Growing Your Own Vegetables - Runner Beans, Tomatoes, Lettuce
3rd Aug 2002
Although one could say that the month of August is probably the easiest month in the vegetable garden, it can also be the most worrying. A lot of vegetables are now approaching maturity and great care must be taken to ensure that we look after them right to the end. It's a worrying time as well because many of us decide to go away on holidays and therefore some arrangements have to be made to look after the crops. In this case there is nothing quite like having a good friendly neighbour to tick things over by making sure that everything gets watered, particularly in the greenhouse as well of course as harvesting any crop that is ready to eat.
I shall soon be having my first feed of the Runner Bean variety Enorma, this one really crops well for me and this year, considering how cold and wet June was in Anglesey, I had an exceptional set on the flowers. Very often Runner Beans set poorly when the difference between day and night temperatures fluctuates a lot. At this time, the flowers drop off the truss being unable to set and you end up with a very poor harvest. Attracting the bees is always essential as Runner Beans need them to thrive by having the flowers set when they forage in and out of the flowers gathering nectar. This can often be achieved by sowing a row of annual gypsophilia along the row, just under the plants to attract them. This of course is one vegetable that will really get into overdrive if your friendly neighbour removes all edible pods while you are away. It is a must with this crop, failure to remove them on a regular basis will switch the plant over to seed production and before you know it, you will be harvesting hard, bumpy leathery pods.
Good deep soil is essential if you are to get a really bumper crop of beans and this can best be achieved by thoroughly preparing a deep trench in the Winter. I am lucky enough to have access to some well rotted farm yard manure and a good six inch layer of this will go in the bottom of the trench before it"s closed up again. This means that in the first year the real benefit of the manure will not be fully realised until the second year when the trench is dug out once more and the old manure in the bottom brought back to the top; that's when you really reap the benefit when this is broken down and thoroughly forked or rotovated in.
Runner Beans need plenty of water to boost the crop and the manure at the bottom of the trench will always retain some moisture, even in the driest of summers. Mulching is also a great help and a minimum of two inch thick wads of straw laid on the ground, and in and around the beans, will most certainly help. Mulching helps by keeping the water in, as well as keeping the weeds down. Do remember however that it only works well when you lay the wads of straw down after a good shower of rain when the ground is nice and moist. There is of course a further bonus because at the end of the season the straw can be dug into the ground creating eventually more humus in the soil.
The indoor growing tomatoes should be yielding some nice fruit by now but don"t relax at all with the liquid feeding. Early on I do give my plants a couple of liquid feeds of a high nitrogen ratio to really get them moving along. However, at this time of year, and right from the day they set fruit, I give them a liquid feed that has a higher ratio of Potash in it such as Tomorite or Phostrogen tomato feed. I feed my tomatoes every time I water them and that is nearly daily, but I only give them the feed at half the recommended dose rate. One thing to remember with tomatoes, they are not so tender that they need to be wrapped up in cotton wool. From now on open up all the vents and leave the door fully open as well to allow in plenty of air to circulate around the plants. In addition to the above I also remove, very carefully, two panes of glass, one either end of the greenhouse at floor level to make sure that plenty of air is drawn in and around them.
If you have a problem with birds entering the greenhouse and pecking away at the fruit, then it's worth while making a rough frame with some roofing battens covered over with enviromesh that fits into the door frame. The main reason for allowing plenty of air in is to try and prevent the plants from getting the disease Botrytis. In humid warm conditions with doors and windows shut, this can ruin a crop, the tomatoes will be dropping off the plants as well as ghost spots appearing on the tomatoes. The variety Shirley is a good heavy cropping variety with the added benefit that it really tastes nice as well. There is only one drawback with this cultivar, it crops so heavy that it has a tendency for the weight of the crop to tear away the truss from the main stem. I always anticipate this happening and to prevent it, I tie some string a third down the trust and attach it to the main stem, just above a strong leaf joint.
As you are harvesting your potatoes, more room becomes available in the vegetable plot and this valuable space has to be utilised to it's maximum. A favourite sandwich of mine is one packed full with fresh lettuce and there is still time to sow some cut and come again varieties. These are now sold as a mixture where they have a range of different types put together in one seed packet. The idea with these is not to grow them to maturity but rather to cut the foliage with a pair of scissors when the tops are about 4 inches tall. The remaining plants will grow on again and keep producing delicious young leaves. If you are going to grow them after the potatoes they should grow away quite well without any need for further fertilisers.
Suttons have prepared some young seedlings that you can order now, they will be sent through the post in cells of forty. The varieties in each cell will be mixed and consist of some or all of the following varieties - All the year round, Bakito (an upright dark red Cos) Little Gem (my favourite for taste of all the lettuces) Frisby and Lollo Rosso. Whilst these are now very popular in supermarkets being sold in clear sealed plastic bags, they are definitely no substitute to your own, fresh from the garden.