Preparing Your Vegetable Plot for Grow-Your-Own Bliss
As the sap rises, we all get the itch to garden. That itch turns to an urge around the end of March and many plunge headlong into the wonderful world of Grow Your Own come April. But to be successful, vegetable plots have to be ready. They have to be prepared to accept our plantings and receive our seed. So, if your plot is overgrown and untidy, get a few things straight before ploughing on.
I know, plants in the wrong place and at the wrong time, but weeds in all their forms do rob your caulis and carrots of vital water, nutrients and light.
Annual weeds are the 100m sprinters of the weed world: they grow, flower, set seed, release that seed and die all in a year. Often less than a year. The trick is to pull them out before they flower. That way you cut short their life cycle. You can crush them and add to your compost heap.
Perennial weeds are the long-distance runners: they last for years, often have widespread and/or deep roots and simply hoicking them out won't clear your plot. They are usually adapted to survive. Leave a 1cm piece of bindweed root in the soil and you still have a bindweed problem - even though you have spent the day clearing all the tops. Same for ground elder. And marestail. I won't mention Japanese knotweed. (Nettle do fall into this group but leave a small patch somewhere in the garden to support butterflies). Dig them out, removing all the roots and take to the council recycle tip for composting. Don’t litter your own bins with them. All you will be doing is spreading the weeds to the rest of your garden.
If digging out every scrap of weed isn’t going to happen, you can use chemicals containing glyphosate (you’re intelligent: check out all the reports about this chemical and make your own mind up) or keep harvesting and grazing at the tops of weeds. Eventually you will get them to an acceptable background level.
A weed-clear plot is the first step on the road to a happy gardening year.
Compacted soil is hard work for seeds. And seedlings. Fluff it up with a fork or spade. Allow to settle, rake and get what is called in gardening terms ‘a fine tilth’ to the surface. If the soil looks crumbly and inviting to you then chances are your seeds will grow. It also needs to be warm enough to get the precious chemical reactions started in seeds. Remember it’s not so much the air temperature that is important to seeds, but the actual soil temperature. If weeds are growing then it will be warm enough - or get your hands on a soil thermometer and check the readings.
Much vaunted organic matter is the key to a successful plot. Homemade compost and well-rotted manure are the usual kings of organic matter. Dug into the plot, they break up heavy clay soils and when in sandy soils, they bulk it all up so that the soil retains moisture and nutrients. Most importantly, they encourage bacteria, fungi and worms to colonise the soil. And that leads to a naturally healthier environment.
Alternatively, you can spread organic matter on the surface of the soil and let worms get their digestives systems into it and do all the hard work. No dig gardening is popular.
Ideally you feed the soil and not the plants. A healthy soil (organic matter etc!) will sustain great growth. But sometimes, especially when renovating a soil, a judicious dollop of fertiliser will work wonders. I’m not going to pontificate about being organic or otherwise, you chose, but there are fertilisers manufactured for both camps. Always use according to the instructions.
Then it’s a case of keeping on top of a plot. Get rid of unwanted weeds as they dare to pop up; keep general debris off the plot as it will only harbour pests and diseases; and only garden what you can. To clear an allotment, for example, will take a lot of hard work, but then it is heart-breaking if you only have time to tend a quarter of it whilst watching the rest revert to type!
Let us know how your preparation goes. We always love to hear stories and see pics. Why not pop one on our Facebook page?