How to start a plot
When it comes to starting a plot for growing vegetables a lot of people are unsure how to do so. Everything I have learned to do has come through 2 ways... the first is through reading books (and when I say reading I mean scanning!!) and the second is through trial and error. Try not to be too disheartened when some things don't turn out as planned because, trust me, not everything does, just take it on board as an experience and learn from it.
Tools & Tricks of the Trade
· Spade – either a plastic or wooden shaft with a steel head
· Fork – again either a plastic or wooden shaft work equally as well with steel tines (prongs)
· Hand Fork – handy for when weeding or unearthing veg.
· Trowel – I used this mainly for potting up seedlings, and then planting them out. It comes in handy for a million other jobs in the garden too.
· Garden Line – to make sure that planting drills as straight as I can get them.
· Shears – a useful tool for pruning and generally tidying up scruffy plants.
· Hoe - the best tool for weeding in larger beds, it also is helpful to mark out drills if you can’t find anything else!
· Rake – mostly used for levelling soil and working it into a fine tilth (fine broken up soil) before sowing seeds directly into the ground.
· Wheel Barrow - Great for lugging all that extra soil, compost and generally anything too heavy around the garden.
· Gardening Gloves – For removing all the hard to deal with plants in the garden such as nettles and briar's.
· Watering Can –This one is really self explanatory!!!!
OK, I am going to keep this as brief as possible as weeds need to be controlled but there is no need to make a song and dance about them.
· Annual Weeds – these are the weeds which germinate and mature in one growing season and die every year. If these weeds are left to survive the season they will produce seed which will mean next season there will be more and more. It’s best to get them out by the root using your hand or the hoe.
· Perennial Weeds – these are the more hardcore weeds. An example would be brambles which a large underground root system which makes them a bit of a nuisance. By digging them you will be more likely to leave roots in the ground and painfully they will grow back again after the back breaking of digging them out in the first place. I have discovered that the best way to tackle them is cover them with black plastic or a bit of old carpet for a few months to starve the weeds of light they will eventually die off. This may take longer than digging them out but saves on the back ache!
If you are starting off a plot from scratch then you will have to be prepared to D.I.G- I’m not going to lie.......it’s tough work but tough work that will pay off in the long run. The good news is that when you dig for the first time, especially if you double dig. If you do this then the work will only break your back just the once. You will have to dig the plot again next year but it will only take a quarter of the effort as the hard work will have already been done!
Some people make the mistake of digging the sod and throwing it away and then digging the soil underneath. However by double digging you turn the sod to upside down onto the soil and allow the material to rot and therefore get the benefit of the nutrients which are naturally abundant in the sod.
How to Double Dig:
2. With your spade mark out a trench about 10 inches wide across the plot by cutting into the ground with the spade. Then lift the sod (just about 3 inches down) and set aside.
Raised beds can be way of eliminating double digging however if it is on grass I would still advise that you turn the sod. Old timber or building blocks can be used for the raised bed, I used some old scaffolding planks for my raised bed. You will need to fill the bed with top soil.
Fertilizing the Ground:
For new plots there is no need to fertilize the ground as it should be full of the right nutrients although you can do so if you would prefer.Make sure that you use well rotted farmyard manure as the ammonia in fresh manure can damage and burn young plants. Using compost is another form of fertilizing the ground.
Over the year it is possible to make your own compost in a compost heap. Using a compost heap is a good way of getting rid of grass clippings, green kitchen waste etc. Air and water are crucial elements in making compost so if you can get your hands on some old pallets they are ideal for making a compost area. you will need 5 pallets one for a base and 4 to make the sides, front & back.
Some great things to add to you compost heap:
Nitrogen Rich Materials:
Green Kitchen Waste
Soft Hedge Cuttings
Carbon Rich Materials:
Things not to put in the compost heap:
Crop rotation is basically growing different vegetables in different places each year so the soil doesn't get worn out from using the same nutrients which can lead to disease setting in. A 4 year rotation is usually the norm but if you have less than 4 beds then just do your best. If you cant rotate beds then make sure that the soil gets a good fertilizing during the autumn and winter so it can recover.
The basic breakdown of crop groups are as follows:
Alliums: Onions, Shallots, Garlic & Leeks.
Brassicas: Cabbage, Turnip, Cauliflower, Swede, Sprouts, Broccoli.
Roots: Potatoes, Carrots, Parsnips, Beetroot, Celeriac
Legumes: Peas, Beans (runner, french, broad)
Others: Sweetcorn, lettuce, squash, spinach, tomatoes.
(the 'others' section can be grown in with any of the other 4 groups)
Instead of using tomato liquid feed I use something just as good..... and its free!
To make this liquid manure you can use either Comfry or Nettles. Both are packed full of nutrients, high in potassium and nitrogen.
To make the liquid manure:
- Shred a large amount of leaves and out them into a large bucket.
- Fill the bucket up with water and let it soak for a week or two.
- The leaves will rot down in the water resulting in a brown (and very disgustingly smelly) liquid.
- This should be diluted as it can be very strong before using.
- It is great for tomatoes, peppers, potatoes and courgettes.