This is my first post for the Garden Share Collective, the brain child of ‘fourth generation farmer’ Liz at Strayed from the Table, in Australia. Each month, participating bloggers from around the world post updates about what is going on in their veg plots, and share tips and troubles. The focus is on growing great food in a sustainable, organic way. Do check it out, there are many wonderful blogs taking part.
At the moment, my veg garden is a horrendous riot of weeds and/or mud, having been heartily neglected over the winter. The winter has been so mild and wet that weeds have continued to grow, so there’s lots to be done. This picture shows a patch I’ve cleared already.
And here’s one I haven’t done yet (aaagh!)
Last Autumn, I covered one really weedy area with a ‘mulch’ of cardboard to help keep the weeds down. It was only one layer thick, with no other mulch on top, so it has rotted away in places. Even so, the ground underneath is much less weedy than the patch that was left bare, and the weeds that remain look weak and straggly.
While I’m getting the ground ready, I’ve been having fun planning what I’m going to grow this year. I’m going to have another go at a polytculture patch – although maybe with a bit more order than the ‘riot of everything’ approach I tried for the last two years, with mixed success. I’ve found that growing squash and sweetcorn together worked really well (a modified version of the ‘three sisters‘ – I left out the beans.) The jungly squash leaves (I grew Red Kuri, which has a fantastic, nutty flavour) really did shade out the weeds around the sweetcorn. The other area was a large mixed bed – no rows – crammed with veg and flowers.
This bed was much less successful. I grew a mix of French and dwarf beans, chard, courgettes, lettuces, garlic, onions, carrots, potatoes and perpetual spinach, with a random assortment of flowers that I happened to have to hand. The courgettes did well – but the beans and carrots struggled, and it was also much more weedy than I had hoped. I think I planted out too big an area, with too few paths – making it hard to ‘get in’ to tend to things, and the weeds ran riot. A tip I’ve since gleaned from UK Veg Gardeners is to have lots of young plants ready to pop in to fill gaps as they appear, to help keep a polyculture patch ‘full’ and so help to keep the weeds at bay. I’ll try that this year – and will also think more about access and paths.
So… what did I learn from a couple of years of polyculture growing?
- Sweetcorn and squash can do really well together in the UK, and the squash shades out most weeds.
- You need to keep areas ‘reachable’, or have good paths/stepping stones.
- Succession is key to getting lots of food and keeping the weeds down – that is, planting ‘fast’ crops like radish, rocket etc to cover the ground while slower things are coming along. And too much is better than too little – things can always be picked early or moved if they are getting too crowded.
- Mulch is my friend – I need to use LOTS more mulch, both to feed plants and to help keep weeds down.
- Polyculture beds are a bit tricky with little kids! They like to pick and explore – and without clear rows, it was pretty hard for them to see which bits not to trample on. But they enjoyed being out there, which is the main thing!
So, much to think about for this year. That’s one of my favourite bits about growing veg – every year, I get to have another go, hopefully knowing just a little bit more than I did last year.
As this is a Garden Share Collective post, we’re asked to list what we’re harvesting, and what jobs we’ll do in the coming month.
Harvesting now – not a lot! But even after much neglect last year, there are still a few leeks, a couple of chard and perpetual spinach plants that still have edible leaves on (nice wilted in omelettes), and herbs such as thyme, rosemary, sage and parsley.
My jobs for March –
- Dig, baby, dig!
- Sow seeds – starting with sweet peas and chillis on the windowsills, and broad beans in pots in a sheltered spot outdoors.
- Plant out more willow ‘setts’, to grow into windbreaks, garden canes and logs for the woodburner.
So there you have it! Plenty to be getting on with – now I just need it to stop raining for a bit…Happy growing to you all.