A little while ago I was asked to produce a list of top tips for new vegetable gardeners. I suspect that it's a very individual matter but nonetheless it did sound interesting and got me thinking about all those things that aren't in the books but you just 'pick up'. So here's the first five of my recommendations, with numbers 6 to 10 following next week.
1. It’s all about soil
Seed companies would like you to think that it’s vital that you choose the right variety of tomato, or use the correct type of pots. But far more important are the nutrients that come from the soil, so the very best thing you can do is to enrich it with good quality organic matter. If you want to grow great vegetables then get into composting, making leaf mould and encouraging all the micro-organisms that make up good soil by practicing organic methods. Take a look at my blog post on composting for a quick guide.
2. Weeding can damage your plants
Yes, really! I don’t mean that we shouldn’t weed round our plants. But no-one told me that if you pull a large weed out from next to your prized seedling it disturbs the seedling's roots and it may never fully recover. It is important to keep weeds down – preferably when they are very small and easy to pick off - but if they have got a bit out of control, then don’t just yank them out – instead slice off the tops with a sharp hoe or small trowel, leaving your precious seedlings to grow.
3. Windowsills don’t get much light
It’s a great feeling to sow hundreds of pots of tomatoes, peppers and aubergines in little pots in mid-winter. It lifts your spirits in the same way that booking a summer holiday does when it is cold and wet. But if your seedlings are going to spend more than a month or two on the windowsill before temperatures rise enough to plant them outside, then you won’t achieve much. The seedlings will grow long and ‘leggy’ because they haven’t got an open sky above them. So…
4. Earlier isn’t always better
For vegetables that require a long growing season, or for the very first crops you need to start your seedlings off inside. But leave them inside too long and they suffer – less light, more careful watering required and it’s then harder for the plant to make the transition to outside. Choosing when to sow indoors is a balancing act and it is usually best to sow a few seeds of each type every couple of weeks so that at least some are perfectly timed. Label them and note down which ones worked best so that you can get the timing perfect next year. Early but not too early…
5. Don’t fight nature (too much)
Most gardeners would love to get great crops of Mediterranean peppers or grow salad through winter. With the right equipment, time and plenty of experience it can all be done (though not necessarily as ‘organically’ as one would wish for). But for normal people with busy lives it is best not to fight nature too much. Accept the seasons, accept that some crops will do well and others fail, and just try to work with it, learning as you go. After all, it’s more pleasurable that way.
I'll add the rest of my top ten next week but in the meantime please feel free to add your own recommendations to new vegetable gardeners - we can all learn something new!
Read the next five here.