AT this time of year, no-nonsense TV gardener Christine Walkden’s dining room table looks like a potting shed paradise, disappearing under a sea of seed trays, plant pots and other bits and pieces to encourage young
plants into growth. Some of the space will be taken up with the summer veg she’ll be growing this year including tomatoes, runner beans and sweetcorn, her three favourites.
“Runner beans are easy if you don’t start them off too early,” says Walkden, author of No-nonsense Vegetable Gardening. “People tend to sow them too early and then they get hit by the frost and the cold weather. I always sow mine, at the earliest, the first week in April under protection. Outside, they can still go in in May or June and you’ll have a crop by August.”
Runner beans need a sunny, well-drained spot which shouldn’t be overly manured or you’ll encourage a lot of leaf rather than fruits, she notes. “Either put them up tripods or beanpoles or train them along chicken wire. In a small garden you can grow them in containers. If you put a few plants in a 12-inch container you’ll get a decent crop. Use John Innes No 2 or a good quality multi-purpose compost.”
Walkden, whose favourite varieties include ‘Red Rum’, doesn’t feed her runner beans in the ground at all but she does add a lot of organic matter each year. However, growing them in pots you need to feed them weekly with a tomato fertiliser. It’s rich in potash which promotes flowers or fruit.
She grows sweet peas with them, to encourage pollinating insects to the plants, prompting a better crop. “Don’t overwater them while they are growing, but water them once they start flowering and continue while you’re harvesting,” she advises. “People who overwater them early on will get lots of foliage but few flowers.”
Sweetcorn is another of her favourite summer veg. “I love the flavour of sweetcorn, roasted or steamed or barbecued straight off the plant. There’s nothing like it. If you’ve had shop-bought sweetcorn and then grow your own, you won’t know it’s the same veg.”
Sweetcorn shouldn’t be sown before early April under protection, or late May outside. Don’t let them become too wet if they’ve been sown under protection. “I always put my pumpkins and squashes underneath them to save space and both do well together. Again, I use John Innes No 2.” Keep the plants weeded, water them regularly once the cobs have started to form and they will be ripe when the tassels at the top of the cob start to go brown. Sow in late April or May and you should be able to harvest in late July or August.
Tomatoes provide a real taste of summer and Walkden only grows one variety, ‘Sungold’, a cordon type producing orange-coloured cherry tomatoes. “I’ve tried lots of other varieties such as ‘Tumbler’ and ‘Brandywine’ but they don’t taste of anything.”
She doesn’t have a greenhouse but sows her tomatoes from seed in plastic pots on the dining room table, transplants them into individual pots in multi-purpose compost when they’re an inch high and then around a month later she puts them into a cold frame to harden them off, planting them out in late May or early June. By the end of May or beginning of June, Walkden should be able to see her dining room table again - as her plants begin to flourish outside.