It has been a difficult Spring this year for vegetable growers, and at the time of writing (middle of May) it looks as though things may be beginning to improve (at least for the moment).
It has been wet since March and the soil has remained relatively cold—perfect conditions for slugs, and not the greatest conditions for getting the soil prepared for new plantings, or for new plantings to flourish. We have found that our no dig beds have been invaluable this year, and we have in fact been able to prepare all beds for planting by not cultivating but instead, mowing down old crops and weeds and then covering with light excluding black silage plastic.
Through spring it takes somewhere between two and four weeks for beds to be ready to plant using this technique—it depends on how weedy the bed was and which crops were previously planted in it. Some perennial weeds like docks or creeping thistle will not be killed off, but these can be dug up once the plastic has been removed. Annual meadow grass also takes a bit longer to kill off than most other annual weeds. If the beds had living roots in the soil through the winter they have generally kept in really good health by maintaining a good level of biological activity in the soil, as the plant roots give out exudates which feed the soil life.
We have personally found that keeping plants in the soil for as long as possible and covering the soil as much as possible through the winter with living plants has led to a soil that drains far better and has a much-improved structure compared to just mulching with compost. The abundancy of soil life is far greater too—which explains the improvements in drainage.
The combination of maximizing soil coverage with living plants and then not cultivating has greatly improved our soil, and we can now easily plant crops through the spring without the stress of waiting for small windows of opportunity for the soil to dry out enough to cultivate. If the soil is too wet when it is cultivated it can cause damage to the structure which then causes issues with drainage and in turn problems for plant roots to access nutrients. This means that plants then struggle to grow and cannot provide those essential exudates that they give out through their roots to soil dwellers, which in turn leads to less biologically active soils and therefore less soil aggregation (which helps to build good soil structure) and less availability of nutrients for plants to take up through their roots.
Growing and farming methods that rely on repeated cultivation and chemicals to provide the nutrients for plants to survive, end up in a vicious cycle of soil life being killed off, which although initially may result in a flush of nutrients being made available to plants, longer term results in a depletion of plant available nutrients. Plants then rely on chemical based fertilisers which only perpetuates the problems as they do not form the associations with life in the soil. The growing system becomes unbalanced, plants are more susceptible to pest and disease damage and they then rely on chemical pesticides and fungicides to stay alive, as they do not have the ability to fight off attacks from pathogens and insects.
June can be a great month for a veg grower as the garden starts to produce from the sowings made earlier in the year. This also means that some crops will be coming to an end soon, so it’s good to make sure that you have other crops ready to plant when space comes available. Have a look at the list below for other things to sow and plant this month.
WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: purple sprouting broccoli & January King type winter cabbage (early this month), french beans, chard, beetroot, chard, carrots, basil, late cucumbers, kale, fennel, salad leaves—summer purslane, buckshorn plantain, salad burnet, lettuce, chicory (Treviso and Palla Rossa varieties early in the month, other varieties later), endive, mustards and rocket (mesh to keep flea beetle off), goosefoot, anise hyssop, amaranth, orache, nasturtiums.
WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Dwarf french beans, beetroot, squash and corn (if not already done), lettuce and salads, squash, runner beans, kale, chard, autumn cabbage, broccoli, leeks, celeriac
INSIDE: climbing french beans, cucumbers, basil, salads – goosefoot, summer purslane
OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: Undersow squash with a mix of red and white clovers, yellow trefoil, and other cornfield wildflowers—this will help to fix nitrogen, but more importantly cover the soil and provide organic matter and living roots for soil organisms to benefit from.