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Growing Vegetables – The Ultimate Guide Part 1

growing-vegetables

Getting Started

Creating a garden may seem daunting, but by carefully selecting an area suitable for the plot and discovering the type of soil your garden has will give you more success. Start off with easy crops like salads, radish and herbs then increase your range as your confidence grows. Follow these tips and you can't go wrong.

  • Find a sunny spot sheltered from wind and easy accessible for watering and weeding.
  • Plan the crops carefully adding as much variety as possible. Vegetables are attractive but add more colour in beds by including flowers which in turn will do good as they attract pollinating insects.
  • Planting vegetables together also means that there is little space for weeds to grow and establish themselves. This helps to minimize maintenance but crop size will also be reduced.
  • Densely planted crops need good rich soil so work in plenty of organic matter in the Autumn.
  • Choose varieties with interesting colour and shapes.
  • Don’t plant too close to hedges as this causes shade and takes moisture from the soil.

Soil structure and fertility

A good soil drains well but also retains plenty of moisture that is accessible by the roots. It is easy to dig and full of organisms like earthworms, millipedes, beetles, fungi and bacteria. Organic matter is important as it helps break down the organisms in the soil, to release nutrients and retain moisture. Healthy, fertile soil is dark brown so to improve soil structure dig in loads of organic matter like farm yard manure, horse manure or compost and add to it every year by scattering it as a surface mulch.

Soil pH

It is important to know the ph of your soil to determine whether the soil is acid or alkaline as this will determine the availably of the nutrients and the presence of bacterial organisms or soil borne diseases.

  • 1-6 indicate acid soil
  • pH 7 is classed as neutral
  • 8-14 show the soil is alkaline

Garden soil generally falls between pH 4.5 and pH 7.5. The ideal pH for vegetables is pH 6.5. Applying lime to the soil will increase the pH but lowering the pH is difficult. Over liming of the soil can be harmful and suppresses the availability of minor nutrients, so lime won't be necessary If the plants seem to be growing OK and there is a large worm population, then everything should be all right. Indications of the soil being acid and needs liming are the ‘sour look’ or by moss growing on the surface, weeds like sorrel or docks and vegetation on the soil

A soil test kit can be used to determine the pH. The kit can tell you if the soil is acid but cannot recommend the amount of lime to add.  In our area we have heavy clay soil as we need a quite heavy application about 6-7ozs (230-238grms) per sq meter. Rise the soil pH gradually about pH 0.5 per year and aim to raise to pH 6.5 over several years. Mushroom compost contains chalk and lime. Ground limestone and mushroom compost can be added to your compost heap in small quantities and this would be a means of adding lime to the soil.

Generally lime is added to the soil every 3-4 years. It takes a while to act so it needs to be applied in the Autumn before a lime loving crop like brassicas are planted. Lime is spread on the surface on our heavy soils but it is better to dig it into the soil one spit deep. Never apply lime and fertilizer at the same time as a chemical reaction occurs. Apply lime approximately one month before using other materials. In general lime 6 months before sowing or planting.

How to correct High Alkalinity

High alkaline soils for growing vegetables are not good as they have too much lime. This is not common, which is just as well as correcting high alkalinity is difficult. Working in organic matter will help or working in composted pine needles will help. The fastest way to correct deficiencies in alkaline soil is to use seaweed based foliar feeds. In extreme cases avoid growing acid loving crops. Potatoes or rhubarb like acid soil or grow them in containers or raised beds.

Container Growing

Filling pots, troughs or window boxes with a range of vegetables are one of the best ways for anybody with little or no garden to grow and harvest vegetables. Produce like lettuce, tomatoes, herbs and root vegetables like beetroot, radish, dwarf carrots, will thrive in containers and will make attractive displays on patio window stills or steps. Containers filled with good quality compost are also useful in the garden where you have poor quality top soil or where soil borne pests and diseases make vegetable growing arduous. Containers can sometimes be expensive to buy and fill with compost and without regular watering and feeding they will not grow properly so consider how practical this will be

Tips

  • Keep costs down by recycling pots and containers.
  • Good drainage is important to prevent the soil becoming waterlogged so make sure the pots have holes in them.
  • Large pots hold more soil, take longer to dry out and suit vegetable growing well.
  • Keep an eye out for vegetable varieties suitable for container growing

Drainage

Poor drainage is likely to cause soil infertility. Water logged soil is where the excess water cannot drain away, therefore the spaces between soil crumbs are filled with water and the air is driven out. This makes the root system of plants unable to breathe and bacteria unable to function properly which results in the level of nutrients in the soil falling and the soil structure deteriorating.

Water logged soil is never fertile. Badly drained soil is cold and plants will never thrive. If the soil is waterlogged, drainage is the answer and if water lies on the soil for several days after rain or if you encounter water when digging, 12” deep drainage is necessary. Badly drained soil gives

    • Poor vegetation and plants will have small shallow roots instead of deep roots.
    • Lack of worms.
    • Soil grey or black instead of brown.
    • Smells sour.

Improving Drainage

If poor drainage stems from the nature of the soil (heavy clay soil) then dig in loads of organic matter which will encourage worm activity and this will help to solve the problem. Working in compost over the years will create a fertile, reasonably well drained soil.

Improve soil by Single or Double Digging

Single Digging

This is the usual way to cultivate the soil by digging in organic matter over the vegetable garden. Dig out soil 12” wide, 12” deep and wheel to other end of plot. Dig soil from second trench into first trench and fill first trench. Continue this process until the soil moved from first trench is used to fill the last trench.

Double Digging

Same idea but dig trench 24” wide and two spades deep, then add organic matter to it. Move soil from first trench to last trench. Dig soil from 2nd trench to the first trench and add organic matter to bottom of 2nd trench. Continue until the end of plot and add soil from first trench to last trench.

Cloches and Cold frames

Protect crops from pests and bring on growth in cold weather by using cloches. Cold frames are usually made permanent by using wood or brick structures and glass frames but we can make our own with corrugated plastic. Cold frames are used to protect crops and needs to be in a sunny area. Whole rows of plants can be covered using a tunnel cloche. These can be left open for ventilation or closed off when greater protection is needed. Remember to check for water as rain cannot reach them.

Planning

Make good use of your garden area by drawing a plan of how long each crop will be in the soil and what will be ready to plant after harvesting. Inter cropping is a great way to grow fast growing crops between slow growing plants, before they fill their allotted space. Look at climate conditions and type of soil before starting to ensure a good supply of vegetables. Sow little and often, say every 2-3 weeks so that they reach maturity over a long period.

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