How to Grow Your Own Vegetables
Where you live and where the garden is may not at first appear to have much to do with gardening but it really is basic to the whole question and is entirely responsible for making it either pleasurable or a chore. To begin with, there are few of us who are able to choose where we garden or on what kind of. Both are usually dictated by where we work or have to live. This brings us to the not too surprising conclusion that there are good places and bad places in which to garden.
Most of us are lucky enough to live somewhere where gardening is perfectly feasible. The worst gardens are possibly those on very shallow soils; if there isn’t a good depth of soil for the plants to grow in, the root systems will be poor and, consequently, the whole plant will suffer. Obviously one can improve this situation but it all takes a long time. Exposure to weather is another limiting factor although, as with terrible soil, something can be done to remedy it.
Many people would be inclined to think that gardening in a town is far from easy. In fact, towns, and especially cities, are usually a few degrees warmer than the open countryside. This can be a help. Also, established gardens contain far better soil than newer or more rural sites. This is simply because generations of gardeners have probably been improving the ground over many years. In essence, therefore, it’s hard to think of a site that cannot be turned into a garden of some sort but, obviously, some locations are better than others.
The ideal, if such a thing is possible, would be in a position sheltered from prevailing winds on a gentle south facing slope. Much the same can be said about the ideal soil; however, the chances of finding one are remote. For the most part, though, there are very few gardens which cannot be improved to the point at which they will be productive. It’s really a question of sorting out what kind of soil you have and knowing how to improve it, assuming that it needs it. One could fairly safely say that an ‘ideal’ soil is deep (1-2ft.), well drained and yet moisture retentive, supplied with plenty of, of good structure and with a medium texture.
The worst enemy of most vegetables is a waterlogged soil. The soil type itself isn’t all that important, but it must be well drained. A soil which holds a lot of water invariably prevents sufficient air penetrating to the roots; and remember, roots need air to survive just as much as leaves do.
I mentioned that the ideal garden would probably be on a gentle south facing slope. This would allow cold air to escape downhill in the spring, thus reducing the damage done by spring frosts. It would also help drainage but, best of all, it would catch the rays of the sun at a more direct angle, and thus the soil would warm up quicker in the spring than will a flat site or one facing in another direction.
However, many gardeners are unfortunate in having a far from gentle slope on which to garden. Under these conditions, a few words of advice would not be out of place. The first is that, where it is feasible, the rows of vegetables should run across the slope. Sloping sites are often windy and across-the-slope rows are marginally better able to withstand the wind. Also, during heavy rain, rows running across will tend to trap the water so that it doesn’t cascade downhill leaving those awful erosion gullies we often see on the television after tropical storms.
Because of the likelihood of wind, it is also a good idea to plant a hedge along the bottom boundary of the plot, and another across the centre if the area is large. Remember, though, to keep a few gaps in the hedge so that cold air can drain away in the spring, thus reducing the frost risk. Where possible, especially when the site is windy, try to avoid tall kinds and varieties of vegetables when there are shorter and sturdier ones available. The standard example here is ; the ‘Sutton’, and now one or two others, are half the height of others and, with the spacing adjusted accordingly, you will get as heavy a crop from a given area as the old varieties. Runner beans can be a problem as well, but a way round their height is either to pinch the tops out to make them pinched beans or to grow a naturally non-climbing variety like ‘Hammond’s Dwarf Scarlet’.
Essential gardening tips and advice for growing runner beans.