We are some distance away from first sowings of outdoor veg, but I wanted to get ahead of the game while we are in the slightly less frenetic dormant season.
I am not a big do-er of vegetables, I am more a dabbler, it just interests me less than the ornamental side of things. However, I have a fixed amount of space for veg and I want to get a more worthwhile crop from that space. I have a lot of seeds I could sow, more than I have space for actually, but which will give useful returns of harvested crops?
I have three 8’x4′ raised beds, oriented approximately north to south. They have been in place for perhaps 10 years. The topsoil came from a house round the corner who were doing some hard landscaping. The soil was quite stony as I recall and I have no idea whether it was good or bad soil. I have periodically added my own garden compost to the beds, and in the last couple of years I have been able to add a good thick mulch of spent mushroom compost, and recently a thick layer of well rotted horse manure. I am not religiously following the no-dig philosophy, but I am using many of the same techniques which I hope will improve soil structure and health, and thus improve yield.
I am also borrowing from the square foot gardening approach. The theory here is that traditional row planting wastes productive growing space to facilitate access and weeding. In square foot gardening, the crops are planted at the traditional spacing, but the row spacing is ditched. So long as the plants are the required distance apart, allowing for sufficient light, air, growing space, then more crops can be grown in the equivalent space and with less weeding. That’s the theory.
There is a lot of guidance out there on how many veg to plant in each square foot, the amount varies by crop type and is dictated by the required planting distance, but more on that when I do some actual planting and sowing. Anyhow, my planting plan is based on this square foot model. I have divided each bed into one foot squares and allocated a crop from my available stash of seeds. I have tried to take into account the height of the crops, the direction of sunlight etc, to avoid tall plants shadowing the smaller ones.
At the north end are runner beans, two varieties. Snowstorm is a hybrid runner/green bean that I am trialling for Suttons Seeds in 2018. There’s a few in that category. These grow to 6 or 7 feet tall so need to be positioned so that they don’t shade other stuff. I will probably just put in two wig-wams made of 8′ canes, each covering a 4 square patch. That worked well for me last growing season. I shall not be using that nasty green plastic netting – I was cursing that at the end of this summer, trying to distentangle my bean plants. It turned a 10 minute tidying up job into a 1.5 hour curse-fest.
Moving south, or left, we have carrots next. My sworn enemy. I have never managed to grow a decent crop of carrots. I did promise myself this year that I would never grow them again, but here I am, three different varieties. The fire wedge and nantes are from Suttons, part of the trial I am doing. Carrots and other root vegetables allegedly don’t appreciate a recently manured plot, but as far as I can tell that advice relates to fresh manure, mine was well rotted. Should be OK…
Next are onions and garlic. The onions are ‘bedfordshire champ’, a good variety for storing, apparently, these ones are to grow from seed. The garlic is from The Garlic Farm on the Isle of Wight. I haven’t grown garlic before but have heard good things. I have a few different varieties to try, one hardneck, the red duke, two softneck, the purple wight and the provence wight, plus some elephant garlic. They haven’t shipped yet, but soon as they arrive I shall be planting out the cloves, they need a bit of cold over the winter, I gather.
Then comes the summer squashes. I grew the same courgette variety last year, it was quite a compact plant and cropped well. Two plants should be sufficient for our needs – I had 4 last season and this led to glut conditions! The squash, ‘honey boat’, is new to me, I’m trialling it for Suttons. It apparently has a built in harvest indicator – the green stripes fade when it is ready to eat. Tastes fabulous too, I hear. Looking forward to that one.
Starting at the north end (right) again, first up are an unusual pea variety, blauwschokker, from the 2018 Suttons’ range. Not one I’ve grown before, it has purple pods and attractive flowers. It wouldn’t be out of place in the main border, I think. It can be eaten as mange tout or left to pod up. They grow tall, so are at the back. Like the runners, I’ll put in two wig-wams of 8′ canes.
Next are more onions, a red variety, Electric. Sets this time, not seeds. I can plant those nowish actually and get an earlier crop which will also free up some space for a follow-on crop. I should be able to fit 9 per square so 36 in total. I have been guilty of stuffing more in than this in the past, small onions are the inevitable result. On the eastern side of the bed is space for some salad. I prefer leaf crops to heads of lettuce, they’re easier to grow and fast too.
Moving south we have more carrots, Jeanette this time, a variety I grew this year with very mixed results. They were mostly in the humorous “ugly veg” category. I am growing two varieties of swede, or rutabaga if you’re in the US, next year. I’ve grown swede this year as well, a different variety. They have certainly formed roots, but I don’t think they appreciated being transplanted from modules. This is a recurring theme actually. I plan to sow direct all of the root veg, hopefully removing a reason for sulking. No excuses!
Sigh. Parsnips. Again, poor results this year. Misshapen, gnarled, arthritic things. Tasted OK, mind. Gladiator is a new variety to me though, I am ever hopeful. Finally, more of the garlic. According to the spacing guide I should only plant 4 cloves per square. This doesn’t seem very many to me, but I can use the space for other faster growing crops. Radishes, spring onions, beetroot, that kind of thing.
The north-siders in this bed are a bit more salad, and some climbing borlotti beans. These grew well for me this year, but the yield was disappointing. I know others grew the same bean and had good crops, so I am having another crack. A wig-wam of canes will be just the job.
Moving south, next up is leeks, two varieties. Musselburgh I have grown before, they did OK, Pandora is a new variety to me. I must remember to earth them up a bit, to get the favoured white stem. I’ll grow them in modules or pots then transplant when they’re pencil size. I’m growing snap peas again next year despite a disappointing crop in 2017. Apart from anything else, I have spare seeds.
I’m growing a few varieties of broad bean, some leftovers from this year, but the Crimson variety is new, from the Suttons range. I’m not going to bother overwintering them, it’s too much faff and I lost most of the plants last winter, I assume to frost. It’s true that the few that survived grew on strongly and probably cropped sooner, but I can’t be bothered. I shall mainly sow direct, I think, although I might start the first batch off in the greenhouse to get a head start.
Lastly I am dedicating some space to a sweet pea crop. I’ve grown them before, half-heartedly, next year I will have lots of good flowers I hope, helped by giving them a sunny spot with little competition, and where I can easily pick the flowers, necessary to get a continuous supply. I have several different varieties, all sown already in various stages of growth. The important thing is that they put on a good root network over the winter, then they’ll be ready to be good plants when I put them in their final positions in the spring.
I will also grow potatoes, both earlies and maincrops, but I’ll do those in sacks. Tomatoes too, of course, although I may just do a few plants in the greenhouse this year, I lost all my outside plants to blight in August this year, I barely got any fruit. No doubt I’ll get carried away and have too many things growing to manage well, but that’s half the fun. I also need to give some thought to follow-on crops – veg that I can sow or plant after summer harvests are done. That’s an opportunity I usually miss due to lack of planning, I want to avoid that in 2018 if I can.
I have ambitious plans to create a week by week sowing, planting and harvesting plan for the veg next year. My ideal would be to look along a given week and be clear about what needs doing, rather than trying to juggle all that in my head. If I get anywhere with that I’ll post it here for info.
How are you getting on with your veg plot plotting for next year? Remember I am a somewhat indifferent veg grower. Do you think this plan will work? Are there any schoolboy errors, traps for young players? Let me know in the comments.
I’ll be back with a veggie update in the new year.