garden tips

Growing Vegetables Organically

Most crops do best in a well-sited, well-prepared vegetable plot planted in rotation. Growing on a bed system has many advantages, especially in a small garden (see Bed System for Growing Vegetables). However, perennial vegetables like globe artichokes and rhubarb fit well among ornamentals, and crops such as red- and green-leaf lettuces can be used to fill in gaps. Bush tomatoes will grow well in pots or hanging baskets.

  1. The ideal site is sunny, well-drained and sheltered, although some vegetables like Jerusalem artichokes and summer salads tolerate partial shade. Avoid frost pockets and sites with overhanging trees. The soil should be deep, fertile and slightly acid, with a pH of about 6.5 (see Knowing Your Garden Soil), but you can grow crops while clearing the ground using a light-excluding mulch and while improving the soil.
  2. Grow a range of crops and varieties to increase diversity and help to lessen the effects of pests and diseases. Plan for year-round produce but, in limited space, select crops that are better fresh rather than bought, and those that are not easy to find. Choose pest- and disease-resistant varieties if necessary (see Organic Gardening – Preventing Problems).
  3. Raise plants like half-hardy tomatoes and courgettes and slow growers like celery inside. Sowing inside or under cloches also gives some other crops a good start. Outside, sow either directly in the growing position or into a seedbed for transplanting (see How to Grow Plants from Seed).
  4. Dig the soil only if necessary. Manure, compost and other organic matter is essential. Use as a surface mulch or fork into the topsoil. Rotate crops for the best results (see What is Crop Rotation?).
  5. Hoeing and hand-weeding are the main methods of weed control (see Ways to Control Weeds). In some cases short-term mulches and green manures can be used. A flame weeder is appropriate for a stale seedbed or to destroy weed seeds in a bed of a slow-germinating crop.
  6. Regular feeding of crops in the soil is not necessary—they get all they need from the soil. Feed vegetables grown in pots with a liquid feed (see Liquid Feeds for Garden Plants) or by top-dressing with organic fertilizers (see Organic Matter for the Garden)or worm compost (see Worm Compost and Worm Composting). Organic fertilizers or comfrey leaves can be used in poor soils while the fertility is built up. Crops which overwinter in the ground and crop in spring may need extra feeding in spring with a nutrient-rich mulch or by top-dressing with a quick-acting organic fertilizer.
  7. Water your crops if necessary. Leafy crops require regular watering in dry spells at a rate of 11-16 liters per sqm (2-3%gal per sq yd) per week. For root crops, apply 5-10 liters per metre (1-2 gal per yd) of row as necessary. Fruiting vegetables such as tomatoes, courgettes, peas and beans need water most when flowering and when fruit is setting: apply 22 liters per sq m (4gal per sq yd) per week. Potatoes need water most when the tubers start to form, which often coincides with flowering; give a single watering of 22 liters per sq m (4gal per sq yd).
  8. Pests and diseases are less likely to attack strong, well-grown plants. Good soil preparation and a well-planned rotation are the best lines of defence. Grow some annual attractant flowers (see Choosing and Buying Garden Plants).

Soil treatments

The following gives advice on the best soil treatment for individual crops:

  1. Artichokes, Jerusalem (z 4) Little feeding; add compost or leafmould on heavy soils.
  2. Beetroot (z 5) Grow in ground manured or composted for previous crop.
  3. Brassicas (Brussels sprouts, broccoli, cabbage, kale, cauliflower) (z-8) Grow after nitrogen-fixing crop and overwintering grazing rye or add manure or compost in spring.
  4. Beans, broad (z-8) These add nitrogen to soil; grow after overwintering grazing rye or add compost.
  5. Beans, French (z 10) Grow in ground manured for previous crop or add compost.
  6. Beans, runner (z 10) These add nitrogen to soil. Add organic matter for moisture retention.
  7. Calabrese (z-8) Grow in ground manured for previous crop or add compost.
  8. Carrots (z 6) Grow in ground composted or manured for previous crop; extra leafmould on heavy soils.
  9. Celery, celeriac (z-8) Manure ground in spring before planting.
  10. Cucurbits (cucumbers, squashes, courgettes) (z 9-10) Add compost to planting holes.
  11. Fennel, Florence (z 5) Grow in ground manured in spring for previous crop or compost ground before planting.
  12. Leeks (z 6) Grow in ground manured in spring.
  13. Lettuce (z 6) Grow in ground manured for previous crop or add compost.
  14. Onions, shallots, garlic (z 5) Plant in ground manured for previous crop or add compost.
  15. Parsnips (z 6) Grow in ground composted or manured for previous crop; add extra leafmou Id on heavy soils.
  16. Peas (z 7) They add nitrogen to soil; add organic matter on poor soils for moisture retention.
  17. Potato (z 7-8) Give this crop priority for manure in spring.
  18. Salsify, scorzonera (z 5) Grow in ground composted or manured for previous crop; add extra leafmould on light soils.
  19. Spinach, chard (z 5) Add compost or manure in spring.
  20. Swede, turnip (z 7) Grow in ground manured for previous crop or add compost.
  21. Sweetcorn (z 7) Grow in spring-composted soil.
  22. Tomato (z 9) Add manure or compost before planting.

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