Friday, 17 March 2017

Getting your allotment or vegetable patch started

Allotment prepared
If you've just decided to create a veg garden, taken on a new allotment plot, or are just getting your existing plot started again after winter, the better your preparation the better the results will be. So what do you need to do to get your vegetable garden or allotment going?

To grow your own fruit and veg, or salad crops is fun and satisfying. Whether it's a few pots, a patch in the garden, a kitchen garden, or a large allotment, I recommend giving it a go.
 
Whatever you choose to grow, and however successful you are, it is likely to be the freshest produce you will ever eat, since you can either eat it as you pick it, or at the very least, get it from plant to plate in a short period of time. In the age of large scale farming, supermarket standardisation, questions about sustainability and the concerns some have about genetic modification and pesticide use, you can retain almost total control over what goes into the production of your own crop. Above all, fresher tastes better!
 
Its up to you how much you can or will do, but for good results, you do need to do some planning and preparation:
 
1. Planning
Work out what you want to grow, and where you are going to grow them. Will your plot be purely functional or are you arranging things to look attractive as well? I'm entering my third year on my allotment and I'm still working on the layout. I have my plan, but such was the state of the plot when I started that I am still bringing more of in under control, step by step, to fulfil my vision of four beds intersected by two crossing paths, and spate fruit beds at either end.
 
You can keep things really simple by planting everything in rows one after the other, but to reduce the risk of diseases long term you can establish a basic crop rotation plan. This means dividing your plot into 4 areas, growing a different group of crops in each area, and then each year rotating them so nothing grows in the same area two years running.
 
There are also potential benefits from growing certain groups in an area that specific other groups occupied the previous year. For example, peas and beans leave additional nitrogen in the soil which can benefit cabbages and broccoli. The idea then is to have a rotation where the cabbages and other brassicas move into the space occupied the previous year by peas and beans, which move to the bed which previously hosted onions and leeks. The onions take over the space vacated by root crops like carrots, parsnips and beetroot, while these move to the former site of the brassicas. Fruits can be grown in a separate area apart from this rotation system.
 
A simple crop rotation follows this sequence:

Brassicas >> Legumes & pods >> Alliums >> Root crops >> Brassicas

For detailed advice on crop rotation you can visit the RHS website.
 
 

Green Fingers Tip
GREEN FINGERS TIP
GREEN FINGERS TIP: In your plan, allow for several rows or areas of the same crops. Making repeat sowings will mean you can harvest them at different times and enjoy them for longer. Aim for several rows of each crop if you can, to be planted a few weeks apart.
 


2. Prepare the ground 
The better you can prepare the ground, the better your crops will respond. Depending on the state of your plot at the end of winter, you might need to break up the ground and loosen the soil, weed it, and improve the growing conditions by adding nutrition or improving the soil structure. But doesn't that mean loads of back breaking digging and hard work? Well it doesn't have to.

You may well enjoy the exercise that gardening offers, and be happy to dig, break up and rake over the ground several times. Such hard work will be rewarded,  but if you can't manage that, or don't want to, there are alternatives. Charles Dowding advocates the "No-Dig" approach on his website, and I have been interested to see others like Richard Chivers at the Sharpen Your Spades blog are giving it a go. The idea is essentially to feed the soil from the top by mulching, and allow the worms and other organisms to work the goodness into the soil naturally rather than dig it in manually. After all, this is what happens when nature is left to its own devices.

Personally I'm happy to dig up the weeds, break up the clods of earth with a fork and then rake the ground to remove remaining weeds and create a loose even topsoil ready for planting. Bear in mind that there is no point getting too hung up on removing every single weed, but be aware that every one you leave will come back and need removing later.

I spread manure or compost and rake it into the ground slightly to improve the structure and nutrition. This also improves the drainage, which is helpful on my plot. I intended to do this preparatory work gradually over the winter, but such has been the weather and the condition of the soil, that I have waited until the last few weeks to really work on it.

3. Protect your crops

Allotment protected by netting
Allotment protected by netting
Once the ground is ready to plant in you can get sowing. If the weather has warmed the soil enough you can sow some seeds direct in the ground. Others are better for being sown indoors and planted out later. Whatever you are growing I recommend protecting them with some netting, particularly during the early weeks. Various predators may take a liking to your crops, especially young plants, whether it's slugs and snails, caterpillars, birds or mice, it's probably worth rigging up some sort of netting over them to make sure you get to eat your fair share at least. The height of the netting will depend on what you are growing.  
 
 
Lastly, if you are new to growing vegetables, take your time. Don't try and do too much too soon. Do what planning and preparation you can but get something in the ground as soon as you can, and then build up as you go along. You can add more when you are able.

To let me know how your plot is coming on, and what you are growing and when you are planting them out, please leave a comment below or contact me via twitter @PlanPlantPrune. Good luck everyone!

2 comments:

  1. Sound advice! I honestly think that we are never done with redesigning our plots - probably because our requirements change over time. Once upon a time I grew peas, then I had kids and there was no time for podding peas. Now we all love pea shoots, so I grow peas again, but not in the garden for pods.

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    1. Thanks Sarah. I find lots of people think its tricky or hard work to grow stuff, and I'm on a mission to convince them it can be really easy. My kids love eating snap peas straight from picking. And although at the moment they barely leave the Xbox, you just know that means one day they will want to grow their own - which must be a good thing.

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