Sunday, 30 August 2009

Minimum Preparation - Maximum Results

In keeping with my mantra of "very little effort, money or skill", I can honestly say I've done nothing to prepare my soil. I know the books tell you to get your soil pH levels tested, mix certain ratios of poop to mud to get the best soil, and rotate your crops so all the nutrients aren't sucked out.

While I'm sure that all of these things make for a far better crop than mine, I'm only feeding 2 people and I want to spend as much time relaxing in my garden as I can. And faffing about with test tubes isn't my idea of a good time.

So I decided to take the lazy route. My theory is that if it's meant to be, it will be. If I plant a seed and it does well, then great. If it doesn't, then it's not suited to my garden for whatever reason and I should try something else. That way, I won't be wasting a load of time, effort or money on improving my soil for the sake of some cucumbers.

Using this theory I've grown 15 different types of veg in 3 years, and learnt a new lesson at each step of the way:

Potatoes - do too well, they need to be kept in a pot
Tomatoes - do better in the mud than in the growbag and much less watering required
Spring Onions - always seem to come back to life no matter how much they dry out
Radishes - grow from seeds sown straight into the ground but slugs love them
Cabbages - they get a lot bigger than you'd think, plant them far apart
Beetroot - so easy to grow, they survived under my cabbages with virtually no sunlight
Sweetcorn - take up a lot less space than you'd imagine
Squash - really fast growing
Lollo Rosso Lettuce - much hardier than I expected
Spinach - needs picking regularly, you'd only need one plant to feed two people all summer
Leeks - another vegetable that seems to need no water
Celery - just plant them through some black fabric and leave them to it
Carrots - sow the seeds in a pot, not directly in the ground

The only true failures I've had so far are peas and purple sprouting broccoli. I tried the peas twice with bad results both times. I'm going to give them one last chance, by growing them in a big pot. If I don't get any luck there, then I'll admit defeat. The broccoli was a heartbreaking disaster. Having just two plants survive my premature planting out was bad enough, but returning from holiday to find them utterly decimated by caterpillars was too much. Next year not only will I be more gentle with the planting out, I'll also be sure to keep them under a net.

Saturday, 29 August 2009

The story so far

The veg patch was born in the spring of 2007, when a bare area of mud became the future site of my foray into self-sufficiency. I bought a bag of potatoes (Desiree, I think) and stuck them all in the ground. Next thing I knew, little tufts of green were poking their way through the mud and I was hooked. Over the next few weeks, I bought a load of seeds - onions, radishes, spring onions and carrots and learnt 2 key lessons.

Firstly, it really is best to sow successively. We ended up with 3 carrier bags full of spring onions that appeared in every meal for 2 weeks. I find it very difficult to sow my seeds and then pull half of them up when they've barely begun to grow. I get so emotionally involved with the little guys that even the thought of it makes me upset. I learnt to get round this problem by sowing just a few seeds every week or so and planting them a good distance apart - no ruthless thinning out required.

The other mistake I made (that I am still paying for now), is that potatoes are best grown in a pot. I can't believe that over 2 years after planting the things, they are still popping up now. Don't get me wrong, they're a damn sight better than dandelions in my rose garden, but the novelty is starting to wear off. If you're planning on growing potatoes in the future, please keep them in a pot. The added benefit of this is that it is so easy to keep adding compost as they grow and you end up with a huge amount of potatoes for such a small place. Just make space in the freezer for a load of shepherd's pie!

Saturday, 15 August 2009

My vegetable patch journal

Welcome all, to the Vegetable Patch Journal. This blog is designed to share my experiences as I try my hand at "the good life". I bought my house in 2007 and have had some successes (and many failures) in growing my own food. With the help of some family members I have some grand designs for the garden this year, the most ambitious being increasing the size of my vegetable patch fourfold. Work on the garden is due to start over the coming weeks so keep checking back as we (hopefully) progress.