10 THINGS TO KNOW WHEN GROWING YOUR OWN
Fancy trying to grow your own vegetable patch this spring? How about harvesting your own fresh herbs in a window box on your balcony? Well, it seems more and more of us are keen to celebrate seasonal produce and start gardening.
Interest is booming and it’s now fair to say that a green-fingered revolution is underway. So we decided to ask Jez Taylor, Head of the Market Garden at Daylesford, for some gardening tips!
1. What time of the year should you start planting?
When planting vegetable plants and seeds, it is important that the soil is warm enough to affect the growth of the crop.
Soil needs to be at least 80°C. The growing season is when the soil has an average temperature above 80°C, which essentially is the end of March to the end of October.
You can sow seeds earlier especially if you are growing under protection, in a glasshouse, but if you are simply growing outside then start sowing and planting from the beginning of April, being careful not to plant out anything frost sensitive such as courgettes until after the risk of frost has passed.
2. How important is the soil?
Ideal soil for growing plants, particularly vegetables, should be moisture retentive, yet well drained. It should also contain plenty of organic matter or compost, for slow release nutrients, and be free of any perennial weed roots.
Inverting a spade’s depth of soil should be enough depth for growing, but the deeper you dig your soil, the more you can open up the soil, freeing it from compaction, allowing roots to penetrate deeper and thus exploit more nutrition and water.
By incorporating plenty of well-rotted compost into the soil, one can increase moisture retention and food availability. If you have a very heavy clay soil, it may be necessary to incorporate sand to improve soil structure.
3. What are the easiest plants to grow for beginners and why?
It is easier to grow a leaf than to grow a decent root or a fruit. Salad brassicas such as rocket yield a “cuttable” six-inch leaf within six weeks of sowing during the growing season and just require weed free ground and regular water.
Even easier are the “soft” perennial herbs such as mint, chives, sorrel and lemon balm. You can plant them during the non-growing months from November to March and they will slowly root into the soil and spring into life as the weather improves.
Another must-grow leaf is spinach. Sow after mid-May to avoid the plants bolting and you will be rewarded with a harvestable leaf from early July to May the following year.
4. What are the main things a gardener should always to remember to ensure a successful crop?
Pest and disease can undermine the most enthusiastic of new growers. Anticipating particular problems of particular crops helps to avoid disappointment.
Brassicas such as kale and sprouting broccoli need to be protected from pigeons and butterflies. If you notice the lesions of potato blight on your potato foliage then you know it’s time to remove the foliage immediately to prevent the disease getting into the tubers below ground.
Many diseases, such as rust and mildew or even attack from aphid, are due to plants becoming stressed.
This will mainly be due to lack of water, which will often be due to competition from weeds, or neglecting to effectively irrigate crops grown in containers.
Lesson being that effective weeding and watering are essential to minimise stress and avoid disappointing crop failures.
5. What if you don't have an allotment or a space in your backyard but all you have is window box?
If you don’t have an allotment or space in your garden, window boxes can be a great way to grow your own herbs.
Hard herbs such as thyme, rosemary and sage are ideal for the window box because they don’t mind occasional drying out. This is the main problem with the window box method because they offer limited soil in a site that is often exposed.
If space allows and the location has partial shade, so less prone to drying out, then grow other herbs such as mint, parsley, chives and sorrel - the kind of ingredients one just needs small amounts at a time.
Personally, I’d also recommend a box filled with black peppermint, which is great for fresh mint tea pickings throughout the growing season.
6. What should we be planting now?
As the soil warms then small seed crops such as carrots and lettuce could be sown directly into the soil. But for faster growth then the bigger seed crops with large food reserves such as radish, broad beans or mangetout could be tried if space allows.
7. Are there any tips for dealing with slugs naturally?
Wherever you have moisture you have a happy slug habitat. So anything that discourages shade is good to reduce slug-hiding places.
Slugs don’t like crawling over cultivated soil as it dries out quickly in the sun so surrounding your crops with weed free, bare earth when your crops are small is a good idea. It also allows you to see the slugs more easily, thus if necessary removing them by hand.
Once crops are established and quite large, slug damage is less significant. Another way to minimise their impact is to raise large transplants and to wait until temperatures are reliably high – about mid-May. This way plants establish quickly.
8. Is it true that eggshells work against slugs?
Barriers such as crushed eggshell, sand and coffee grounds can deter slugs but only if they remain dry.
A heavy shower can quickly disperse such defences meaning that you would have to keep applying these after rain.
9. Do you have a favourite vegetable that you like to grow?
The orange “red kuri” squash is my favourite as it is reliable.
If you plant squash at the beginning of June and they grow well without being “checked” by slugs, wind or cold weather, then the ground will be covered with a mass of flowering foliage by late July. With average British summer temperatures you can expect three to six good size squashes per plant.
But if the summer is cold and the start of the growing season is slow, you can then sometimes be lucky to get one per plant.
10. Where are the best places to purchase organic seeds?
Tamar Organics - www.tamarorganics.co.uk
Located in Cornwall, they offer a reliable and up to date range of seeds.
The Real Seeds Catalogue - www.realseeds.co.uk
Their seeds have been tried and tested for successful growing in a typical mid Britain climate. Their range of squash varieties is brilliant.
Check out Daylesford for their wonderful homegrown produce. www.daylesford.com
Interview by our online editor Chantal Ouimet