The snowdrops are in full fig, and even early daffodils are starting to flower down here in the south – praise be! We’ll soon be through this ghastly, frightening winter and into brighter, more hopeful days. Time to start some veg-plot planning, and tackling some deep-rooted weeds amongst other things…
If you are one of the thousands and thousands of people who took up veg-growing for the first time last spring, fantastic! I hope you saw enough return – at least the odd super-fresh tomato or lettuce – to tempt you into trying again this year. If even Growbag Caroline can make a good fist of it, as she was saying in last week’s blog, there’s hope for everyone! It won’t be long before we publish our Beginner’s Veg book to help with the fundamentals, but in the meantime, you could start planning your method of attack.
You may be lucky enough to have more than one tiny patch in which to grow vegetables and if that is the case, how about considering something called ‘Crop Rotation’. This is a rather cleverly-worked-out plan for avoiding growing the same crops in the same soil each year. Basically, certain crops attract certain diseases and pests, and these can build up in the soil over time, putting the following year’s crop at risk.
It’s helpful to consider vegetables in groups. Brassicas like broccoli, cabbages, kale etc. can attract various kinds of rot as well as clubroot. Legumes like beans and peas are subject to downy mildew and pea thrips, amongst other things. Onions, shallots and leeks might also get mildew as well as bulb eelworm and white rot. With potatoes, it’s scab, blight and eelworm, and root crops like carrots, parsnips and beetroot might get root rot, parsnip canker etc. All are an absolute PAIN IN THE NECK, of course, so if you can lessen the impact of these nasties by changing where you grow them each year, it might worth making a plan now.
Another thing to add here is that some crops like potatoes like lots of rotted manure and other organic composts added to the soil before planting, whereas other things such as carrots need much less of that – indeed, too much manure can make carrots fork dramatically – fun for an Instagram post, but rather awkward in the kitchen! The legumes have the useful habit of fixing nitrogen in the soil if you leave the roots in when you’re tidying up at the end of the season – this essential soil-element can be enjoyed by the next crop you plant there.
Oh, that is QUITE enough science for one day – I’m beginning to sound like Laura, for goodness’ sake! Let’s cut to the chase, and offer a handy mnemonic for the optimum order of rotating your veg crops over 4 years: Potatoes Like (it) Bloody Rich, or perhaps Rotation Produces Lovely Brassicas – I’m sure that you can make up something much more witty of your own. …… In practice, it would look something like this:
I’m afraid there is not an earthly chance of crop rotation solving all your veg-growing problems, but it might help a bit to stem the flow. While we are on subject of vegetables, do check out our gorgeous new greetings cards – they have just arrived in our shop in advance of our new book coming out shortly!
Snowdrops and Aconites
How welcome are drifts of snowdrops and winter aconites in this most mentally-challenging of early spring seasons! It’s impossible not to feel lifted by their cheerful and artless fortitude in the teeth of the storm – the Captain Tom spirit in a flower, surely.
Clumps of both of these can become very congested within just a few years, and it is widely accepted that the best way to increase and spread your groups of these lovely spring-flowerers is to divide them ‘in the green’. In other words, after the flowers have faded, dig up the bulbs/corms and split each one into several smaller groups. Then replant them at the same depth before the roots dry out. A foliar feed at this point will help to build up the bulbs for next year. Keep them watered well, and let them die down naturally in their new locations. If you are growing them in grass as I do, don’t mow that area until all the foliage has died away.
It is of course possible to buy dry snowdrop bulbs and aconite corms later on in the year, but they have a reputation of being less reliable about breaking their dormancy, particularly the aconites.
Weeding with a will
If the soil isn’t frozen, this is a fabulous time to tackle deep-rooted perennial weeds in your flower-beds. You can see such things as dandelions, buttercups and ground elder easily in the bare soil before they, and everything else, put on a massive spurt of growth in March or April.
Fork or trowel them out carefully to the ends of the roots, doing your level best not to leave any bit of root in the soil because the plant can regenerate from every last scrap. If you’ve got pernicious weeds weaving through the middle of your perennial garden plants, it is honestly better (and more effective in the long run) to dig out the plants AND the weeds, painstakingly disentangle the two, and then put the plants back. The plants won’t come to any harm at this time of year, especially if you took the opportunity to improve the soil a bit with compost/fertiliser etc. while you had the chance.
- If you have plants overwintering in a conservatory, closed porch, greenhouse etc. , do check them over from time to time and remove yellowing leaves, rotted bits etc – they can spread infection the rest of the plant.
- You may be starting to plan a new flower-border for 2021 and wondering what to put in it. Slugs and particularly snails wreak absolute havoc in the gardens round here, and in earlier blog, I listed plants that I have found they WON’T destroy. It may be of use in your decision-making – link is at the bottom.
- Along with autumn, early spring is a good time to divide clumps of flowering perennials, like daylilies (Hemerocallis). A while ago, I made a short video on how to do this – it was actually filmed during the autumn, but the technique is exactly the same for spring-division. Again, link at the bottom.
- Make sure your mower is all serviced and primed for action, you’re gonna be needing it soon!
This is the link to the blog that includes my slug-proof plant list
And here’s the link to the video on dividing perennials
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