Tuesday 20 March 2018

Grow your own - on a small scale

Plant of the week- Acer palmatum 'Katsura'
Plant of the week- Acer palmatum 'Katsura'

Andrew Collyer - Practical Gardening

For many years probably the single most annually made gardening promise to oneself is 'I must start a vegetable garden this year' or as I prefer the more inclusive term kitchen garden. An admirable promise. Probably the single most annual reason for failure to achieve your much vaunted kitchen garden is dreaming too big. Nothing wrong with big dreams again admirable but a dose of reality needs to be sprinkled on these dreams to bring them to reality. While you can create a low maintenance ornamental garden, low maintenance not no maintenance, a low maintenance kitchen garden is impossible.

The first problem is in the term 'kitchen garden', garden suggests a sizable area. Unless you are really committed let's forget that and I would suggest that even if you are really committed you should still forget that. Year one can develop into year two and three and bigger and better, don't let year one develop into the only one year.

In my opinion a two metre square is quite enough area to start with for growing vegetables for the novice kitchen gardener. And that's the key with not just gardening but most things in life, a little success and achievement encourages enjoyment, satisfaction and fulfillment. Which should be one of the reasons you are growing your own food and you might, given a little time and practice, even get quite good at it. If you are veg growing to save money you won't do it but you can try to grow organically and eat the freshest food available. So whether you open up a small patch of lawn, create a raised bed or grow in pots and containers start small, a practice year, and see how it goes.

Once you have accepted that you will be growing on a small scale to begin with decide on your location. All kitchen crops like good quality soil that isn't overly wet in a sunny sheltered spot. If growing in an area of existing grass it is better to strip this off first. The arising sods of turf can be turned upside down on your compost heap. Then dig this area over incorporating plenty of organic matter and blood, fish and bone fertiliser at a rate of 35 grams per metre. Ideally this should have been done at the beginning of winter to allow the soil to weather.

If creating a raised bed good imported soil will probably be needed. A depth of 450mm is ideal. When filling the bed layer soil and organic matter over four courses. Walk over each layer to lightly compact to stop shrinkage. Pots and containers can be filled in the same way firming as you fill. Don't be tempted to use a peat based compost only as this tends to be too light in structure to make it suitable for veg growing.

Next what to grow. I would suggest you try to grow things you like to eat, it would seem to make sense. Easy crops include lettuce, radishes, beetroot, French beans, courgettes which do take up a lot of space though and the old humble potato. For the newcomer buying seedling plants known as plug plants is easier than trying to grow from seed. These are widely available in many vegetable types in garden centres. Because you are starting with something that is tangible it is much easier to manage.

Slugs can be a major adversary in your battle to get pasted the seedling stage. Slugs pellets, slug pubs, coarse grit, egg shells, copper wire no matter what your defense system you construct a few always seem to get through. Be vigilant.

Regular weeding is also essential, turn your back for a week in summer and you will be searching for your crops beneath a tropical canopy. Succession cropping can be implemented by replanting areas that have finished producing. Remove the old stems and roots and lightly cultivate adding a little fertiliser and replant. It is recommended not to grow the same species of veg in the same areas for more than two years because of disease and nutrient requirements but to be honest in small plots this can be unavoidable sometimes.

Gorey Guardian