No stately home worth its salt would have functioned without a kitchen garden. Neat rows of carrots and potatoes, beetroot and beans were planted up and tended, year in and year out: those old nurserymen retainers knew their onions when it came to...well, onions.
If you aspire to grow your own garden produce you don't need a three acre walled garden and an army of cap-doffing, horny-handed men of the soil.
A small, sunny patio and an assortment of pots will do. Pots which hold at least ten litres or are about 25cm diameter will suit smaller vegetables. Big plants such as courgettes need at least 15 litres (30cm diameter).
Plastic pots take less watering than terracotta. Fill them with a multi-purpose compost and remember to water plants regularly to keep them moist, but not sodden.
Short-lived leafy or root veg should get all their nutrition from the compost. Fruiting veg such as tomatoes and cucumbers need a high-potash feed, the kind you use on your flowers.
If you have space, a vegetable plot, even one as small as a 3x1.2m bed, should produce regular pickings, at least for the duration of the summer.
The ideal position is sheltered from wind but in sun for most of the day, especially if you plan to grow tender plants like cucumbers and tomatoes.
If the soil already grows flowers or a lawn, it should be fine for vegetables. Make sure it is well drained (rain should soak away in winter) but not too dry in summer.
Dig the area over as deeply as you can – ideally at least a spade’s depth – and work in organic matter such as garden compost or soil conditioner to improve the texture and feed the crops.
If you are serious about growing your own food you might consider taking on an allotment. Try a half plot (about 125 square metres) or smaller to start with and, ideally, go for a recently-worked plot near a water supply.
There’s no better way to ensure children eat healthily than to let them grow their own vegetables.
Tomatoes are an obvious choice, especially cherry types, as little fingers can pick and eat them straight off the plant.
The traditional type of cucumber is a bit unwieldy but look for newer varieties which are ready when they’re just 10cm long.
Vegetables that produce something to eat quickly, such as radish, spring onion, baby carrot and baby salad leaf, are ideal. They should be ready in as little as six weeks in summer.
Food for all
These are some of the easiest and most rewarding veg to start off with. They’ll take up hardly any room in the garden and will give you a rich supply of fresh produce.
Why fork out on salad leaves in plastic bags when you can buy packets of ready-mixed salad seed - or even buy separate packets of seed and make your own mix. Try Little Gem lettuce, red chard, salad rocket and mizuna. You can add other flavours such as coriander or mustard.
Starting in April, scatter seed thinly. Cover with a dusting of compost and water regularly
When plants are 4-6cm high, after about six weeks, cut enough for a meal, about 2cm above the compost.
The stumps should regrow for second or third cuts. Sow plants a fortnight apart to get regular pickings all summer. There are even winter-growing varieties to keep you going all year round.
Carrots can be tricky to grow in the ground; in pots, it's easy-peasy - or rather easy-carroty.
Choose an early variety such as Early Nantes, which will produce baby roots in six to eight weeks. Scatter the seed thinly (aim for roughly 2cm apart) and cover with more compost. Water regularly but not too much.
Baby carrots can be pulled out as soon as they reach about 1cm across. Pull up as many as you need for a meal and then leave the rest to grow on. They’ll push each other apart until they fill the pot.
When you get the hang of this, baby beetroot and radishes can be grown in the same way.
Courgettes will give you a bargain bonanza crop.
Buy small plants from a garden centre in May but watch out for late frosts because they are very sensitive to a cold snap.
Courgettes make large, lopsided patio plants so they’re easier to manage in the ground. But they do need a square metre to themselves.
Give them a good soaking once a week in hot weather to ensure a constant supply and you should be able to get up to 30 fruits off a single plant.
Pick when they reach about 15cm or they’ll turn into marrows and stop producing. When disease strikes in late summer and the leaves die off then it’s time for them to migrate to the compost heap.
Supermarket dwarf beans are expensive and have invariably clocked up thousands of air miles to get onto your plate.
Buy seeds of a small-podded variety such as Safari – these are sold as Kenyan beans - and sow in short rows monthly from late May through July for a regular supply. They take about eight weeks to mature. Once little pods start to form, water weekly in hot weather
Check every other day and pick pods between 10-15cm long
Regimented rows of runner beans may be out but even if the only outside space that you have is a sunny balcony or window box you can still grow your own tomatoes.
Choose a cherry variety such as Gardener’s Delight or the ultra-sweet Sungold, which both need supporting, or the dwarf Tumbler which doesn’t and is good for trouble-free pots.
Start to raise from seed in March on a warm, well-lit, indoor windowsill. Alternatively, buy plants from a garden centre in May.
Provide a cane or stake and train tall plants by nipping out side shoots at the base of the leaves to leave a single main stem and tie this in.
Leave any shoots with flower buds, which will become trusses of fruit. Let the fruits ripen fully in the sun to enjoy that unrivalled flavour.
Potatoes end up in the cooking pot. But did you know that they can also start out in a pot too? Forget the geraniums, this summer, why not adorn your patio with potato plants.
Pick an early variety. You’ll need one seed potato per 10-litre pot. (Seed potatoes are grown to avoid disease and can be bought at a garden centre) Half fill the pot with compost and push the potato just beneath the surface
As shoots start to grow, fill up the pot with compost. Brrrr! Potato leaves are sensitive to frost so cover the young plant at night if it's chilly.
Plant in April and by July, you’ll have lots of egg-sized new potatoes; delicious!