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Tuesday, June 18, 2024
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GardeningVegetables in the garden

Vegetables in the garden

By Ashley Wheeler

This is always the time of year that gardeners and vegetable growers take shelter from the dreariness of the weather and take solace whilst poring over next years’ seed catalogues. The days are still shortening, and it is only natural to hunker down a bit, but to also try and get a little excited about spring and the hope that the lengthening of days will bring by the end of the month.
The danger is that we can become like kids in a sweet shop. The photos of new varieties of vegetables can be all too tempting at times and it is easy to get carried away. My advice is to take a deep breath and try to think back to what worked well this year and in previous years and what didn’t. We have decided to leave a notebook in our barn where we take tea breaks so that we can note observations down through the year referring to successes and failures of crops, tweaks needed to the sowing plan and timings that haven’t quite worked out. This will all then get fed into the following years’ crop plans to fine tune things. For us, vegetable growing is our livelihood so we need to produce as much from our 5 acres as we can whilst building soil health and focusing on diversity to not only feed into the veg bags that we do, but also to increase habitat, food and associations with soil microbes and in doing so achieving a well balanced ecosystem working with the natural environment. One of the easiest ways for us to achieve this is to have a really well organised crop plan. This allows us to create a sowing plan, meaning that we can be much more consistent in our production of certain crops but it also allows us to see where there are gaps in the garden that we can plug with crops either before or after another crop. This not only adds diversity of crops to the garden but also means that we can maximise production.
Over the years we have changed the way that we grow and gradually added detail to our crop plans allowing us to grow a much wider range of crops and produce more from the area, whilst alleviating drainage problems partially caused by damaging cultivations that we have done in the past. A key skill of being a farmer or grower is observation and adaptation. By observation of plant and therefore soil health, we can see the effects of our growing methods on soil life and the availability of nutrients. By noticing a particular patch in the garden that is not draining well for example, we can see that the plants are suffering, and change our growing techniques to try to overcome this. We have gone from ploughing the soil every spring, to no ploughing and very little cultivation in the market garden, and this combined with the sowing of green manures through late summer and early autumn has massively helped to improve drainage. Throughout the wet October and November, although the market garden has been pretty wet, it is far better than it used to be when we were driving the tractor around much more and causing compaction and smearing of the clay which led to drainage issues. Some of the plant health issues may come from a lack of certain nutrients being available, but often this is down to a lack of accessibility of nutrients that is caused by poor soil health. It is the life in the soil that makes nutrients available to plants, so if that soil life is unbalanced so will the nutrient availability be.
The focus on fine tuning the cropping plan and improving soil health has had a big impact on making our market garden more productive, and there are plenty of things that home gardeners and growers can do to achieve this too. One of the easiest ways is to not cultivate or dig, but also to take notes through the year—when you have a glut of one crop or a lack of another—these are the moments that the sowing plan maybe needs a bit of changing. Or when one crop goes over but you don’t have another to put in its place—these are the moments that can be tweaked to ensure a more consistent supply of vegetables through the year, not just in the middle of summer.
We will be running more salad growing, seed saving and market gardening courses next year at Trill Farm Garden, so keep an eye out for dates. Also, if you haven’t got space of your own to grow veg you can always try a bag of ours—more details at www.trillfarmgarden.co.uk

WHAT TO SOW THIS MONTH: Best to wait until next year now!

WHAT TO PLANT THIS MONTH:
OUTSIDE: Garlic (if not planted already)
INSIDE: peashoots, sugarsnap and early pea varieties, spring onions, broad beans, garlic (for extra early garlic). Try and plant all of this early in the month.

OTHER IMPORTANT TASKS THIS MONTH: If the weather dries, continue preparing beds for the winter by mulching with compost (or hopefully you sowed plenty of green manures to keep the ground in good health through the winter, in which case you can leave the beds to look after themselves for now). Also any polytunnels or glasshouses could have a wash this time of year to get the maximum amount of light in for any winter salad and veg that you have growing in them. Don’t be tempted to tidy things too much—its always good to leave plenty of crop residue for worms and leave nettles for habitat for overwintering insects. Take the opportunity to take it a bit easier!

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