Growing Vegetables and Crop Rotation
Essential Preliminaries for Growing Vegetables
The best time to start making a vegetable garden is in the autumn for it is then that one must plan for the year ahead. Towell you must have good and I feel strongly that at least one-third of the vegetable garden should have manure, , peat or other humus-forming material dug into it once a year (remembering, of course, that carrots and should not be grown in recently manured soil as this causes the roots to fork).
Vegetables, on the whole, grow fast and any check to growth, such as shortage of water or lack of food, results in small stringy roots on root crops, running to seed in the case of celery, small and yellow leaves on brassicas and similar crops and poor quality pods in inadequate numbers on the legumes. So, the soil must be well-cultivated, well-manured and well-fed, it must be left sufficiently moist and — very important — free of.
If the soil is of medium or heavy structure I am a great believer in winter digging. As I have stressed, with the heavier soils, nature is of great service. The frost, snow and rain will break down the large lumps and make the task of seed bed preparation in spring a comparatively easy chore. If farmyard manure, garden compost or leaves are dug in at this time make sure that they are well rotted. Spent mushroom compost and spent hops are both good for this purpose, and so are fish manure, sewage sludge and seaweed manure.
If your soil is light and quick-draining the manure is best applied only about a month to six weeks before. If it is applied too early the food will be washed down into lower levels of the soil and so be unavailable to the vegetables when the time comes.
While humus-forming materials do much to improve the physical condition of the soil, they are extremely unreliable in the amount of food they provide and with some crops it will be necessary to apply concentrated fertilisers supplying one or more of the three main plant foods — nitrogen, phosphorus and potash.
Bonemeal and basic slag (this is one of the cheapest fertilisers available and it is ideal for the vegetable garden although you must remember that it contains a percentage of lime) are two fertilisers we cannot afford to overlook. Both are slow acting, releasing their food over an extended period and both supply phosphate, especially beneficial to root vegetables, and the formation of root growth in general, including the rootlets of newly-germinated seeds. As I have already indicated, basic slag contains lime and is therefore useful for making acid soils more alkaline. The best time to apply it is during the autumn or winter, and at least a month after any manures are added, but not later than mid-February.
Compound proprietary fertilisers containing the three main plant foods are best applied as a preliminary dressing before seed sowing, being worked into the top few inches of soil about seven to ten days previously. Apply the dressing evenly whether it is broadcast or spread in strips where the rows will be.
Fertilisers are also used as topdressings during the growing season, and I like to stick to the policy of a little and often whether it be a compound fertiliser or a ‘straight’ fertiliser such as sulphate of ammonia or dried blood (both nitrogenous foods) or a solution of nutrients. Where dry fertilisers are used they must be sprinkled on the soil carefully, avoiding the leaves of the plants which could be scorched; and if the weather is dry they should be watered in.
Vegetables, with one or two exceptions, are grown from seed, and successful germination and subsequent growth are greatly influenced by the state of the seed bed and the type of soil; both should be first class. Buy the best quality seeds as it is pointless to go to so much trouble to experience disappointment later because the seed was old or otherwise inferior. Store it until sowing time in an air-tight tin or tins, so that mice cannot cause losses.
A lot of gardeners attempt sowing too early. More important than the date is the temperature of the soil and its condition. An old country practice is to watch the hawthorn hedges, for when they start to come into leaf, it is a pretty good indication that the soil temperature is rising and seed sowing can be started. As a general guide it has much to commend it. Again, as a generalisation, we can say that sowing times for the first crops like parsnips,, and lettuces will be early March in the South, the end of March in the Midlands and the beginning of April in the North.
The first preparation of the seed bed should be done when the soil is moist but not wet, a point of especial importance on clay soils where compaction will add to your difficulties. As recommended earlier, heavier soils should have been dug and left rough for the winter so that the elements could play their part in breaking down the large lumps. Any large lumps remaining should be broken down with the back of a fork and the whole plot lightly turned over, removing any large stones and, of course, weeds. It is then firmed by treading and afterwards worked to a really fine tilth by raking. If you have a hay rake this is a splendid tool for a first raking, following this with another rake-over, at right angles to the first path of progress, with an iron garden rake. This should provide the fine tilth and firm seed bed which is needed.
Some seeds are tiny, and in germination their roots and shoots will have a tough struggle if the seed bed is not up to standard. A firm and level surface is required, but ‘panning’ must be avoided. This is when the surface is absolutely smooth, like the top of a table, but with the surface soil particles so close together that water lies on the surface when it rains and the soil develops cracks in dry weather.
Seeds can be sown broadcast over the seed bed, as withand , or in lines or ‘drills’, which is more trouble but gives better results. A garden line is then needed and a drill can be taken out with the corner of a hoe or rake or the top of a pointed stick. Most seeds are sown at depths between 1/4 and 1/2in., and some gardeners like to line the drill with a thin layer of peat.
Sow seeds evenly and thinly in the drills for to do otherwise is wasteful, and thinning is more difficult later. If the soil is dry, water the drills beforehand, and if peat is put in the drills make sure that it has been well moistened. Cover the seeds by raking soil over them.
Where space allows, vegetables should always be grown on a rotation system so that specific vegetables are not grown in the same ground for two successive years. The reason for this is that certain crops tend to exhaust the soil in the same way or to suffer from the same diseases, and it is therefore advisable to avoid growing them one after the other on the same plot of ground. Cabbages, Brussels sprouts,, and kales form one such group, while and beans form another.
A common method of rotational cropping is to divide the ground into three approximately equal sections and to grow, root crops and celery on one, peas and beans, onions, and lettuces on another, and cabbages, Brussels sprouts, cauliflowers and other green crops on a third. Then the next year the groups are shifted round one plot — potatoes etc. going to plot 2, peas and beans etc. going to plot 3 and cabbages to plot 1. A similar change is made in the third year, and in the fourth year the crops are back to their starting quarters again and the whole cycle can then be repeated.