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Growing Vegetables

"Tickle the earth with a hoe, it will laugh a harvest." - Mary Cantell
Preparing a Plot    Planting Schedule    Vegetables in season    Preserving

Growing vegetables is probably the most rewarding activity in the garden. By sowing a few seeds a great feast will be yours after a few weeks or months. The great polymath Thomas Jefferson said that he ate little meat and considered it "as a condiment for the vegetables, which constitute my principal diet". He grew over 250 cultivars of 70 species of vegetables in the garden on his plantation, Montecello at Charlottesville, Virginia (with the help of his slaves who did not enjoy "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness"!).
It was not until the Restoration period in the mid seventeenth century that vegetables became an important part of the British diet. The diarist of the period and founder member of the Royal Society, John Evelyn, wrote on the benefits of eating vegetables. Before that time they were thought to be only fit for those with the strongest constitution or to feed to animals - peasants sold their turnips as animal fodder to earn the money to buy bread and some meat.

When choosing the crops to grow, start with the ones you like - some have recently been labelled 'superfoods'. Start with something easy such as salad leaves. All you need is a piece of open, weed-free ground and just scatter the seed. After a few weeks they will be ready to eat.

Most of the annual crops can be germinated and raised in trays to get a head start and reduce losses to pests when they are most vulnerable. Some should be sown directly as they do not like to be transplanted, particularly root vegetables such as carrots due to their single taproot.
The time of sowing given on the seed packet is only a guide and should be varied according to local conditions. If the soil is cold and wet the seeds will not do anything and may rot; as soon as conditions improve a later sowing will soon catch up. Some advantage can be gained by covering the ground in advance with plastic sheeting. This reduces the wetting and the soil warms up a bit as well.

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This is one technique for sowing seeds. Holding the palm upwards, allow the seeds to fall from the natural crease which forms as the hand is flexed. As you move your hand sideways along the row while still flexing it, the seeds fall off in a fairly even flow. (To see this happening hold your mouse over the picture and move it on and off the image - this may not work if active content is turned off in your browser) Work out where they are to be planted on your plan and the times they have to be sown. When raising under cover, small seeds are germinated in a tray then pricked out into modules or small pots to develop before being planted out. The time to prick out is as soon as the true leaves start to appear - use a seedleaf to hold the seedling when transplanting them. They must have good all-round light or they will become elongated and weak. Larger seeds such as peas and beans are sown in individual modules and planted out as soon as a shoot and roots have developed. This also protects them from mice, squirrels and pigeons which can steal most if not all from a row sown directly. Another important task is to label the row, its easy to forget what and where it has been sown.

The recent development of Mycorrhizal fungi has given the grower another 'tool' for increasing the productivity of the vegetable plot. These beneficial organisms form a symbiotic relationship with the root system of plants, increasing the uptake of nutrients and water. They are applied at planting time and can transfer to following crops in a rotation, so the use of fungicidal agents would have to be avoided in order to maintain their presence.

The current very variable weather can have a devastating effect on vegetable crops. The dry periods in spring reduces the germination of seed, then deluges of rain later causes some to rot away or they are smothered under flood water. Diseases can also be more prevalent with Mildew in dry periods and humid conditions when potatoes are maturing, cause an increase in Blight - commercial growers can be unable to get onto fields to use preventive sprays. Excess water can also cause splitting of root crops and fruit as the plant cells expand at a greater rate than the skins can cope with.

It is a good idea to keep a record of the layout and the crops grown when operating a rotation system - it is easy to forget the location of previous crops. Also the particular Varieties can be recorded and can be grown again, or not, if they did not perform well or were not good to eat.

The column on the right has links to monographs on some of the vegetables more commonly grown in the vegetable plot, pointing out growing tips and the pests and diseases which attack the crops. While some chemical treatments are mentioned they should be a last resort if they are to be used at all, and are included here for information. Many of the pests can be kept at bay using barriers such as fine netting or garden fleece, eg. Cabbage White Butterflies and Carrot Root Flies.
A schedule showing planting and harvesting times can be viewed here


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Use the links below for details on growing some crops:-

Beans

Beetroot

Cabbage

Carrots & Parsnips

Courgette (Zucchini)

Leeks

Lettuce

Onions

Peas

Potatoes

Swede (Turnips)





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