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crop rotation

Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials To Help You Grow Your Own Vegetables

March 26, 2021

3 Essentials to Help you Start in the Vegetable Garden

3 Essentials to Help You Get Started in the Vegetable Garden

Have you been planning to grow your own vegetables but haven’t started yet? Perhaps you’ve begun growing your own but aren’t sure if you’re doing the right thing? With all the good intentions in the world, sometimes it’s difficult to take the first steps or spend the time to learn more. Perhaps you’ve just been too busy to start a new project, or you simply don’t know where to begin. If that sounds familiar, here are the three most useful things I learnt when we began working in the vegetable garden that may help you to grow your own successfully.

1. Start Small

Greenside Up: What We Do

Our original vegetable garden eventually became too high maintenance

Even if you’d like to grow lots of veggies, don’t attempt to be fully self-sufficient in the first year. Plan big but start small, only clearing enough space or building enough beds to get you started.

If you clear too much land at once you may find it daunting to keep up as the weeds begin to grow. One of the busiest times of the year isn’t springtime as you might expect with all the sowing and planting, but later during the summer and autumn as you start to harvest and then have to find time to pick, preserve, pickle or freeze your produce. Starting small will allow you to see how much time you have to grow your own food and whether it’s something you’d like to do more.

We began with two beds, increasing ever year until we had 17, but that eventually got too much for us and we’ve had to resort to a smaller growing space again with raised beds for easy maintenance. Don’t be afraid to admit defeat if you’ve overstretched yourself. Learn from it.

2. It’s all about the soil

 

What we add to the soil now will repay us in produce later. As you can see in the short video clip above, fertile soil is vital to our existence. Did you know it takes 2,000 years to create just 10 cm of topsoil? We ignore it at our peril. Adding well-rotted organic matter to the soil in the form of garden compost or old farmyard manure will help to feed it with vital nutrients as well as  help with soil texture and drainage.

You can find a post here that provides a beginners guide to organic matter in more detail.

3 essentials you need to know to help you grow your own

Photo credit: organiccentre.ie

Autumn/Fall is a good time to prepare for the following year as it will allow the microbes, organisms and worms to do their job over winter, incorporating all the goodness you’ve added, back into the soil.

Don’t worry too much if you miss the opportunity to get some winter preparation done, it’s not too late to do it in the springtime. Just leave three or four weeks between preparing the soil and sowing time, which will allow weed seedlings to grow and you to remove them, a technique that’s known as a ‘stale seed bed’. Remember, don’t work the soil when it’s too wet or frozen or you can do more damage than good.

A general guide for adding organic matter is to add about one, big bucketful of well-rotted organic matter per square metre to the top of the soil. If you’re doing this in the autumn, cover with cardboard, weed membrane or black plastic and leave it be until the springtime. Once you’ve removed the cover, if you’re not following the ‘No Dig’ method of gardening, lightly fork any remaining organic matter in, before raking the surface of the soil flat.

One essential soil tip before we move onto the third point, and especially vital to remember if you’re visiting a garden or you could attract a fierce look of displeasure from the gardener: avoid walking on garden soil at all costs as over time it will damage the soil structure and compact. Soil and plants need air for healthy growth. If you have to walk on your soil, place a wooden board down first which will help to distribute your weight more evenly. You can find more soil tips here.

3. Vegetables live in families

3 essentials to help you grow your own

Garlic – a member of the Allium family

It’s generally easier for gardeners if we don’t split up and scatter our vegetables all around the beds. Where possible, plant them in their families. You may have heard of Alliums (onions, garlic, leeks) and Brassica (cabbage, kale, broccoli) but there are several other families too. Here’s a PDF of the most popular that you can print off and keep handy. If you plant vegetables in their families, they will be easier to feed, care for and protect from pests and disease. Planting vegetables in families will also help you to plan and remember where they have grown before as you move them around from year to year in what’s known as crop rotation.

There’s lots more you can learn that will help you to grow your own vegetables successfully such as figuring out what are the easiest or best vegetables to grow, the importance of keeping seeds dry, as well as pests and diseases to look out for. I’ve written several blog posts to help you in your quest to grow your own vegetables, just take a look under the Vegetable Garden Tab here.

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Vegetable Garden

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do Inside

January 18, 2015

Winter GardeningIs there anybody out there digging right now? Brrrrr, just the thought makes me want to pull the duvet snugly back around my legs as I look out of the window at the frost covered grass.

To be honest there’s not a huge amount we can do outside in our gardens or vegetable plots at this time of year, bar winter fruit tree pruning. Soil should never be worked or trodden on when it’s wet or frozen as it can become compacted and it’s still too cold to plant anything outside.

