New Gardener Series: Planning & Starting to Create a Veg Garden

Last time we looked at the monumental cock up that was our first year on Pig Row and how the weeds and soil got the better of us. Though we got some crops that where excellent from our 20x15 plot, the rest of the garden, which at that point included what we now call the field and cottage garden was largely swallowed by sheeps' sorrel and blight. This mistakes happen but we should have known better after having an allotment and running a small garden. Yet, it is easy when coming to gardening and growing for the first time that you are either (1) daunted, or; (2) daunted but over excited. We kind of fell into (2) because we allowed our excitement to get the better of us.

How to plan a garden

So, we decided the best way forward in the winter of 2010 was to map the garden, draw it out and this was largely in thanks to The Victorian Kitchen Garden which Andrew had received as a Christmas present. This explains the initial formal lines in the cottage garden above. We'd like to say that this plan came to fruition, all the hard standing design did; the hedges, the trained fruit, the path and arbour, but the rest became somewhat more fluid as we learnt how to grow and how to deal with a sloping site. You can see the difference between the plan above drawn in late 2010 for the 2011 garden, and the subsequent plan from 2014/15 cottage garden. You will also note that we have turned, see left top corner, to using crop rotation. This was born out of our time doing the Wartime Garden and the importance of growing for winter as well as summer.

How to learn crop rotation

Even with these plans, there has been a need for a fluid approach -- it all depends on the season and the weather but it always vital you have a back up plan for beds. That you consider the potential of a bed to grow more than one crop.

Learning crop rotation and how backup your growing for the season

A top tip that we got from Monty Don's Observer Columns (you can find them in the wonderful book, My Roots: A Decade in the Garden) was to keep a garden diary and we have done so since 2011. You can see it in the below photo. It allowed us on paper to explore ideas and to even make notes of what was working and what wasn't. With all this in mind, your pencil in hand and your paper crammed full of scribbling, how do you put what is in your mind into simple practice?

Learn to keep a garden diary it will reward you ten fold

Find a sheltered spot in the garden that is also sunny too. Consider it in these terms, could you garden naked here without being caught? If so, you have a good plot to strip back but if you're gardening in pots on your front doorstep, hang back from getting naked. After all, it's only an image to make you consider how warm your plot is. Victorian gardeners were rumoured to pull down their pants and sit in the soil in spring to test how warm it was; we suspect that this is one of those gardening myths that just happen to make you smile whilst wondering if it was true. If you don't have fences or hedges but do have nosy neighbours waiting for you to sink your buttocks or other bodily parts into the soil, you may want to invest in a hazel hurdle, these are not cheap but last a long time if cared for or you can go for the cheaper option of windbreak material on strong 2x2 posts that you can drive into the ground before securing the material to it. Any type of windbreak from hedge to windbreak material will protect open soil for up to 4-5 times its height. So, don't forget to shelter where you want to grow.

A new veg plot needs shelter but how do you shelter a new veg plot?

In the photo above, our small veg plot was protected by hedges and fences, and a shed, and also a greenhouse. At the far end of the photo you can see the posts that held windbreak material, we'd taken it down by then to use elsewhere in the garden. So, you now have a plot to grow in, or some pots, but where do you start and when? 

When do you start growing?

February: now you've selected your new veg patch you should clear the ground of anything that's growing there. If it's a lawn, then cut the turf into foot square pieces and slide a spade underneath the turf and stack grass side to grass side somewhere they can rot down over the next twelve months. You will get a lovely crumbly loam which you can use the following spring as a mulch. If you have limited space then you may have no choice and will have to put them in the council compost can feel us wince when we say that, can't you? We work, on Pig Row, under the principal of recycling on our own plot and when we had to fill the bin with weeds in the first few years, we knew no better but since then we have learnt weed fermentation, every weed is now recycled. Stacked turf though will rot down during the summer and give you lovely loam which you can add back to the soil to enrich it as a mulch. Dig over the soil adding well rotted manure, lime or blood, fish and bone. You can add your windbreaks at this point. Work the soil to a fine tilth by using a rake to break down clumps of soil. Then leave for a fortnight. You can break your bed up into three beds and order your seed, if you want to go down the traditional route. In a fortnight you will discover that the cleared bed somehow has weeds all over it -- there will be a moment of puzzlement and mild indignation, take that feeling and put it at the cutting edge of a hoe, and on a clear day, hoe that indignation away with all the weed seedlings. You should now have a clean bed -- you will hear this term bandied around often but frankly there is no such thing and weeds have a habit of blowing in on the wind.

Creating a three bed growing system

Your three beds are split into an A bed, B bed and C bed, see above for what vegetables go into each of the beds but when do you plant them and how do they look when planted? You can see below that we have adopted the three bed structure, tweaking here and there to include flowers.

Let's break down when you plant your crops by month, we have since 2011 used the Dig for Victory leaflet below and in this you can see the dates of sowing and the dates of use, this gives you clear guidelines when to sow and when to eat (just right click and 'save as' to view on your computer).

Cropping plan and when to sow and eat

However, there is one missing crop on these guidelines. Though tomatoes are on there, they are not there as a seed to be sowed. They are there as a plant. It is best to sow tomatoes in March under cover, you can do this on windowsills and frankly you will find tomatoes easier to grow indoors and I suspect that tomatoes listed here where brought into the open after all chances of frost had passed. Secondly, there are no courgettes or pumpkins, now a staple of many British gardens. We sow our courgettes and pumpkins in early April, undercover and plant out in May after all frosts have passed. The rest of the plants listed here are direct sown seeds. Over the coming weeks we will look at each of these, and take you step by step through A, B, and C beds. We will look at how to sow, when to sow and hopefully you will take the chance to do it next year. Some of these crops can also be grown in planters and window boxes, so don't be afraid to embrace small spaces, you'd be amazed what you can grow in a window box...

A three bed system can work in window boxes and tubs



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