Hints to Help you in Your Vegetable Plot

Hints to help you in your vegetable plot by Debby Lockey 2013

One of my clients asked me to design and produce a vegetable plot for their garden. It’s been great fun and we have recently started planting. A couple of weeks ago the main crop seed potatoes went in. I chose the variety ‘Pink Fir Apple’ for no other reason than they were the only ones available. I have, however grown them before and they make lovely salad potatoes, being firm and waxy, and having a delicious ‘new potato’ flavour. Unfortunately they are low yielding, and as our plot is not very big they are not the most economic of choices. Next year I will have to be better organised.

The reason for the delay was that I needed to prepare the soil. Healthy soil is vital to the success of any gardening project. Compacted, poorly drained, infertile soil will result in plants struggling to survive. This plot was also inundated with buttercups, which had to be dug up as they spread by seeds and by sending out runners.

Having dug the soil over (only to a spade’s depth) the larger clods were left to allow the frost to break them up (any water in the soil expands when it freezes so opening up the soil). I didn’t double dig, as I didn’t feel the sub-soil needed improving. I then divided the plot into four areas so we can practise crop rotation. Plot 1 is for peas and beans (legumes), plot 2 for potatoes, plot 3 for onions, garlic, carrots and other root vegetables, and plot 4 is for cabbage, cauliflower and other brassicas. Lettuce can also be grown in plot 4.

It is important to practise crop rotation, especially if you wish to be organic, as it will ensure that any soil-borne pests and diseases particular to a specific crop don’t increase to unmanageable levels, and that the nutrients in the soil are not exhausted. Manure and compost can also be added to those beds that need them. Beds 1 and 3 had a light spreading of compost. Potaotoes and brassicas are heavy feeders so compost was also added to bed 4, (I didn’t add manure as too much can reduce the activity of the nitrogen fixing bacteria in the root nodules of peas), while manure was added to bed 2. When the crops are rotated the following year the soil should have the correct level of fertility required by plants, with only plots 2 and 4 needing more compost and manure. In addition the nitrates fixed by the peas and beans will be beneficial to the brassicas.

The soil in this vegetable plot has a high proportion of clay, (you can tell if you have a clay soil by squeezing some damp soil in your hand. If it sticks together it is clay but if it crumbles it will be sandy). Clay soil is rich in nutrients, but its tendency to hold water means it is heavy to work in winter and slow to warm up. Then when it does dry out it becomes very hard which makes digging very tiring. Adding compost / manure helps to open clay soils up so they drain better and don’t bake so hard. So even though the weather has turned dry the soil has still been workable.

With the sunnier weather and longer days it’s important to keep on top of things in the garden. Some of the jobs I hope to achieve in May are:

  • Keeping the weeds under control. I find using a hoe the quickest method; it decapitates or up roots all those unwanted plants so they either die or are weakened.
  • Plant out any annuals or vegetables that are tender. It is rare for this area to have severe frosts now, but if frosts are forecasted they and any blossoming fruit trees can be protected with fleece.
  • Start mowing the lawn regularly, and clip the hedges when necessary. These actions are a quick way to tidy up the garden, assuming you don’t have vast areas of either.
  • Prune any shrubs that have already flowered e.g. Forsythia
  • Move any autumn flowering plants e.g.Crocosmia (monbretia) and Rudbeckia,
  • Tie in climbers.

One consideration if you want a low maintenance garden is to choose plants that don’t need staking, watering or frequent dividing, e.g. lavenders. They only need a quick haircut after they have flowered to remove the dead flower stalks and occasionally they can be rejuvenated in the spring by cutting them hard back (but not into the hardwood as they will not re grow.)

Another very important job is to check the outdoor furniture and BBQ, so everything is in place for the garden to be enjoyed during those hazy, lazy summer months.

Debby Lockey has been working as a garden designer for 4 years in and around the New Forest National Park.

Debby has always been interested in enhancing the environment and took an honours degree in Environmental Science, where she specialized in soil composition.

Initially she worked in publishing, designing and producing books. After a career break to look after her children, Debby decided to combine her skills of design and understanding of the environment. She completed a diploma in garden design with the KLC school of design at Chelsea, which she passed with honours.

To help with this communication of ideas, Debby will initially produce a rough plan that can be amended, and final plans rendered in water colours.

She also draws perspective diagrams, axonometric plans, and elevations so the clients can envisage how the finished garden will look.

Debby is happy to create any kind of design and her work ranges from contemporary to traditional garden designs.

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