Winter is the time for plotting and planning, cleaning and sorting and in this article there are nine tips to help you with your 9 Winter Gardening Jobs You Can Do Indoorsgardening jobs that can be done from the warmth and comfort of your home, preferably with a steaming cup of tea by your side and perhaps a biscuit or two low-calorie of course 😉

The following suggestions come in no particular order. Just pick which ones take your fancy. If you do manage to spend a bit of time preparing for your spring garden now, you’ll find that all the gardening jobs will be much easier when you do begin work in earnest.

No. 1 – Sort Out Your Seed Box (or Make One)

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do InsideI’ve yet to work with a group that kept their seeds in a tin until I met them. Most produced plastic or paper bags full of packets and it’s something I used to do until I found that it might be the reason my seeds weren’t germinating.

If you want to get the best from your seeds, they need to be kept in an airtight container in a cool environment – not stuffed in a kitchen draw, which is where I used to keep mine.

To make a seed box, all you need is an airtight container, preferably rectangular or square (empty biscuit or chocolate tins are ideal) some cardboard dividers with the months written on them to help you organise your planning dates and some brown envelopes for collecting stray seeds or broken packets. Here’s a post explaining why it’s important to keep seeds in a container. While you’re sorting out your seeds, you might notice that some are out of date. Don’t throw them away, they might still be viable. Click this link for details on how long some of the more popular flower and vegetable seeds last as well as how to do a simple germination test to check their viability.

No. 2 – Order/Buy New Seeds

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsChoosing the vegetable plants you want to grow at the beginning of the year can be fun. It can also be a bewildering headache if you’re not sure what will grow best in your garden.

Fortunately seed shopping has become much easier now we can buy online, allowing us to choose seeds from the comfort of our homes. I’ve used Pinterest to help me with this in the past and I’ve also written a post that explains some of the factors you need to take into consideration when chosing and buying seeds, such as how much time you have to garden, how much space, soil and aspect conditions as well as pests and diseases. Check out the links above for more information.

No. 3 – Sort out the Gardening Tool Bag

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsJanuary is a great month for sorting out the tool bag and if you don’t have one, I’d recommend you put one together. There are so many sales on in January that if you’re missing anything, now could be the time to buy or replace it, before you need it.

Here’s a post I wrote a couple of years ago showing the contents of my tardis like bag. Tool bags make gardening life so much easier and I get a great buzz of excitement every time I rediscover mine in the springtime.

No. 4 – Wash Your Plastic Pots and Containers

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsThis job was always rock bottom on my gardening ‘to do’ list but it’s such an important one if you want to avoid spreading pests and diseases around your own or your friends’ gardens.

Fortunately I was given a great tip that can almost make washing your pots a fun task – just throw them all into a bath tub. Here’s a short article explaining how to wash and sterilise your pots and the reasons why we should do it.

No. 5 – Plan Your Crop Rotation

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsIf you’re growing organically or without chemicals, crop rotation is vital but it’s still a practice that confuses many.

There are four main reasons why we rotate crops. These include preventing pests and diseases building up in the soil, crops benefit one another that are grown together, crop rotation prevents nutrients being drained from the soil and it makes it easier to look after plants grown in the same families if they’re rotated together.

This article explains the most popular 4 year crop rotation practice where vegetables are grown in the order of Potatoes, Legumes, Brassica and Roots/Others. A handy acronym to help you remember the rotation is People Like Bunches of Roses

No. 6 – Source Manure

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsIf you’re starting from scratch or didn’t add organic matter to your vegetable garden in the autumn, you’ll need to do so within the next couple of months.

If we’re taking something out of the soil, we need to replace it. Adding well-rotted organic matter to soil such as animal manures, leaf mould, comfrey and nettle fertilisershomemade compost or green manures not only helps to add nourishment to soil and increase plant health, it also helps with soil structure and texture which will improve soil erosion and drainage, helping to prevent vital nutrients washing away.

Now is a great time to look in the local small ads or find a local stables or farmer who can supply you with manure. You might also begin to source some green manure seeds for spring planting or to begin composting, if you’re not already doing so.

No. 7 – Find Your Gardening Diary or Begin a New One

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsKeeping a gardening diary is one of the cornerstones to learning your gardening craft.

It’s very easy to forget where we planted something, what variety we grew or how well it grew for us. I’ve learnt so much from my mistakes and my diary has helped me to keep track of everything over the years. You can read more about the importance of keeping a diary here.

No. 8 – Grow Microgreens

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsMicrogreens have been the buzz word in the food and gardening industry for a couple of years and they’re very easy to grow indoors.

There’s  nothing fancy about Microgreens. They are simply seeds that are grown in compost or a soilless medium (anyone remember growing cress in cotton wool?) then harvested as seedlings when they have just four tiny leaves.

The seedlings are usually a combination of salads, herbs or Brassica and if you can’t find them in your local garden centre, you’ll find packets of mixed seeds online.

No. 9 – Make Paper Seed Pots

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do IndoorsDefinitely a job for a warm kitchen table, making newspaper seed pots is a great way of upcycling and a money-saving exercise too.

You can either use a special paper potter, as I’ve done in this YouTube clip, or use a small plastic bottle as a mould.

Once the paper pots have been made, they can be stored in a dry place until you’re ready to fill them with compost and pop seeds into them.

Get Outside

All of that said, January shouldn’t just be about sitting inside and planning. Getting outside at any time of the year helps us to reconnect with nature and is particularly good for the wintertime soul once we’re wrapped up, warm and dry. If it’s not too windy or icy and you can get out for a walk, I’d recommend you do so. You never know what you might be missing and I’m not just talking about the exercise.

Have you any more tips for winter gardening jobs we can do in the warmth or are you a hardened gardener who’s outside at every opportunity?

9 Winter Gardening Jobs We Can Do Indoors

Blackberries in the Winter Garden

Vegetable Garden

Pea and bean crops – do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?

April 4, 2011

Pea and bean crops - do they contain enough nitrogen to benefit anything else?I just thought I’d share this fabulous photo taken by one of the Goresbridge Community Gardeners, who captured a picture of nitrogen nodules on a field bean I took along to show the group last week.

Over the winter months I’ve been growing field beans in one of my veggie beds as a green manure. Green Manures are used as a means of adding organic matter back into the soil, and are particularly handy for people who’re growing veg and don’t have a ready supply of organic matter (compost or manure).

As members of the legume (pea and bean) family, they’re able to make their own nitrogen and are known as nitrogen fixers.  Legumes store it in little nodules (as can be seen here) and once the nodules have separated from the plant or the plant decomposes, the nitrogen is released and is available to other plants.  Plants from other vegetable families get their nitrogen from the soil, usually from plant debris (or from fertilisers).

Green manures from the legume family are therefore great to grow before anything from the brassica family (cabbages etc) as the big leafy green crops will relish the additional nitrogen and are unable to make it themselves.

*It might surprise many gardeners who are familiar with crop rotation that botanists now believe that the root nodules accumulate half of the total nitrogen and that it only becomes available to other plants when the nodules are removed from the plant.  This only happens when the plant is severely stressed from shade or drought or when the root dies.

Also, when the plant is young about 40% of the nitrogen is in the roots with the rest in the foliage and stems. Once the plant has flowered the reserves of nitrogen in the roots drop to 3-6% with 8-10% in the leaves and stems. The remaining 70-90% is stored in the seeds and seed pods.

What this means for most of us hobby gardeners is that the roots of the pea and bean crops that we have allowed to flower and fruit for the cooking pot are unlikely to be of any nutritional benefit to the veg following them in our crop rotations as is currently believed…. green manures are the key.

* Source Chris Beardshaw – How Does Your Garden Grow

Vegetable Garden

Crop Rotation. Understanding Vegetable Families.

March 11, 2011

Understanding Crop Rotation and Vegetable FamiliesVegetables can be grouped into ‘families’.

Once you know which groups these vegetables fall into, it makes crop rotation a lot easier (see previous post on crop rotation).

So in a four-year crop rotation, four beds might include

Bed 1:        *Solanaceae (potato crops)
Bed 2:         Legumes (pea crops)
Bed 3:         Brassica (cabbage crops)
Bed 4:          **Onions/Others

 

Common Vegetable Families

*it’s usual to plant potatoes and tomatoes in different areas of the garden. As members of the same family they are both susceptible to blight (Phytophthora infestans). ** Can be split into a 5 yr rotation *** Perennial
Vegetable Garden

How to Plan Crop Rotation in a Vegetable Garden

March 10, 2011

The Greenside Up Vegetable Garden Crop Rotation
Vegetables crops are grouped into families.  Crop rotation simply means that related annual vegetables are grown together in their families and their positions moved around the plot once a year (or more).

Why use Crop Rotation?

There are a number of reasons for rotating crops:

  •  It helps to prevent pests and diseases that live in the soil.  For example, two major worries in vegetable growing are clubroot disease in Brassica crops (cabbage type plants) and the nematode known as eelworm in potatoes.  If the crops are grown in the same place each year, the chances of these problems occurring are much greater.  By moving them around annually and only growing them in the same ground every four years of so, the pest and disease life cycles should be broken.
  • It stops the soil becoming drained of nutrients that the same plants would use every year.
  • Crops can follow each other that will benefit each other.  E.g., bean and pea roots hold lots of nitrogen.  If their disease free roots are left in the ground once the crops have been harvested, the Brassica that will follow in the next rotation will reap the rewards by producing lots of leafy greens. Also Brassica like soil that’s consolidated so by leaving the legume roots behind and thus causing little disturbance to the soil, the Brassica that follow will root better.
  • If vegetable families are grown together, it’s likely that the soil for each will need to be treated in the same way and that they will be prone to the same pests and diseases so can be treated together easily.

Important Families: (That are likely to be grown outdoors in a cooler climate)

Potato: Potato, tomato
Legumes: Peas, beans
Brassica: Cabbage, broccoli, swede, turnip & radish
Allium: Onion, garlic, shallot, leek
Others: Carrot, parsnip, parsley, and celery

Anything else can be fitted in such as sweetcorn, squashes, salads etc.

Basic Guidelines for Crop Rotation

The main guideline is to keep families together; if a section is to hold more than one family, try to keep those with similar growing requirements together e.g., potatoes and pumpkins like lots of organic matter.

  • Using a bed system can make planning a rotation easier.
  • Take lots of photos and make notes as it’s easy to forget where you grew something a year or to ago.

How to Plan A Four-Year Crop Rotation

The following is a guideline.  You may not want (or need) to follow this rotation at first.  However, after a couple of seasons you may start to wonder what can be planted in the gaps.  This should help with your planning. It’s a popular plan that many people use and has worked well for us.

how to plan crop rotation in a vegetable garden
People Like Bunches of Roses is an acronym I heard recently that may help you to remember the rotation.
Year 1:              Potato crops
Year 2:              Legumes (peas, beans)
Year 3:              Brassicas (cabbage type crops)

Year 4:              Root crops/others.

In this four-year rotation the potatoes and squashes are planted first (Bed 1) as the potatoes break up the soil nicely.

In year 2 the legumes (peas & beans) will be planted in Bed 1 as they will fix nitrogen into the soil for the Brassica (cabbages) that will follow.  Therefore in year 3 the leafy crops (Brassica) will be planted in bed 1 and lastly in year 4 the roots and others can be planted in bed 1 as they are the least demanding of the crops.

You may also find it useful to use a five-year rotation, rotating the Allium (onion) family separately.  Whichever you decide, avoid leaving the soil empty. Either cover it when not in use with carpet or similar or plant a green manure or a crop into it.

Bed 4:  Others (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celery and sweetcorn,onions, garlic, shallots )Bed 1: (Early, main crop potatoes, pumpkins, courgettes, and tomatoes)

These are the biggest feeders.  In the autumn months (once the root crops have been cleared), apply well-rotted manure or compost or grow a green manure such as grazing rye. In spring, dig in the green manure (grazing rye) and if you didn’t have the opportunity to manure, or have sandy soil, apply manure or compost now, leaving a few weeks between manuring and sowing if you can.  After harvesting the potatoes, plant anything from the legume family.

Bed 4:  Others (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celery and sweetcorn,onions, garlic, shallots )Bed 2: Legume Family (beans, peas, french beans and runner beans)

The Legumes.  These fix nitrogen themselves so do not require extra manure.  They will benefit from leaf mould mulch once they’ve been planted out however (to improve soil structure).  Once harvested, sow a nitrogen-fixing green manure such as winter tares, check the soil pH and add lime in the autumn if necessary.

Bed 4:  Others (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celery and sweetcorn,onions, garlic, shallots )

Bed 3: Brassica (cabbage, swede, turnips, broccoli, and radish)

Leafy veg (Brassica & salads) like to follow peas & beans. Dig in the green manures (winter tares) or add compost (or well-rotted manure) in the spring prior to planting.  Mulch with leaf mould in the autumn

Bed 4:  Others (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celery and sweetcorn,onions, garlic, shallots )Bed 4:  Others (carrots, beetroot, parsnips, celery and sweetcorn

Mostly comprises of root crops but miscellaneous crops fit in well here too. They don’t need much feeding, as they’ll use up everything that’s leftover from previous crops. Apply compost in the spring where Allium, celery, leafbeet and sweetcorn will grow.

Sow a green manure (such as grazing rye) over winter, ready for the potatoes in the spring.

Only One Vegetable Bed?

If you only have one or two small beds, don’t worry. Just divide them into four with bamboo or hazel sticks and plant your vegetable families in the different squares or rectangles.  You may also find that you plant more Allium (onions) than Brassica. It doesn’t matter. As long as you aim to keep the vegetable families apart for as long as possible, you’ll have done your best.

For a very easy to follow and simple visual explanation check out this great video from Monty Don on Gardeners World.

Do you practice this version of crop rotation or a different one? Do you find it works?