Growing vegetables

Most vegetables prefer a well-drained, level, sheltered, slightly limey, sunny position. Small raised beds should be used to enable work to be carried out from all sides, allowing closer planting therefore suppressing weeds.

If vegetables are grown in the same position in the garden each year, there is an increased chance of insect and disease problems, as well as under performing plants.

If you remember you science (or was it history?) from school you'll remember that before the advent of chemical fertilisers farmers used to use crop rotation to reduce infection and improve soil structure and fertility and therefore increase crop yield. Some crops adding nutrients that the following crop can then utilise.

When growing vegetable crops, it's recommended that you use this same method in your vegetable plot.

Crop rotation

Vegetable groups should be rotated around the plot each season, on a 3 or 4 year rotation (or 5 if you have a large enough plot - remember that the 5th section was left fallow to allow the soil to rest).

The four main vegetable groups are:

  • Group 1: Potatoes - Courgettes, marrow, pumpkins, tomatoes and peppers (potatoes can use up a lot of space so skip this group if you've a small plot or grow first early potato varieties, which take a shorter length of time from planting to harvesting).
  • Group 2: Legumes - peas and beans. Fix nitrogen from the air in their root nodules, which is appreciated by group 3.
  • Group 3: Brassicas - cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, Brussels sprouts, kale and turnip.
  • Group 4: Roots and onions - beetroot, parsnips, carrots, onions, shallots, garlic and leeks.

Draw out a plan of your vegetable plot, divide the plot into 4 equal sections and mark where you are going to plant your vegetables. Keep this plan somewhere safe where you can refer to it in following years.

Notes:

  • When choosing vegetable seeds, try to choose traditional seed varieties. They often have more flavour than modern varieties, that are perhaps bred for shape or colour.
  • Don't sow vegetables too early in the season, as they may get damaged by frost. Vegetables planted after any chance of frost has passed will soon catch up.
  • If you are just starting out in vegetable growing, don't try to grow too many different types. Obviously try to grow vegetables that you like to eat.
  • In the autumn, add well-rotted manure before planting group 1 and 3, add lime before planting group 3 to prevent clubroot and leaf mould before planting group 4.
  • Don't move perennial vegetables like fennel or artichokes around in the crop rotation scheme. As they don't like to be disturbed.
  • After harvesting vegetables, plant fast growing salad crops, like lettuce and radish in their place.
  • Carrot and parsnip seedlings don't like to be moved. So plant them where they are to grow, thinning them as they become congested.
  • Parsnips are notoriously slow to germinate, sow some lettuce between the parsnip seed. This will identify where the parsnip seedlings are and aid weeding, you'll also get a nice crop of lettuce.

Other gardening basics pages: