Guide to Growing Low-Maintenance Vegetables

Vegetables on the whole are not trouble-free, but they are so rewarding and enjoyable that if you can spare the time for them, I too should devote a little space to them – just to whet your appetite! Two of the most important factors to be considered when planning a low-maintenance vegetable garden are layout and choosing the correct position. Choose one that has full sun and is not too difficult to get to from the house. Vegetables should run in rows from north to south. This is of primary importance. Laying paving slabs or paths between the vegetables will cut down the weeds and make access to the vegetables and weeding easier.

The paths should be 3 ft (90 cm) apart so that you can reach the vegetables in the middle of the bed from either side. With a solid path you can then weed, harvest or thin, whatever the weather, without sinking into the mud if the ground is wet.

When laying the path, take the soil from under the slabs and place it on the bed so as to raise up the bed for greater soil depth and better drainage. Vegetables need at least 12-18 in (30-45 cm) of good top soil for best results. If you do not have this depth, add organic matter and raise the level of the bed. This may mean having low retaining brick walls round the bed. Old railway sleepers make an excellent soil support.

To keep weeds under control in a vegetable garden, the vegetables can be planted through a slit in a black polythene sheet. This also conserves moisture. The sheet needs to be secured down at the side with bricks or soil put along the edge, before planting.

You must select a low-maintenance crop (not low-yielding). When starting to grow vegetables it is wise to start with a small area and keep it tidy, weeded and under control, rather than a big area which easily gets out of hand.

And finally good soil. If you have poor soil you have to improve it by adding organic matter such as mushroom compost, peat, shredded newspaper and compost. Preferably start your own compost pen.

In a 25sq.yd (20 sq.m) area you will not need to spend more than twenty hours a year, less than half an hour a week. Most of this time will be used in preparing the ground, sowing and planting in March, April and May. June will be concentrated on weeding (cut down to the minimum by the paving slabs) and watering (which also can be cut down by using a Hozelock Aquameter or sprinkler to water the crop). The joyous and rewarding job of harvesting will be in July, August and September, when you’ll have the enormous satisfaction of eating your own vegetables.

The following vegetables are to be avoided as they are prone to disease and pests or are labour-intensive: asparagus (needs hand weeding), carrots (prone to carrot root fly), cauliflower (needs accurate watering), celery, chicory, hot pepper, soft fruit (all labour-intensive).


There is a large choice of easily grown and trouble-free vegetables such as: broad beans – sow in November for easy crop and fewer pests.

Runner beans* — sow seeds end of May or plant out from pots at the end of May for an early crop, they will need 1ft (just over 2m) canes.

Beetroot — sow April/May. Eat July onwards.

Calabrese — sow seed in March, then transplant when big enough. Eat July.

Courgettes* — sow May outdoors, or in pots on the window sill in March for planting out in May. Eat June to December.

Marrow* — sow May. Eat July to December.

Lettuce — sow March to August in succession. Eat summer and autumn.

Potatoes* — plant March/April. Eat June onwards.

Red salad bowl (birds don’t eat it) — same as lettuce.

Shallots — plant January/March. Eat July onwards.

Spinach (leaf beet)* — sow June/July. Eat August onwards. Swiss Chard has green leaf and white mid rib that can be cooked separately. Keep pulling off leaves and it will keep growing.

* = very easy

There are comprehensive instructions on most seed packets.

Although onions are cheap in the shops, when you grow your own you can be sure that they have been grown without chemicals. Also they store well. Starting with onion sets is much easier than seed.

If you only have space for one vegetable, I would recommend runner beans. They’re really easy to grow (though they do need rain), delicious to eat freshly picked from the garden, and they freeze well. Added to which they’re expensive to buy in the shops so it’s economical to grow your own.

Growing Runner Beans

1. Prepare soil by digging over in December.

2. If the ground is not prepared, dig in compost about 18 in (45 cm) across and 12 in (30 cm) deep in spring.

3. In May sow seeds 3in (7.5cm) deep and between 9-12in (22.5-30cm) apart, in two parallel rows 12-15 in (30-37.5 cm) apart.

4. Push 6-7 ft (about 2 m) bamboo bean poles into the ground at the side of each seed and tie to the top of opposite poles with a strengthening strut across the top.

5. Plant four seeds one in each corner of an ‘imaginary’ 18 in (45 cm) square and place 6-7 ft (about 2 m) bamboo bean poles next to the seed and tie at the top like a wigwam. A single row can also be grown up poles against a brick wall or wooden fence. ‘Butler’, ‘Megoles’ and ‘Streamline’ are all good to eat.

Pests and Vegetables

There are effective and natural ways of keeping undesirable insects away from vegetables in the vegetable garden without using pesticides.

French marigolds in the greenhouse keep whitefly out of the greenhouse, and if planted outside between vegetables they will attract the hoverfly, which in turn eats the larva of blackfly and greenfly. Also marigolds keep pests at bay if planted near tomatoes.

Summer savoy planted amongst broad beans deters blackfly and chervil planted amongst the radishes deters borers and weevils. Sage and thyme planted between carrots and cabbage deter the cabbage moth and the cabbage white butterfly. Celery and celeriac also help keep the cabbage white butterfly away. Potato chunks left in the ground attract wire worms and tomatoes planted between brassicas (ie. Sprouts, broccoli and cauliflower) stimulate the growth of the brassicas as well as warding off pests. Thyme, marigolds, sage, celery and onions are all being used to great effect in our own organic vegetable garden.

Organic Pesticides: Pyrethrum and Derris, both of which come in spray form, can control aphids, caterpillars, thrips, flea beetles and the grubs of raspberry beetles. But they are harmful to ladybirds, so don’t spray if there are ladybirds around. Pyrethrum and Derris should be sprayed after sunset when the wasps and bees are no longer on the wing. Neither has a long lasting toxic residue to harm humans or wildlife.

19. June 2013 by admin
Categories: Fruit and Vegetable Gardens, Kitchen Garden, Organics, Types of Gardens, Vegetable Gardening | Tags: , | Comments Off on Guide to Growing Low-Maintenance Vegetables


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