Six steps that will help you grow your own vegetable patch | Daily Mail Online
Anyone, anywhere can do it — no garden is too small.
A window box or pot is ideal for herbs that transform dishes and a patch of ground a metre square will provide salad leaves all year.
I have seen spritely 90-year-olds digging on allotments and three-year-olds helping to plant rows of beans.
- Follow the sun to pick your plot.
Vegetables all grow best in good soil that is free-draining with direct sun for at least half the day - preferably longer.
- Getting warm!
A greenhouse is best, but cold frames are very good and a porch or spare windowsill is perfectly workable.
When they have germinated and are reasonable sized seedlings, put them outside to harden off before planting them out at 22cm (9in) spacing when the soil is warm and they are big enough to withstand any kind of slug or snail attack.
- Mulch to do.
The best soil is rich in humus or organic matter that comes from the roots of plants and the addition of decaying plant material such as compost or manure.
If you can’t dig, a mulch on the surface will do the job and work into the soil, albeit more slowly.
Root crops such as carrots and parsnips grow best in soil that is very free draining and hasn’t had fresh organic material added in the past year. That’s because it can cause roots to fork and split and encourage lush foliage at the expense of the roots.
So it’s a common practice to heavily enrich one third of the plot for potatoes, legumes and salad crops, and to top up another third with a mulch of good compost, which is good for brassicas such as cabbage, cauliflower and broccoli plus alliums such as onions, leeks and garlic.
The third section is left unenriched and used for root crops, such as carrots. This last one becomes the first next year — so is heavily enriched; last year’s first gets a top-up; and the one that was second (brassicas and alliums) is left alone to grow carrots and roots. And so it goes on. In practice, there is usually much more mixing and matching than that and crops are squeezed in among each other. It doesn’t have to be slavishly obeyed, but it is a good guiding principal.
- Easy-reach beds.
Don’t make the beds too wide: 1m (3ft) to 1.5m (5ft) is the maximum workable width, and it is best to keep them to less than 4.5m (15ft) long so they remain quick and easy to walk around.
Mark the beds out with string and dig the ground deeply, adding as much manure or compost as you can obtain. This will raise the surface of the soil. Use bark chippings, paving or grass for the paths.
- Slugs and snails.
The healthiest plants are those that respond best to the situation that they grow in — whatever and wherever it might be. Encourage predators to get rid of pests for you. Thrushes, frogs, toads, beetles, centipedes, shrews and hedgehogs all love eating slugs and snails.
It means avoiding toxic chemicals — ie slug pellets — and a degree of tolerance for collateral damage.
- Sow little & often.
Succession is the key and gives a steady supply of fresh vegetables for as long as possible.
It means sowing two or three batches of your favourite vegetables across the season, so when one batch nears the end, another is ready to be harvested with perhaps a third being sown or grown on.
Start with some fast-growing salad leaves raised indoors in plugs that can be planted out as soon as the ground warms, and follow it with regular additions, raised in plugs and directly sown, until September.
Crops such as peas and beans, chard, carrots and beetroot grow more slowly but can be spread over months to provide two or three overlapping waves of harvest.
Finally there are long, slow crops such as most brassicas, chicory, garlic or celery that will tie up space for most of the growing year.
I always inter-plant these with a fast-growing catch-crop such as radishes or rocket that is ready to eat before it competes with the slow-grower.