Growing vegetables is one of the most satisfying things you can do and the flavour you will relish from freshly harvested produce far supersedes anything you can buy in the shop. Of course, you do need some space to indulge this hobby but honestly, a kitchen windowsill or even the tightest of balconies can accommodate edible treats you can harvest over the summer. If space is at a premium, herbs and salads are the go-to crops and are relatively easy to grow. Try cut and come again lettuce mixes which will endure a regular trim and grow back for your next salad fix. In fact, this works for a whole range of plants from basil, coriander and parsley to rocket, beetroot and spinach. Just make sure not to sow too densely as they will compete for space and finally succumb to the squeeze like that pot of basil from the supermarket you can never keep alive. It’s simply a case of overcrowding. Equally as fun and interesting to grow are sprouted seeds of all the above, which can be liberally sprinkled on salads for your ultimate nutrient boost. Why not grow peas or beans in a pot or even chillies if you like it hot? In fact, the less water you give a chilli plant the hotter the resulting fruits will be so experiment with caution!
The choice of growing media you can use to start these plants is definitely improving, with peat-free mixes becoming more mainstream. Peat was and still is the main component of general-purpose compost. Harvested from the bogs used to power our energy supply, peat was widely used by the horticultural industry for its perceived nutritional benefits and water holding capacity but any seasoned gardener will know it is virtually impossible to re-wet once it has dried out and has very poor nutrition in general. As peat is sourced from our bogs it is a finite resource and its use must be eradicated. As a result, the horticultural industry is under increasing pressure to not only use alternatives but to provide the general public with sustainable substitutes.
Of course, if you can make your own compost what better way to save money by reducing your green waste and in turn improving your own carbon footprint. Composting at home is easy once you keep the balance of Nitrogen and Carbon equal by regularly feeding the heap with an equal ratio of both.
Peat alternatives may include a mix of well-rotted manure, composted bark, leaf mould, worm compost and coco coir amongst others and these are still being researched for their use in potting mixes but there are a number of products on the market that fit the bill. These include Dalefoot Compost which hails from the Lake District in the UK. This is a peat-free compost which contains decomposed bracken, that fern that can take over hillsides during the summer but is full of nutrition so is traditionally spread over the land to return those benefits to the soil. The mix also includes sheep’s wool which has impressive moisture retentive qualities, always a plus for planting mixes.
Other composts which fall into the peat-free category include, Klasmann Seed Compost which is not only organic but consists of 80% coco coir and a relatively recent addition to the market is the peat-free compost from Westland which includes a ‘Balanced blend of composted bark, coir, worm compost and wood fibre’. It’s really promising that industry is starting to get on board as sustainable practice is at the heart of gardening so any product that helps us to perpetuate that cycle of life and regeneration is a plus in my book.
To Dig or Not to Dig!
If you are lucky enough to have space to grow your own vegetables in the garden, why not try the no dig system, a technique which is pretty much what it says on the tin. Promoted by Charles Dowding for decades, this system and others like it use layers of material that not only decompose into the soil and feed the world of micro-organisms therein, but the combination of layers will also provide your preferred crop with excellent nutrition for the whole growing season. The idea is that the soil should never be disturbed, that digging has little value other than to disrupt the natural cycles in the soil ecosystem and at worst can damage the integrity of the soil structure which can take years to recover. Using this method, beds are laid out directly on top of your soil or indeed grass with layers of mulch consisting of cardboard, well-rotted manure, compost, leaf mould and straw to a depth of 15cm. This not only acts as a weed suppressant for the bank of seeds that are ever present in the soil, but heats up your soil thus enabling earlier sowing of crops.
If you have a vegetable plot or have ever dug over a bed in the spring, you will surely have come back to find a healthy spread of weeds competing with your seedlings. Without any digging, the weeds never have the opportunity to come to the surface and are no threat to your preferred crop meaning there should be little or no weeding necessary for the entire growing season, imagine that!
I think more and more people are realising the importance of our relationship with the land and how our actions have a direct impact on a whole world of existence that’s teeming under the soil surface. By adopting techniques like the no-dig system we can have a positive impact whether it’s on a large-scale or a suburban postcard garden, every little counts.
As Always, Happy Gardening Folks!