box, tub etc., you can control all of those things. If your chosen container is at least 12″ (30 cm) deep, you can grow almost any variety of carrot. If it’s shorter than that, then go for shorter varieties like ‘Chantenay’ or ‘Nantes’ or even some of the miniature “Amsterdam’ kinds.
Fill the container with as ‘light’ a compost mixture as you can manage – adding perlite, vermiculite or sand to the compost will be really appreciated by the growing carrots. Water the soil then sprinkle some of your seeds over the surface and cover with a fine layer of compost. The pot should be in a sunny, sheltered spot. Sow more in different containers each week for a month, if you can.
Water the pot regularly once you see the seed has germinated, and as soon the plants are 2″ (5cm) tall, pull out some to leave about 4″ (9 cm) between each one – try not to disturb the roots of the ones you’re leaving in when you do this – the smell of the baby carrots tends to attract the attention of a very tiresome pest called Carrot Root Fly……… You can eat the tiny ones you pulled out, of course! Make sure the soil stays right over the growing root or it goes all green and bitter at the top. You should be pulling your first proper carrots about two and a half months from sowing them.
You can have the whole Beginner’s veg growing campaign at your fingertips by getting this, our handy pocket-sized book at our online shop here.
If you missed the first four posts in our Beginners Veg series, you can read them here:
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