As the days get longer and there is a bit of warmth in the sun, some of us are itching to get going in the garden. However, the earth is still too cold for most seeds, and the weather could turn wintery with snow or frost, so this is the ideal time for a bit of planning.
Whether you are new to vegetable growing or an old hand, it pays to consider a few things before rushing for the seed catalogues.
- Think about how much space you have to grow crops – an allotment plot or a few window boxes?
- How much time can you spend tending your plants – tomatoes are quite needy requiring staking, pinching, watering and feeding and potatoes are relatively easy going once planted.
- What fruits and veg do you actually like eating – there’s no point in growing a patch of broccoli if you’ll never eat it!
- What veg tastes best fresh – new potatoes freshly dug and straight in the pan, freshly cut salads, home-grown strawberries and raspberries can’t be beaten
- Cost can come into the choice too – onions and leeks are relatively easy to grow but whereas onions are cheap to buy, shop bought leeks are expensive so well worth growing your own.
If you have space to grow a few edibles it’s worth considering crop rotation. This is a system of grouping together plants in the same families: brassicas such as cabbages and broccoli; legumes such as peas and beans; alliums such as onions and leeks; and roots such as beetroot, carrots. The following year each group moves on to the next location. There are a number of benefits of this system:
- each plant family have similar needs making it easier for you to care for them, for example the brassicas are hungry plants which benefit from additional nitrogen. If they follow on from a crop of peas and bean they will benefit from the nitrogen legumes are able to fix in the soil via their root nodules. This is why it’s a good idea to leave the roots of your pea crop in the ground.
- Pests and diseases won’t get a chance to build up in a particular site if you keep rotating your crops.
- Crop rotation will help your soil structure with deep rooted crops such as parsnips and carrots opening up the soil, and can be followed by shallow rooted salads.
Even if you don’t have space to follow an extensive crop rotation plan, it will still be beneficial to grow crops in a different planter or pot or bit of the garden each year. Consider starting a compost heap, recycling kitchen scraps and making your own fertile compost to feed your hungry plants. There is no need to completely renew compost in your window box or planter each year, just replace the top half with your homemade compost or peat free compost.
Interplanting your crops with companion plants such as French marigolds, calendula, borage and herbs will attract insect pollinators as well as natural enemies of crop pests. It will make your veg patch look very pretty too! By growing your own healthy, zero-food-miles fruit and veg you will be growing tasty fresh food without all the environmental costs of transport and packaging.