Growing Herbs, Salads and Vegetables

Growing Herbs, Salads and Vegetables

Growing for flavour, health, freshness and quality using the easiest and most effective means.

The value of any home-grown produce is many fold — you know not only that it’s really fresh, but that it’s simply better than anything you can buy, which is chosen for high yields rather than flavour and vitamin content. These, the staples of our fare, need careful consideration and as much care as we can give, for we rely on them to supply fresh food throughout the year. The majority are annual herbs, in practice, and require us to be fastidious to our timing and to maintaining their growth without check, or many of them will bolt and throw our crop away.

Growing Herbs, Salads and Vegetables So, the pragmatic gardener looks to the few perennial crops where possible to minimise the workload and avoids wasting efforts on crops that are uneconomic or just plain unwanted. There is no work as hard as wasted work, and twice is too often for a crop to be left to rot unused and to no-one’s benefit except the slugs’. Do not waste time or space, and where the latter is very limited, culinary herbs are the sensible plants to grow.

With only a slightly larger area it becomes possible to grow many tasty leaves for adding to salads, and only when space and time are generously available should you consider growing many of the vegetables which are less expensive to purchase and more time-consuming. Of course, feel free to concentrate on anything that takes your fancy. Specialise in one thing and you will soon become an expert, and produce first-grade specimens; do a bit of everything and it will rarely be so easy to show off your triumphs.

Cultural requirements for gourmet crops

Herbs, salads and vegetables need different conditions depending on their nature. The classic herbs such as rosemary, sage and thyme are perennial herbs from the Mediterranean and require a warm, dry, sheltered spot and not overly rich soil to do well. Herbs grown as annuals, such as parsley, dill and borage, need a moister richer soil and will tolerate light shade, while the true vegetables require the best conditions of all full sun and rich, moist soil. Although it may be necessary to grow these all squeezed into one place through lack of space, it is a good idea at least to separate the aromatic perennial herbs from the vegetables, as many of the former inhibit the germination of seeds. Perennial herbs, especially rosemary, make excellent low dividing hedges. Most are also useful in various parts of the garden as companion plants to fruit trees and bushes, and as borders round other areas, especially vegetable beds.

Ornamental areas can be made solely from perennial herbs and then need very little maintenance, yet are productive. If borders next to warm walls are available, use these for aromatic perennial herbs; also plant them by brick and stone pathways, ornaments and low decorative walls, which all retain the warmth these herbs love. Effective herb gardens are designed with brick or stone paths radiating from a central ornament or birdbath. Where space is very short, most perennial herbs will grow in pots or containers, but don’t expect them to flourish as they would in the ground. In pots they can be stood under cover, in a coldframe or greenhouse, to extend their season. Don’t move them indoors, however, as they soon expire in hot, dry, centrally heated rooms, especially shady ones. Pots are ideal for mints, which are invasive and not easy to control when grown in a bed with other plants. Do not over-enrich the ground for perennial herbs as many then produce rank growth and poor flavour.

Those herbs grown as annuals do not generally need very rich soil either. A good start is essential, some must be sown in situ, though most are better sown under cover in pots or multi-celled trays. Growing annual herbs to maturity on the seedbed after the vegetable seedlings have been planted out elsewhere utilises the space efficiently. You can also plant out annual herbs to intercrop amongst vegetables on the main beds. Wherever you plant herbs, they should be easily and quickly accessible from the kitchen, or they will often be omitted because of the inconvenience. If the main supply has to be far away, make a duplicate planting of the most important herbs right next to the kitchen door.

A salad bed is one plot worked extra intensively for a few years and then best moved on, leaving rich conditions for following crops. Where space is limited, making a bed specifically for salads and concentrating on these is a good strategy. If much salading material is required, then a separate salad area is more productive than growing these succulent crops in with the main vegetables. Work in as much organic material as you can spare into a salad bed. Use deep digging and extra dressings of seaweed meal to raise the fertility which is aided by copious watering. This is in order to promote the rapid, lush growth that makes for sweet succulent salads. If a permanent site is chosen, then it is hard work but worthwhile to create a sloping bed by raising the north end (in the northern hemisphere) and grade the whole bed down towards the south. This sun-facing slope increases the amount of sunlight falling on the soil, and gives faster earlier starts in spring and longer cropping in the autumn.

For any sized vegetable garden to be a productive area, it needs careful planning so that it functions efficiently. Although ornamental areas can look reasonable most of the time despite a little neglect, a vegetable plot will rapidly become a weedy eyesore and little of value will come from it. Vegetables require the best in soil, sun and situation to crop at all, let alone well. One reason is that many of them are extremely over bred plants. They are the Olympic athletes of the plant world. Many, such as onions and carrots, are naturally biennials that store up nutrients so they can flower and set seed the following year. However, we eat them before then. Given the very best conditions they grow fat for us, but the slightest check to growth or poor growing conditions leads them to bolt, which simply means they flower too soon. The vegetables we grow for their fruit or seed, such as peas and beans, are more forgiving, but still need good conditions to produce any amount of crop.

Hardest of all are the highly unnatural cauliflower and broccoli. The part we eat is an enormous multiple flower bud which we want to stay immature and succulent while the plant wants it to open up into blossom and be pollinated. Similarly, a cabbage is an enormous swollen terminal bud, and Brussels sprouts are overgrown buds in the leaf axils so these also require optimum conditions.

Growing Herbs, Salads and Vegetables Some crops, such as tomatoes and sweet corn, come from hotter climes with longer growing seasons. Although they can just about ripen in the warmth of our summers, they must be started off early if they are to do so in time. We need to give them protection and warmth, mimicking spring in their country of origin, so that they start into growth early enough to catch all the summer’s warmth. Most vegetables, therefore, need the very best conditions to give us good results. We must give them rich soil so they can draw on sufficient nutrients, plenty of sunlight as this provides the energy, copious water which is the basic raw material and enough unchecked growing time to finish the job.

A common failing is crowding too many plants in together which makes three of the four vital ingredients rapidly dwindle into short supply. It makes little difference if the crowding is from crop plants or weeds as they all compete to the death.

It is better to grow a few plants well rather than many poorly. This applies to each and every sowing, and to the garden as a whole. Certainly for the less experienced, it is always a good idea to concentrate initially on just a few vegetables, adding to the range in following years. I have seen enthusiastic new gardeners become despondent having spent a fortune on seed for every vegetable in the catalogue and then fail to produce crops from most of them. So, plan just which crops you really want and leave the others for later years.

06. January 2011 by admin
Categories: Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Growing Herbs, Salads and Vegetables


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