STARTING YOUR OWN VEGETABLE PATCH
It’s not too late for this year!
Go on- do it!
Having your own veggie patch is more wonderful and miraculous than any technological device you could buy.
Mud, drenched in sunlight, is woven suddenly into bright green beans, rich yellow potatoes, bright red tomatoes.
It is an alchemy that is the essence of life itself and you can participate in it. After three decades of gardening I am still amazed when the first carrot leaves appear. Where did all that delicate green foliage come from? And deep into the ground the golden flesh travels down.
Nothing plugs you into the seasons more than watching your bare earth explode with colour and textures. Then the harvest, then the withering as you pickle what is left of the year’s gifts.
Not too much work
Of course it also depends on how much space you have but generally a little and often is the key to starting out. In this way nothing will become too difficult a job. Ten minutes a day should be enough time to give your patch some water, pick off a few snails, hurl them over your least favourite neighbour’s fence, and tie up any loose tendrils.
The second key to enjoying your patch is regular hoeing. If you hoe as soon as the weeds sprout then they will never dominate your veg and it will take a few of minutes to do quite a large area. Look to buying a Swoe- they are light and extremely versatile.
A raised bed is a vegetable bed that has been built above the pre existing ground levels, normally out of thick wood or sleepers and then filled with good quality soil.
I am a fan of raised beds and there a number of reasons why I think they work.
If you have very solid clay or chalk soil you can completely create your own soil profile by raising the bed above the ground level. This gives you trouble free and rich soil in order to maximise your yields.
If you have pernicious weeds like Ground Elder you can build a bed right on top, and as long as your bed is a good 40/50cm high, you can put a weed suppressant membrane down first and thereby have weed free gardening.
Other advantages are: Easy to weed as you don’t have to bend down so much, water and nutrients are more contained plus grass from the lawn doesn’t start growing into the beds.
Size and Materials
At Glorious Gardens we rarely build a bed bigger than 1.2m across by 2.4 m in length as this size allows our clients to lean over and tend to their plants without having to stand on and compact the soil.
In our experience it is better to build two beds this size next to each other than have one large one.
The sides of the raised beds can be built from new pine sleepers or 2/3 inch thick wood. A lovely willow trellis can be screwed onto the outside to give a textured and rustic look.
There is also composite woods, brick and flint walls that you can build if you want a more permanent structure. I normally don’t recommend Box hedging as they can harbour snails and slugs.
A nice path of gravel can run around the bed, or a bark mulch or paving.
Sun, sun, sun. Most vegetables need at least 6 hours of direct sunlight so if at all possible give them the best position possible even if it means selling the trampoline and kids and putting the beds in the middle of the lawn. Good growth will never be a problem if there is enough sun.
Having said that one of my clients has their Veg patch in a very shady position with only dappled light and they are still able to grow Spinach, Carrots, Lettuce and Raspberries.
Also make sure you have easy access to water- a hose that is ready for action or a water butt that collects water from a nearby shed. The worst thing is having to carry endless watering cans across the lawn.
Also vegetables don’t like wind so make sure you create a wind break with twigs and screens while overtime a natural hedge can start developing behind.
How to prepare the bed
We use peat free planting compost which can be bought in bulk from landscape suppliers. We also mix this with some well rotted manure and few handfuls of bonemeal a month before sowing.
Each year in the dormant season a layer of manure can be added so it is advisable to not fill the raised bed to the brim in your first year.
In Autumn the soil can be turned over which allows any clods that have formed to break up in frosty weather as well as exposing any bugs to the cold which help mange their population.
You can also look to growing winter vegetables or a green Manure.
When and What to Sow
For the purposes of this article we will look at sowing now in March.
Many vegetable seeds are ready to go in now. The ones I will list below are bullet proof ones that I would, if it is your first year, try out first as they are the easiest to grow.
You can read the back of the packet for more detailed sowing directions. The ones that can go straight in are: Beetroot, Lettuce, Spinach, Radishes, Beans, Peas, Leeks, Carrots and Spring Onions.
Later on in May you could try buying punnet of Tomatoes, Corn and Corgettes until you have more confidence. Next year you could sow them indoors and pot them out.
It is easy, with the passion of spring, to sow the seeds too close to each other. One just can’t believe they will grow so big- but the more space the better to give them chance to spread out and for you to have easy access when you are hoeing. you also want them to have enough air moving around them to prevent mildew and insects gathering.
To save space, plants like Rhubarb can be grow in your normal herbaceous borders, as well as the most beautiful Ruby Chard (try it next to Lavender and pink Patio Roses!) Herbs can be grown in pots and Courgettes and Pumpkins can be grown on compost heaps in a sunny corner where they can spread out as much as they need.
You can also grown cascading Cherry Tomatoes from a hanging basket!
If you have a greenhouse this is the place to really have success with your South American vegetables like Tomatoes, Peppers, Chillies and Aubergines.