Growing fruit, vegetables and herbs: a practical training course

Looking after your plants

Successional sowing – Sowing the same crop at intervals instead of sowing/planting all at once. Successional sowing helps to extend the harvest, make most of the spaces available and reduce the risk of entire crop failure.

Intercropping – Growing a quick maturing crop in between slower growing plants. For example, radishes between parsnips, lettuces between brassicas, and so on.

Catch-crops – Making use of the space required for the main crop in the interim. Quick growing crops like rocket, radish, and spinach can be planted in areas allocated for main crops such as potatoes.

Watering – watering directly onto the plant versus blanket watering. Rainwater is beetter than tap water. Watering early morning or evening helps reduce the water loss through evaporation. Watering needs depend on the stages of plant growth. In the case of a mature plant, it is better to water enough and leave for a couple of days instead of watering little and often.

Mulching – a technique of covering the surface of the soil with organic and non-organic materials which reduces watering requirements and controls weeds. Best done in February and on vegetables as plants mature.

ORGANIC materials

  • Bark (not wood) chippings
  • Peat or substitute (coconut husks do not hold nutrients, nor does peat)
  • Garden compost – watch balance of compost in plastic bins where too much citrus, avocado and cardboard may be put
  • Green manures – provide soil with cover; avoid winter tares, lupin, clover. Chop in when one foot high.
  • Leaf mould – avoid too much oak or horse chestnut; break down if possible eg by mowing on lawn if you have one
  • Manure – pig is best, should be dark and crumbly; if steaming and yellow – no! Horse manure contains a lot of urea.
  • Mulching mat – jute

Municipal compost has no nutrients and contains wood chip; loam-based and peat-based compost are all right.
Straw or any dried weeds without seed can be used around base of fruit trees.

NON-ORGANIC materials

  • Black polythene
  • Woven polypropylene

Feeding – Main nutrients required for vegetables are nitrogen (which is needed early in the season), phosphorous and potassium (NPK). If we follow a crop rotation practice and apply adequate organic materials while preparing the soil, it should not be necessary to have supplementary feeds but do feed vegetables! Seaweed is good if available (try Mousehold garden centre) and cannot be over-applied; Growmore can be over-applied!

Comfrey (Bocking 14) – apply leaves or dry, or make as tea and left for a while; borage and nettle can also be used in this way. Keep applying.
Blood and bone meal is good, but avoid if mixed with fish as fish fry are used which is undesirable and unsustainable; better if fish heads and tails are used. Bone meal is slow release though not as strong.

Thinning – A technique to remove plants that are too close to give the rest of the plant adequate space to grow to their full potential. It should be done when the plant has at least 2-3 true leaves. Firm up soil.

Plant support – Climbing plants such as beans and peas need support which can be made of locally available natural materials such as willow and hazel. Various methods eg two tripods of three sticks with one laid across to keep firm. Can tie pieces of string at intervals on cross piece so plants can grow up.
Support tomatoes with loose turn round base, wind cord gently round plant and tie to a cross bar. As plant gets higher, release string and let plant grow along the soil.

Earthing up – A technique of drawing up the soil around a plan. Earthing up helps to avoid wind damages to tall growing crops like brassicas, while in the case of potatoes, it is necessary to earth up to avoid sunlight affecting potato tubers.

Protecting from birds, animals and frost – Netting is essential to protect brassicas and salads from birds. Likewise, use of cloches or fleece is needed to protect plants such as courgettes, cucumber, tomatoes, beans and sweetcorn if planted out before the end of May. Carrot fly fly about one foot from the ground so put up a physical barrier or use fleece.

Slugs – Slugs lay eggs in soil. Can use nematodes (buy online from eg Harrod Horticultural but they are very expensive and one application only lasts about six weeks), wool pellets, vaseline. – useful website. Copper bands are all right round pots but are not always effective.

Weed control – Mulching, hoeing and hand weeding are the most common organic weed control methods. See the list of common garden weeds below and spot the deliberate mistake.