During the current lockdown, gardening is booming but we’re still early in the season. So if you're still sat on the fence, and undecided if you should give growing vegetables a go, take a look at these 10 tips, that I believe will definitely help any beginners grow a more productive crop of vegetables.
As an advocate of ‘no dig’ gardening, there is no need to dig or double dig beds before planting, simply because I believe you damage soil structure and waste your time. I simply mulch soil with compost annually, rather than laboriously digging it.
Although I'm no Alan Titchmarsh or Monty Don, I do possess a wealth of horticultural experience after making a living designing and building gardens in my younger years.
After seeing a raft of common mistakes, here is a lists of 10 common mistakes and how by following a few simple tips, you can resolve them.
1 Sowing too early
Don’t believe everything you read on social media (especially this blog), as so-called "experts" may still give the wrong advice. Sowing carrots in January is unlikely to produce a rich harvest, and I doesn’t even sow runner beans until May.
The reason for this is an obvious one. Despite warm spells at this time of year, frosts can still bite and cold winds are common. These over night frosts can can kill off tender plants and send you straight back to square one. First blindingly obvious tip is to carefully read the backs of seed packets, which should tell you when to sow. Veg particularly vulnerable to frost include courgette, squash, runner and French beans and sweetcorn.
People often overwater, especially at seedling stage. As long as the soil is damp, seedlings will begin to germinate and until new shoots start to sprout, there’s less need for continuous watering. Overwatering can leave little roots flooded, which could kill off these delicate plants from lack of air. A simple tip is to lift your seed trays – a well-watered one will feel heavier than one needing water – but make sure it’s not too weighty. You’ll quickly learn how to judge what needs water and what doesn’t.
3 Loosening soil
Some gardeners believe that plants need soil that has been loosened, by hand digging or by rotavator, to allow them to spread their roots. I say firm soil is better and has its own natural, healthy structure of drainage and aeration. Now I'm not denying that different plants thrive in different soil conditions, but most will be happy to just be planted, fed, watered and kept weed free.
I'd go as far as saying, that If you put a good compost mulch of at least 2in on your beds, without digging it in, it should provide all the nutrients your plants require and you won't even have to plant a new shrub or other plants with a compost mix to get them started.
4 Spacing plants or seeds too far apart
I learnt very early on that this can result is a massive under-use of space in your garden, as well as extra work to maintain the unused space, which is often colonised by weeds. As a starting point, space about one third closer than recommended and you’ll be surprised how many extra plants you can grow. Vegetables which are regularly planted too far apart include onions, lettuce and beetroot. Which makes these 3 a fantastic place to start for people with small plots who want to grow a lot of produce in a restricted area.
5 Over-feeding plants
Although feeding some plants like tomatoes can boost crops, I recommend feeding soil life instead with a mulch of compost on top of the soil and leave it undisturbed, which is the basic mantra of a "no-dig" garden. Plant food is then available through biological interactions, such as the work of naturally-occurring mycorrhizal fungi, but if you overfeed plants you cause an imbalance in growth and potentially encourage more leaf, less fruit and more aphids.
6 Over-complicating transplanting seedlings
From personal experience, I dont recommend hardening off seedlings, providing you cover new plantings in spring with a fleece - hay/straw (or other material) until the weather warms up. Vegetable seedlings which don’t need transplanting include carrots and parsnips, which you should plant where they are to grow in the garden. This is simply due to the fact that if the "tap-root" gets damaged in transplant, it can result in wonky vegetables.
7 Compost confusion
Too many gardeners often spend too much time picking out garden debris which they think is unsuitable for the compost heap. I say that it’s perfectly okay to add blighted tomato leaves and stems, bindweed roots, citrus peel and rhubarb leaves, which will die if they are continually smothered by other composting matter. Have solid sides to your compost heap to keep warmth in and don’t turn it more than once. Let nature do her work, and by next year you'll have a fantastic homemade compost ready to go direct on your garden.
8 Use of slug pellets
I try and grow as organically as possible, plus these are poison to hedgehogs and other soil organisms. If like ne you enjoy spending as much tube outdoors as possible, then you can keep in top of pests manually with no need fir harmful chemicals.
9 Lack of summer sowings
Why do so many gardeners just sow seeds in spring? It will result in empty space and rampant weeds by autumn. Make use of the whole growing year. Sowing beetroot in late June, fennel and lettuce in July and rocket as late as early August keeps your garden producing for almost 12months of the year.
10 Costly high raised beds
You fork out a big expense on wood, membranes and gravel, and leave yourself a lot of wasted space simply because of the density of each block of wood. Instead, you can create a much lower area by covering the ground you’re earmarking for your vegetables with cardboard and then covering that with a 2in-thick compost mulch. He says you don’t need any sort of barrier at all to keep the compost in – as it should settle naturally. It's a little more messy, but you can grow most veg successfully. If you want you can grow carrots and parsnips in deeper beds, and that would be my only justification for building high raised beds.