Planning for Home Grown Fruit and Vegetables
Intercropping, the practice of growing two or more different crops together is an important part of any cropping programme. The normal system is to have a long-standing vegetable, like Brussels sprouts, with a quick-maturing one, such as lettuces, between the rows of sprouts. The lettuces would normally be sown at the same time as the sprouts are planted out. In this way, the ground between the widely spaced sprout plants is not wasted and is producing a crop which, otherwise, you might not have had. The lettuces are out of the way long before the two crops interfere with each other.
A similar example is to plant alternate rows of late winter cabbages and seedling wallflowers. The cabbages go in at the recommended spacing with the wallflowers between the rows. By the time the two crops are touching (October/November), it’s time for the wallflowers to be planted in their final positions.
There are many other examples of intercropping. Most involve growing quick crops between lengthy ones. A good one is to sow , or even lettuces next to and at the same time as a row of . They’ll both grow together and, by the time the peas are ready for picking, the others will almost be finished, depending on which kind you have been growing. Sowing nursery rows of brassicas or wallflowers between rows of young plants and then lifting and transplanting the brassicas when they are large enough is another space saver
The whole art of intercropping is not to have tunnel vision and just use the technique simply to grow other vegetables. There isn’t the slightest reason why flower plants shouldn’t be raised in the vegetable garden; it is a very convenient place, in fact. Yet another thing which has to be considered is the use of growing-bags. Growing bags should certainly be taken into account at the planning stage because you can often make use of them to grow crops that you might otherwise have gone without, in places where you wouldn’t normally dream of.
Planning for herbs is an altogether easier job. Not only are there fewer to think about but they all tend to be there and in use at the same time so the sensible thing is to have them in the same place. As with vegetables, it is more convenient to have the shrubby ones and perennials together and the, like , in another group. The only thing that is important is that the herb area is as close as is reasonably possible to the kitchen door. There are few things worse than having to go to the other end of the garden in a thunder storm simply for a sprig of mint.
Herbs are becoming so much more popular today that they really do deserve to be grown properly and not just stuck in any old corner and left to get on with it. By this, I mean that they should be grown as plants in their own right and a complete feature can easily be made of them.
There are many excellent designs for herb gardens. One of my favourites is the cart-wheel design. In this, the bed is circular and, preferably, surrounded by lawn, or better still by paving (for all-weather access). It is divided up into as many sectors as you want with a central circular area; this is kept for taller plants, such as fennel, or woody herbs like sage. The lower-growing ones are planted in the separate sectors and all can be reached easily.
Herbs can also be grown in terracotta ‘strawberry’ barrels but be careful not to plant mint or tarragon in these as they’ll quickly take over. Herbs are also first-rate in growing bags. As far as planning for herbs at this stage is concerned, simply decide on the design of bed or other growing method you want so that provision is made for it in the overall picture.
Nearly all kinds of fruit can now be grown in dwarf or semi-dwarf form so it should never be excluded from a garden solely on the grounds of size and the room it would occupy. Besides that, fruit is very often grown in the vegetable section of a garden, so it has a definite bearing on vegetable growing. To give an idea of the life spans involved, bush and cane fruits can be expected to live productively for 12-15 years and fruit trees from 20-40.
Fruit should always be in a sheltered position which receives plenty of sun. If there is a choice, the north end of the garden is best as it can be in the sun and yet create no shade over other plants. Trees that are going to be trained to a wall or fence should face south or west to take full advantage of the warmer conditions. Later flowering varieties of apple and pear are quite happy against an east facing wall because the likelihood of sharp frosts is often over by the time they come into flower, depending on your district. The best-known fruit for growing on a north-facing wall is the Morello cherry, but cooking varieties of gooseberry and even apples are perfectly satisfactory.
If trees are to be grown as cordons in the open garden, the rows should preferably run north—south to give equal sun to both sides. If space permits, it is well worth setting aside a special area for fruit. This can combine free-standing as well as trained trees along with all the other types of fruit.
The management of fruit trees and bushes is much easier if they are all together and spraying can be done without risk to nearby vegetables that are, perhaps, ready for harvesting. Where it is possible to have a fruit area, there is no reason at all why, in its early years, it shouldn’t also be used for growing vegetables between the trees and bushes.
In gardens where space is at a premium, a greater use should be made of intensive tree forms like cordons, espaliers, fans and spindle bush trees. In these, trees should be planted around the sides rather than in rows across the plot, where they might prevent the cultivation of the other plants close by. In very , and those where there is no at all but merely concrete or paving, fruit trees and bushes can always be grown but they have to be in large pots or some other decorative container.
Possibly the final subject when discussing planning is the topic of crop rotation. It’s never easy to know just where to include this as it also plays an important part in pest and disease control. However, careful planning is vital to the successful use of crop rotation.
Crop rotation is the practice of not growing similar types of vegetable in the same piece of ground for two or more consecutive years. That is to say, if Brussels sprouts are grown on a particular patch, then a crop other than a brassica is grown there for preferably, three years.
In practice, vegetables (the only plants to which crop rotation really applies) can be neatly divided into three groups. By moving these around every year a particular group will only be on the same plot one year in three.
Originally, there were two reasons for carrying out the system: firstly, to prevent the ground becoming starved of a particular plant food by having the same type of plant using the same nutrients year after year; and secondly, to avoid a build-up of any pests or diseases that were specific to one group of plants, for example, club root of brassicas and carrot fly.
The first reason, to prevent the depletion of plant foods, no longer applies. We have so many different mixtures of fertiliser that we can choose the one to apply according to the vegetables being grown. In this respect, it’s well worth remembering that some crops need more of a particular element than others do. For instance,like plenty of potash, whereas lettuces need nitrogen.
The second reason, to prevent the buildup of, is still applicable. However, pests are not so successfully affected as some writers would claim. They imply that, if say, cabbages were attacked by the root fly in position A, moving them to position B the following year will reduce the problem. Clearly this is nonsense; pests are mobile and will search out a suitable host plant.
Diseases that live in the soil are a definite menace. These are usually fungus diseases like club root of brassicas, white rot ofand parsnip canker. All are soil-borne fungus diseases and attack the underground (or near soil) parts of the host plant. Knowing that these diseases tend to stay in one place, it’s common sense gardening to avoid growing susceptible crops on infected land for as long as possible.
Unfortunately, very few gardens are large enough to practise full and effective crop rotation; club root, for example, will lie dormant for seven years or more. However, anything that we can do to ring the changes, no matter how small the garden is, will be worthwhile, and this applies equally well to a small plot as it does to rolling acres.
The real point in question is whether crop rotation can be carried out effectively in a tiny garden. The answer to this is invariably ‘No’. We can, though, take one or two elementary precautions as regards the worst soil-borne diseases, such as club root and white rot. Here, though, we are moving into the realms of pest and disease control so it’s time to leave.