Vegetable growing with sunlight in your New Forest garden

Making the most of the sunlight for your vegetables

 

Winter jobs for the garden

 

With the weather being so wet I have been unable to get out into my own or my clients’ gardens for weeks. I find this both frustrating and depressing. Frustrating because this mild winter weather has meant that the weeds are still growing so I’m concerned about what I will find. And depressing because I don’t like grey wet weather.

 

Still it has allowed me space to think about what jobs need to be done in the garden. I know this is the time of year when you are supposed to be cleaning your greenhouse, pots and tools. But I can’t get excited about that as in my opinion it’s just more housework, and I would rather be doing something different. So instead I am thinking about my allotment, which I consider much more interesting.

 

Planning and designing your vegetable plot

One of my clients has asked me to design a vegetable plot for her garden. Plus I am helping a friend out with her allotment, so there is a lot to plan.

 

I’ve had 3 allotments in my lifetime so I am well aware of the need to get the soil right before planting, the importance of crop rotation and the benefits and enjoyment of companion planting, but I realise that I have never really considered the position of crop rows in relation to the sun.

 

Planning vegetable rows to make the most of sunlight

 

The paths in our allotment run north - south so I automatically created raised beds that came 90 degrees off this path.

 

This resulted in the beds, and rows running from east to west. This is fine for me getting to the rows/beds, but it does mean that only the ends of the beds receive the morning and afternoon sun, with the rest of the plants in the rows being partially shaded by each other.

 

The only time the plants do get an equal amount of sun is midday. This is fine for plants such as tomatoes and peppers, but for other vegetables, for example lettuce or spinach, they quickly fry or bolt in that heat. What you should be aiming for is an orientation that will give your vegetables a minimum of 6 hours of full sunlight. Ideally they would like 6-12 hours.   Anything less will usually result in lots of leaf but very little veg.

 

Orientation:  north to south

 

I am therefore going to plan the rows so they run north to south. That way the plants will have maximum exposure to the day’s sunlight. And as a double precaution the plants will be well spaced out within the rows so they themselves will not cast too much shade on each other.

 

Orientation:  east to west

 

The  time I would consider planting vegetables in rows that run east to west is early in the year, when the plants would appreciate having the heat from the midday sun. If the plants are growing under a cloche the trapped warm air could help them survive a cold snap.

 

Shade cast by other vegetable plants

Consider the height of other plants.  Here asparagus casts shade over the other plants.

 

Another consideration with regards to shade is the impact taller plants have on other crops.

 

In my last plot we built an asparagus bed. We placed it in the middle of the plot so it acted as a break between 2 blocks of rotational cropping. So on either side of the asparagus bed I had four beds devoted to

1. legumes

2. potatoes

3 roots

4. brassicas.

 

This seemed like a good idea at the time as it kept apart the two areas devoted to rotational cropping so there was less confusion. However I hadn’t realised just how tall asparagus grows and consequentially how much shade it casts. To rectify this problem, in the new plot I will put the asparagus bed at the north end of the plot so the shade will be cast onto a shed, rather than other plants. I’ll also think about where I want to put other permanent crops such as raspberries and artichokes so again they don’t cast too much shade onto other crops.

 

The final consideration when I’m planning the plots will be where to put the seating area. There always comes that point in the day when your back won’t let you do any more work and it’s time to relax. I personally like to have a west facing aspect for my seat so I can sit with the evening sun on my face while I contemplate all the work I’ve done and muse about further jobs. Planting a few sweet peas and lavender close to the bench helps to enhance that feeling of well being so your allotment becomes a place of enjoyment as well as work.  

 

Article by Debby Lockey New Forest garden designer

January 2016

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