Create a flourishing vegetable patch

Some gardening rules are meant to be broken.

Sally Nex, the guest speaker at the SGC event in March, outlines which gardening ‘rules’ should be broken to maximise vegetable yield. Sally Nex is a former BBC Journalist and an experienced horticulturalist with RHS accreditations and has written two books on gardening.

Rule 1. Plant in rows

This may have been fine in large Victorian gardens, allowing space for hoeing and standing but modern houses have much smaller patches, so mixing up flowers with vegetables/salads uses ground space more efficiently and is beneficial in confusing insect pests. Potential methods are to divide the patch into squares or equal areas, growing “patio” varieties for smaller plants, and interplanting shade tolerant crops such as lettuce/radishes with larger sun loving plants such as tomatoes. Using the edges of beds can also be great for salad crops.

Rule 2. Plant at spacings given on the seed packet

Again fine for larger gardens, but with good compost and using raised beds, much denser planting can be achieved. So lettuce spacing can be reduced from 9 – 12” down to 4 – 6” apart, aiming for leaves to just touch. Using raised beds avoids standing on the soil, maintains free draining and complex soil structures. Indeed the “no-dig” technique aims to leave the soil undisturbed; each season a new 2-3” layer of mulch is added, then plants are inserted using a dibber. However this can result in a large demand for compost!

 Plants can also be grown alongside apple and other fruit trees. Sowing carrots thinly enables selective harvesting allowing room for smaller plants to  then grow. Using the cold frame to raise young seedlings helps increase the cycle time so whilst one crop is being harvested, another is growing on and a third lot developing from seedlings.

Rule 3. Rotate your crops

Whilst on larger areas as such as allotments rotation can be beneficial, reducing soil borne diseases such as cabbage root fly (to some extent), in smaller plots one method is to surround the brassicas with flowers ( particularly yellow) which makes it harder for pests to find the target plants. “Companion planting”  such as interlacing carrots and onions, has some success) at reducing pest attacks.

Rule 4. Grow everything

Some vegetables take a lot of room and are relatively cheap to buy (such as potatoes and onions), so they are probably not worth using so much  ground in a small patch. Instead focus on veg which is expensive but easy to grow such as: mangetout peas ( Shiraz Purple or Oregon Sugar Pod); dwarf French beans which mature earlier than climbing varieties, so can sow as both early and late crops complimenting a climbing crop; kale which can be harvested continuously by picking the leaves at about 4” long from about October – April. Don’t allow it to flower but cut it down to near the soil in spring and it will regenerate. 

Lavender with mangetout

Berry Fruit are also good value if home grown…they do need some space  and with shallow roots don’t like competition. Ruby beauty raspberry can be grow in a container; Japanese wine berry provides jewel like berries which birds don’t attack. They can be trained up a fence with low maintenance. 

Chard and Spinach can be harvested on a “cut-and-come-again” basis , though spinach is less tolerant of drought. The mid rib stems of ruby and golden chard can be eaten like celery

Herbs are easy to grow and can be scattered amongst other plants, their scent confusing insect pests. Greek basil with small leaves is the most tolerant of the basils, managing the low light levels of the UK  and can be planted along plot edges.  

Rule 5. Some vegetables are too big for small gardens

Rather than exhibition plants which may need a polytunnel, grow patio varieties! For example baby bear small pumpkins  and patio courgettes can be grown in a pots on a terrace; Hestia runner beans can be grown to cascade and bush tomatoes such as Losetto can be grown even in hanging baskets. It is important to get blight resistant varieties such as mountain magic. Cauliflower such as Igloo can be grown close together (6-8” apart,) but do need some mollycoddling!

Most berry fruit ( except Blackcurrants) can be grown against a wall, gooseberry and red current do well, benefitting from the “heat store” provided by the wall and avoiding sawfly problems with the larvae having fewer hiding spaces at the base.  “Step-over” apple varieties provide a low growing source of fruit with careful training and pruning.

Rule 6. You need a garden!

Gutter gardening, also known as vertical gardening, using big long pockets for sideways roots and window boxes all provide interesting alternatives. Successful gardens have also been grown in skips and wheelbarrows. You do need to feed these systems. Herbs can also be grown in  window boxes.

For windowsill gardening ideas, view our blog post here.