It is the time of year when many are focused on healthy eating and increasing our daily consumption of vegetables. As a result, readers may be thinking that this is the year to take the leap to grow vegetables.
On a positive note, you don’t need a huge amount of space for this endeavour. It is also cost effective and if you put the right plans in place, you will be greeted with a wide variety of vegetables. Of course, one of the most tempting reasons to grow your own is freshness. Eating vegetables and herbs straight from the ground is unparallelled in terms of a burst of flavour.
In order to grow a good crop, you will need quality soil with lots of sunshine. If necessary, apply a balanced, general-purpose fertiliser to improve potential. As mentioned, space isn’t a huge issue as some vegetables, such as kale, chard, broccoli, lettuce and other leafy salads, onions and runner beans trained up an obelisk or wigwam, as well as various herbs can be tucked in between shrubs and flowers.
It’s a good idea to start with vegetables that easily thrive as this will encourage further efforts. A good one to start with is radish, with which you’ll see results within about six months. Lettuce also produces results quite quickly and you can take leaves as needed, even as it is developing.
As much as it is useful to know what grows well, it is equally important to know what vegetables can be troublesome. Rocket, bulb fennel, Chinese vegetables and celery are all inclined to go to seed, also known as bolting. When this happens, usually the growing energy of the plant is redirected into flower and seed production. The result is a useless crop, so respectfully, perhaps these plants are for the more experienced vegetable growers.
Although it may seem early in the year for growing vegetables, now is the time to start preparing the ground for the coming year. The ground can be dug over now or left to dry out allowing it to become suitable for cultivating with a small rotovator. This allows you the best opportunity to prepare so that when the first opportunity arises to get some early vegetables into the ground, you’re ready.
If the conditions are right, early potatoes will be ready for sowing in February. Others include shallots, garlic, beans and peas. It’s a good idea to head to the garden centre and stock up on seeds so that when the conditions are mild, you’re ready to grow.
Farmers will be familiar with the concept of crop rotation and while it applies to large fields, it is just as relevant in small patches. The principle of crop rotation is to grow specific groups of vegetables in different parts of the plot or garden each year. This helps to reduce a buildup of crop-specific pest and disease problems and it organises vegetables according to their cultivation needs.
Therefore, it is useful to be aware of the different vegetable families. When grown together they seek the same nutrients from the soil and can be impacted by disease.
Some family groupings are obvious. For example, the onion family contains onions and its counterparts such as spring onion, chives, shallots and garlic. Within the pea family, non-surprisingly, there is garden peas, French beans, runner beans and broad beans.
In the lettuce family however, you’ll find quite a diverse range of vegetables including lettuce, artichokes, chicory and salsify. The carrot family also has quite a few members including parsnips, parsley, celery, celeriac, dill, lovage, coriander, fennel and spices such as cumin and caraway.
You might be surprised to find tomatoes in the potato family, along with peppers (both sweet and chilli), and aubergine. Melons and courgettes sit in the cucumber family as do courgetters, pumpkins and squashes.
The cabbage family includes cabbage, cauliflower, broccoli-both the green and the sprouting kind as well as turnips-swede. Brussels sprouts, radishes, horseradish and rocket also fall into this grouping.
So it’s a good idea to have a schedule of rotating the location of vegetables from amongst the families. However, as much as its important to know what doesn’t go together, it’s important to know what thrives beside each other. Consider tomatoes and lettuces near each other as well as carrots and leeks.
Remember to control weeds as soon as they appear, and don’t allow them to grow beyond the seedling stage or to flower. Staying on top of things will benefit you in the long run.