The Kitchen Garden – Growing Vegetables for the Family

The Kitchen Garden

The true gardener will never be able to resist the lure of the kitchen garden. The satisfaction of growing vegetables and eating your own produce is unequalled, and although you may not save much money you will rediscover the taste of garden-fresh produce.

 

Increasing Soil Fertility

New gardens can be a problem in the early years, but as the seasons go by cultivation becomes easier and fertility increases.

kitchen-garden The first essential is to break any hard ‘pan’ that may exist below the surface; this is a very hard layer created by compaction or many years of cultivation to the same depth by a plough. The solution is deep digging; take the opportunity to work in some manure or compost — indeed anything that will help improve soil structure.

 

Digging the Kitchen Garden

Double digging is designed to break up the soil two ‘spits’ (spade depths) below the surface. It ensures a good, deep root-run, improves drainage and allows soil-improving organic matter to be placed well below the surface.

Once the ground has been worked it will only be necessary to double-dig perhaps a third of the plot each year.

Single digging only breaks up the soil to the depth of the spade, but is adequate for most crops.

If you come across perennial weeds such as docks, nettles or dandelions, dig them out and put them on the bonfire. Annual weeds can be turned into the bottom of the trench to rot down.

 

Manure and Compost

At least half the vegetable plot should be manured every year. Any form of organic matter will improve the soil structure, and although farmyard manure is ideal, spent mushroom compost, peat, spent hops, or well-rotted garden compost, are all good.

The great advantage that compost has over all other forms of organic matter is that it is virtually free, so every gardener should have a compost heap.

Compost heaps can be made inside a proprietary compost container, or you can make a simple container. Build a wire-netting ‘cage’ about 1m x 1m (3ft x 3ft) and line the inside with old cardboard cartons. Make sure that air can penetrate freely by lifting the cardboard a few centimetres (inches) off the ground.

You can put on anything that will rot down — weeds, waste from harvested vegetables, grass cuttings, leaves etc, and even kitchen waste or screwed-up newspaper. It will all rot down.

Do not put on roots of perennial weeds, anything that is carrying pests or diseases, or anything too thick or woody to rot down quickly.

When you have built up about 23cm (9in) of compost, treat it with a proprietary compost activator before adding the next layer. Once the heap is full, leave it to rot down and start another. The compost will be ready for use when it is a nice crumbly brown, sweet-smelling substance that looks a bit like peat.

 

Fertilizers

All vegetables will grow better with a little fertilizer. Rather than become involved with the intricacies of ‘straight’ fertilizers such as sulphate of ammonia or super-phosphates, it is more convenient to use a compound fertilizer. One of the cheapest and most convenient compound fertilizers is Growmore; and this can be used for all vegetables. The rate of application varies for different crops.

 

Lime

When growing vegetables, we find that most prefer a fairly neutral soil, though there are one or two distinct exceptions. It was common practice in the old days to lime every year for certain crops and hope for the best. The modern gardener, however, has realized that this can lead to excesses and do more harm than good. It is very easy to test the soil and make accurate applications.

One point to remember is never to apply lime at the same time that manure is applied. This will simply release ammonia and both will be wasted. It is better to manure in autumn and winter and lime in spring.

 

Sowing

If you dig over the plot in winter, the weather will break it down quite well. Before sowing it must be levelled; start by breaking it down with the back of a fork, and then consolidate the surface. This should never be done when the soil is wet: keep off if you find that the soil sticks to your boots.

Consolidate by treading all over the plot to be sown, with your weight on your heels. Next apply the fertilizer at the recommended rate and rake the soil to a fine tilth, at the same time working in the fertilizer.

Before sowing, stretch a tight garden line across the plot and draw a shallow drill with the corner of a draw hoe.

Sprinkle the seed down the drill as thinly as possible. Thick sowing results in overcrowded and consequently weak seedlings. It also makes thinning more difficult.

After sowing, cover the seed with the soil taken out, and tamp down lightly with the back of the rake.

 

Thinning

As soon as the seedlings are large enough to handle, they should be thinned to the recommended distances. Some of the thinnings can often be used to transplant another row, but these transplants will mature a little later.

If you intend to replant the thinnings, handle them very carefully by the leaves — not the stems, which are easily bruised — and transplant them before the roots have a chance to dry out.

Some plants, notably the cabbage family and leeks, are best sown in a seed-bed and transplanted. This will save valuable space on the main plot.

 

Planting Vegetables

Prepare planting sites in exactly the same way as for sowing, though if cabbages (all of which need firm soil) are to follow another crop, it is not generally necessary to dig. Simply hoe off the weeds and rake the fertilizer into the top.

If plants are to be lifted from a seedbed, water it well the night before. Plant either with a trowel or a dibber, and firm well. It is important to firm well so that the roots are not left hanging in a pocket of air.

Water well after planting, especially if the soil is dry.

 

Crop Rotation

It is not wise to grow the same crop year after year on the same piece of land. If different crops are moved around the plot in successive years, a build-up of pests and diseases can be avoided. Also, better use is made of valuable organic matter; some plants require manuring for best results, others prefer to grow on ground manured for a previous crop.

The answer is to put the gross feeders like peas, beans, onions and lettuce on freshly manured land, and follow those the next year with root crops that dislike fresh manure.

Crop rotation is an essential part of good soil husbandry and long-term gardening. Perpetually growing the same crop on a plot of soil causes the same elements to be continually taken from the soil by the plants, and the same pests and diseases establish themselves. To avoid this, growing vegetables in plots is best and they may be divided into three sections, each devoted to growing a different type of crop in a three-year cycle. For example, Plot A would grow leguminous crops such as peas and beans in year one, brassicas such as cabbage and cauliflower in year two, and root crops such as potatoes and carrots in year three. Plot B would grow root crops in year one, leguminous crops in year two and brassicas in year three. Plot C would grow brassicas in year one, root crops in year two and leguminous crops in year three. Growing vegetables, in the same three year cycle, double dig and manure Plot A in year one, Plot B in year two and Plot C in year three  see image right.

19. September 2010 by admin
Categories: Gardening Ideas, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on The Kitchen Garden – Growing Vegetables for the Family

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