THE warmer, dry weather over the last week has made conditions ideal to start preparing the vegetable garden. Growing your own vegetables is not difficult and you do not need a large amount of space.
The traditional vegetable garden is rectangular in shape, divided into four squares – the size of the squares will depend upon the amount of available space you have. A vegetable garden 15 by 20 feet, the size of the average sitting-room, is big enough to grow a wide variety of vegetables and is easy to maintain. The soil in the vegetable garden needs to be well drained with the soil broken up into a fine silt that allows rapid root growth. Digging in lots of organic material, such as home-made compost, is best because it is weed free. Most vegetables thrive in soil with a pH between 6 and 7, which is slightly acid or neutral. The one really vital requirement for a successful vegetable garden is a sunny location. Choose the sunniest spot you can find.
If you are starting with a new garden where the soil is poor, shallow or heavy clay and wet, making a raised bed will help improve the soil and give better yields. It may take a few years to get the right conditions to grow vegetables. However, once you get the conditions right, growing your favourite vegetables will become very easy.
Rotation is a term often used with growing vegetables, it means you should never grow the same vegetables in the same piece of ground year after year. You rotate your crops each year to prevent a build up of disease and pests. Divide you vegetable garden into four sections, however big or small. Make sure the paths between the sections are wide enough to walk on and are made of paving slabs, to stop your feet getting muddy. In section 1, grow all the brassicas like cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower. In section 2, grow root crops such as carrots, beetroot and celery. In section 3, grow alliums like onions and leeks. In section 4, grow salads like lettuces, spinach and tomatoes. Move the crops around to a different section in subsequent years so that the same vegetables will only grow in the same ground once every four years. The soil in each section will need particular attention each year. The brassicas in section 1 require lots of well-rotted manure or garden compost, if the soil is acid add lime. The root crops in section 2, do not require any manure.
Most vegetables can be sown from seeds. The seed packets contain a lot of information about sowing time, distance between plants so read them carefully. The seeds can be raised in the greenhouse or sown directly into the ground when soil temperatures are suitable which should occur in April. When sowing directly into the ground it is best to cover the ground with a sheet of plastic a few weeks previously to increase soil temperatures. Many vegetable plants can be purchased from your local garden centre and planted directly into the ground.
Seeds of lettuces, brassicas, tomatoes, peppers, courgettes, aubergines, parsley, sweetcorn and onions can be sown now in glasshouse to produce plants for planting out next month. We grow onions from seeds and sets. We plant our onion sets in modular trays in the greenhouse, planting one set in each section until they produce strong roots and green shoots. They are planted out next month in rows, drawing soil up around the neck of the bulb before watering thoroughly. Water regularly through the growing season.
The easiest way to get the soil into a fine silt is to use a cultivator. Using a spade can be back breaking but a cultivator will do the job perfectly and with minimal effort.
The Maigue Flower and Garden Club will hold their monthly get together at the Woodlands, Adare on Wednesday April 4 commencing at 8pm.