There is most definitely a resurgence in the home-grown vegetable and long may it last, but for many, not knowing where to start or what to grow can make it all seem a bit time (and space!) intensive.
There are always draws on our time, work, kids commitments, mortgage, bills but if you make one new years resolution this year, then make it a positive one – “This year I’ll grow something to eat”. If you’ve not tried growing it alone, then now’s the perfect time of year to have a go, I did and I haven’t regretted it one bit.
Vegetable gardening can deliver results with only a few hours effort a week (in fact the smaller the patch the less work you’ll need to put in). Yes, you do need to keep up with your patch, but it needn’t dominate. Even if you only grow a handful of fruit or vegetables, they will be amongst the best you have eaten by far, the true fruits of your labours! The beginning of the year is a great time to start, the garden will be dozing, so maintenance should be at a low, plus you can actually get the weather to do some work for you.
Selecting the right spot for you patch is all important but be aware that what seems good at this time of year may not be best later in the season. The plants need daylight so observe the suns movement over any prospective patch, remember the sun is lower in the sky now so what might appear to be in shade, may in fact be in sunny during the main growing season. By the same measure be aware that most of the trees will have lost their leaves, so light will penetrate where it will be blocked by the canopy later in the year. Shelter is important too, many of the ‘above ground’ crops don’t take too kindly to being battered by the wind as their roots need a stable footing.
Once you’ve selected your location then measure out your bed (or beds if you more space) with string. The length should be as long as you can comfortably fit in the space you have however keep the width to 4-5 feet – you will need to reach the middle from the edge of bed preferably without needing to tiptoe through your turnips.
The next step is breaking the ground. This is likely to be the most heavy duty job you’ll need to do in growing your own vegetable, but it’s worth taking some time and getting it right at the beginning as you’ll save yourself time in the long run.
When I opened my beds it was on rough grass, it had all manner of weeds in there, you however may be lucky and have selected an area of cultivated land, but you’ll still need to follow the basics. There are no short cuts here I’m afraid
• Pick a good day for digging – it’s not always possible to find a good dry spell, but frozen ground or soaking wet days should be avoided. The former will result in somewhat jarred muscles, and the later will mean you return to your house in fashionable 4 inch muddy platform heels.
• Pick the right spade for you. I’m large enough to comfortably handle a normal sized spade, but I will use a smaller, border spade if it’s going to be tough going.
• Dig with the spade to about one spades depth and don’t skim the surface or you’ll simply top the weeds, which for perennial weeds means they will come back with vengeance in spring.
• Remove all weeds totally at this stage. Annual weeds could be left but it’s unlikely you’ll be able to tell what’s what at this time of year so remove them all to be safe. Be meticulous; if you think its hard work then try weeding a dock out of your young veggies later in the season and you’ll see why.
• Don’t worry about breaking up the clods of soil at this stage (unless there’s a juicy weed root in there). Leave the winter weather and Jack Frost to have a go at it first.
• Don’t feel the need to clear every pebble or rock out of the bed, pick out any large ones that come to the surface. Pebbles don’t grow so you can pick them off as the year progresses if you want to.
• Don’t be tempted to set about it with a rotovator, all you'll end up doing is chopping up all the weed roots and increasing the weed problem later in the season
• Don’t overdo it. It can seem like a mammoth task but work your way along gradually and systematically. Set yourself achievable targets, if you don’t think you can do it all in one go then don’t try to. Reward yourself with a hard earned brew at regular intervals and remember when you stand there, that anything is possible with a cup of tea in your hand.
Once the digging is done you may want to edge the beds in some way. I’ve edged each of my beds with 6 inch wide tantalized planks held in place with wooden stakes. The boards are sunk 2 inches into the ground. I have creeping buttercup and couch grass in the garden and I’ve found I can significantly reduce it from straying relentlessly into my beds by using the sunken plank method. It also provides a hard edge I can mow up to on the path side, and plant up to on the bed side, maximising my growing space.
That’s it, job done, the weather will set to work on breaking down the large clods of earth and you can retire to the warm indoors and start pawing over the seed catalogues and dreaming of the salad days ahead.
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ChickenStreet '...a passion for plants and poultry'
Member since: 19th May 2011
Freelance writer for country, environmental, gardening & poultry magazines (incl Oswestry based Country & Border Life).