Spring is now well in its stride and the fun kids have started to arrive at the garden party. Not the early, hardy stalwarts like cabbages and swedes; this exotic, heat-loving bunch (sweetcorn, French and runner beans, courgettes and pumpkins) live fast and die young. They’re quick-growing, subtropical veg that go bananas in the extra daylength of a northern summer. Remember, just like the cool kids, don’t ever make them doubt they want to be there; which with these means keep them nice and warm and growing steadily. They will reward you with incredibly quick growth and an abundance of tasty produce. So get sowing!
Courgettes – non-gardeners are frequently amazed that a courgette doesn’t have to be a boring old dark green truncheon. There are yellow ones, round ones, stripy ones and more – all easy to grow and all difficult to find in the shops. Sow two seeds in a 3 in (9cm) pot and remove the weaker seedling if both germinate. It’s worth remembering that courgettes are very quick to fruit, so you can sow a few different varieties over the next couple of months and pull out the plants as they get tired (or if you get tired of eating them!).
Sweetcorn – these really are the best veg to grow at home. This is because they lose flavour from the moment they’re picked – it’s an old gardening cliché that you should boil a pan of water before you go out to pick them so you can cook them straight away. Luckily today there are lots of great new varieties such as the ‘supersweets’ and ‘tendersweets’ which have much better flavour than the old cultivars. Sweetcorn hates root disturbance so sow it in old loo rolls or modules in the greenhouse, or hold off till mid May and sow them outside.
Pumpkins and squashes – some hard-won advice – don’t plant too many – they take up tons of room! Sow them as for courgettes. They grow really well on compost heaps if you’re short of space; if you’re feeling adventurous try growing a giant pumpkin – the biggest recorded pumpkin weighed nearly ¾ of a tonne!
Runner beans – the kings of the summer vegetable garden come in lots of different varieties. If birds tend to peck the flowers in your garden, try a white-flowered one such as ‘White Lady’. Some varieties are ‘stringless’, such as ‘Lady Di‘. Sow them as for sweetcorn.
French beans – so tasty, so easy. Sow in trays or modules, or wait till late May to sow outside – they really hate cold wet soil. Lots of choices, flat pods, ‘pencil’ pods, green, yellow or purple beans: just like courgettes it’s worth making a couple of small sowings between now and mid July to avoid a glut then a famine.