Dig for Victory - Part 3
16th March 2011
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The frost, wind, sun, and rain of March is all working its magic on the soil in the veg patch, but on good weather days continue to prepare the beds if you haven’t finished yet. Raking will help break the soil down further but again only do this during a dry spell. Work the soil in one direction and then repeat at a right angle making sure you keep the soil level.


I’ve edged each of the beds with 6 inch wide tantalized planks sunk 2 inches into the ground and held in place with wooden stakes. Mt reason for doing this is not purely aesthetic,  I have creeping buttercup and couch grass in the garden and I’ve found I can stop 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. 


Planning the plot
March also provides a great time to plan out your plot and whilst enthusiastically flicking through seed catalogues and gardening magazines is a great way to while away a few hours, it’s a good idea to spend time of time planning out on paper what you are going to do. I’m forever scribbling ideas down on scraps but ultimately it all needs bringing together in one place… this will form the basis of your planting plan and will act as your crib sheet throughout the year.


Whether you are running a 3 bed system like me, or have one bed which you are going to divide up, you will be looking for ‘root’ crops, ‘brassica’ crops and ‘the rest’. So draw out the plot on a piece of paper, add some dimensions and break it into three.


It’s important you know what space you have to play with before rushing into buying sacks full of seeds. It’s also important to know the timing of when you will need to sow, plant out and harvest the crops you select, note down the approximate times and to get the overall picture, map it out on a piece of paper.


‘Cut and come again’ crops such as chard will occupy a space throughout the season,  sugar snap peas however will be cropped before the summer is out and hence this means space is opened up for another crop to be planted. Sweet corn on the other hand will be sown late meaning another crop could be squeezed in and harvested before the corn goes in. These are all things which need to be considered when planning out your plot.


You will also need to consider how you are going to grow your plants. In most books you’ll find guidance along the lines of sowing directly into a prepared seed bed, which you then thin out accordingly and grow on. With a small plot I personally prefer to grow in cells and pots on window sills and then plant out after hardening off. Needless to say this doesn’t work for all types of vegetable (eg potato) so a little common sense is needed.


My reason for this is quite simple…. I don’t like to waste seeds, seeds cost money, and being a Yorkshire man, I don’t like wasting money!  That said, my local weather conditions mean I have frost pockets in the garden. By starting off the plants indoors in cells, it means I can avoid the disappointment of having a row of seedlings wiped out by a late frost. I also have rabbit and vole problems in the garden. Again by getting the plants through that initial fragile stage by growing indoors, it means they have a fighting chance against my garden visitors. As mentioned above, in situations where you will be planting a second crop of veg over an area where one has just been harvested, it also means you have a head start with a growing plant as opposed to sowing seeds.


Potty about pots
I’m a right squirrel when it comes to pots, or things that can be used as pots for my veg seeds. Over the years I’ve acquired all manner of containers for growing seedsl trays and each season they get cleaned out ready for the next. Don’t think you need to go spending huge amounts of money on pots and cell trays – yoghurt pots or juice/milk cartons cut in half can make idea places to sow seeds, the later being square and hence they pack together taking up less space,  so get collecting!

Some veg plants though don’t like their roots to be disturbed hence planting out from a pot can be a source of problems. If you have selected a crop of this nature then a solution is to use a biodegradable pot, which can be planted out with the plant. You’ll see peat, or coir, pots which are specifically designed with this in mind, however there are other cheaper and more sustainable options. Loo roll tubes or kitchen roll tubes cut in half make great pots for starting things like runner beans, and the cardboard will break down into the soil, adding to its structure.


We had the guttering on the house replaced last year (mostly it was torn off by the storms but there lies another tale) and I use a stretch of guttering as a long ‘pot’ to start peas off. Given the earlier mention of my resident vole population who really do have a liking for freshly sown pea seeds, I find the ‘guttering technique’ extremely useful.


Adopting the ‘starting in a pot’ approach does seem to imply more effort, though I’m divided on whether it actually does. Yes there’s the initial outlay on compost, the time required to sow and then later plant out, but balancing this against the more satisfying results, and the fact it sidesteps to an extent the rabbit/vole problem, I find its worth it.


If you decide to follow suit then it’s a good idea to get yourself sorted out with some sort of ‘potting station’ where you can do your seed sowing. This doesn’t need to be a permanent structure, and a few years ago I knocked together a moveable station from some odds and ends of exterior plywood. Basically I was aiming for a design that would sit on a bench or table and ‘contain’ the compost so I could fill the pots without getting muck everywhere. A base with three sides, a place for labels and pens on one edge, and a place for the obligatory cup of tea on the other, and I’d made myself the ideal ‘potting station’. Its strudy enough to hold 50litres of compost comfortably, yet lightweight enough to be moved around when needed


Happy sowing & good luck growing!




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About the Author

Andy C

Member since: 19th May 2011

Freelance writer for country, environmental, gardening & poultry magazines (incl Oswestry based Country & Border Life).

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