Types of Container for Vegetable Gardening | Part 2

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Types of Container for Vegetable Gardening

Part 2: Disposable & Storable Vegetable Gardening Containers.

Ok, so in part one we looked at the permannet style of container and to recap in my opinion the only useful style of permanent container for vegetable gardening is the wooden one. Now lets take a look at the other options open to us.

Grow bags / 60 litre potting compost bags

vegetable gardeningI sometimes think that grow bags are a little bit like convenience food for vegetable gardening.
They come ready filled, topped up with nutrient rich potting compost and are ready to go from the off. Grow bags tend to be quite shallow, but you can easily get around this by inserting some old plant pots with the bottoms cut off them as ‘funnels’ which you can top up with more soil. Tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers and many beans will all do nicely in grow bags. As well as the ‘rip open and go’ aspect, they are highly portable and, like wooden containers, can be made to fit the available space quite nicely. But my number one choice of vegetable gardening container is the 60 litre bag of potting compost. It has all the advantages already mentioned in the grow bag but if its placed on its side it has a really good depth of soil, enough for any vegetable gardening needs.

To prepare them, what I do is this. When I’m ready to use one I get hold of it and drop it on its side from about waist height. I pick it up, turn it over and drop it again. I then drop it on both the front and back alternately. What this does is loosen up all the compost inside the bag without having to open it. Next I place it in its final position on its side. From here I can then add whatever opening I like. If I want a trench style as you can see above, I’ll cut the bottom out of a plastic trough, draw round it with a permanent marker and cut round it to make a hole in the bag ready to receive the trough. I then just push the trough in the hole. It takes a bit of wiggling to get it in. I like to cut the hole a little shy as I prefer a good tight fit. I push the trough in about 2 inches and then re-loosen the soil that is now inside the trough.

This style is ideal for veg you grow in a row such as peas and french beans. For single plants, for example tomatoes, I’ll do the same thing but use a large plastic pot instead of a trough. Again come the spring I shall put together another Youtube video showing you exactly how it is done. There is only one down side with these containers and that is they have a limited shelf life. The UV light from the sun will make the plastic brittle in about three seasons and then they will crack and fall to bits. But that having been said they are by far the most versatile of all the vegetable gardening containers I use.

Collapsible storage bags

Collapsible storage bags share many of the advantages of grow bags or 60 litre potting compost bags but are that little bit more sustainable. If you have a ready supply of soil or are willing to bulk buy compost each year, filling up these collapsible bags is a great way of setting up your garden in spring and ‘putting it to bed’ again come the autumn.

Like grow bags, they are easy to move and transport, and they also come in variable sizes and depths meaning that you should be able to find collapsible storage bags to suit almost any vegetable that you want to try growing. Personally, I particularly like them for potatoes where you need a really deep growing space but perhaps need something that little bit stronger than a traditional compost bag.

General tips and advice

Of course, the most important ingredient for choosing the right container is a liberal sprinkling of common sense. In reality you can push almost anything into service as a garden planter provided it’s the right size for the task in hand. Whilst your herbs might be happy in a dainty little pot inherited from a beloved aunt, large leafy vegetables or those with strong, deep growing roots are unlikely to thrive.

It’s also worth thinking through whether what you are about to plant needs moisture retention or excellent drainage and whether you’re likely to need to protect the crop from pests, sunlight or frost. As a general rule, the larger the container and the more soil it carries, the more moisture it will retain.

As with most aspects of container vegetable gardening, a little planning goes a long way. So good luck finding the containers you need to get your own crops off to the best possible start.

Here as usual are a few ideas to get your container vegetable gardening off to a flying start!!

Types of Container for Vegetable Gardening | Part 1

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Types of Container for Vegetable Gardening

Part 1: Permanent Containers for Vegetable Gardening

Despite the fact that is seems like only yesterday that I was taking after dinner strolls in the warm evening sun with my dog Lefty or heading down to my boat for some summer rest and relaxation, time has, as ever, flown and already it’s time to wind back the clocks and prepare for winter to really come upon us.

Down in my container vegetable garden that means a good old clear out of all of the containers that have provided comfortable homes for my annual veg throughout the year and as I began the big autumn clear out it got me thinking about just how many different types of containers there are for us container vegetable gardening enthusiasts to choose from.

Of course, what’s right for you will depend to a large extent on your own individual circumstances. Some containers are made to appeal to certain taste or space requirement and others are tailor made for specific fruits or vegetables – take strawberry pots for example – but, pushing that to one side, here are some general tips for choosing containers that can help you get the best from your vegetable gardening.

Wooden containers

vegetable gardeningMany vegetable gardening enthusiasts, be they experts or amateur hobbyists, love wooden containers.  ‘Wooden containers’ are really a catch all that includes kits that you can buy and erect at home and self-made designs that rely on a little bit more zeal and enthusiasm.

I love wooden containers for several reasons.  They look nice, they are relatively inexpensive; you can easily hammer in a nail or two when you need to protect your crops from pests or the elements and, above all else, they can be entirely custom build to fit the space you have available.  In a garden where space is tight this can literally be a life-saver. The picture is of one of my self made containers. This one I made for my little god-daughter who, as you can see, is proudly looking after her own little veg plot. Never too young to get them vegetable gardening, I say! Come the spring I shall get a Youtube video together to show you guys exactly how I made it. The neat thing which you can’t see from the photo is that it has casters on it so it can be wheeled about wherever you want it to be.

Ceramic / terracotta pots

Wandering around any large garden centre or DIY store will allow you to feast your eye on a huge array of ceramic and terracotta pots.  These look great and can add a great decorative edge to your garden but do bear in mind that it will be much harder to keep your plants sufficiently moist and well watered.  This is because the clay has a habit of  sucking water from the soil.  Adding a dish beneath your pot and filling it with water can help, as will dunking the pot in water before you begin using it, but watering may still be a struggle.

Personally, I never use these kinds of container for the following reasons:

  • They’re expensive
  • They’re heavy
  • They dry out to easily
  • They’re space hungry and unstable
  • They crack in the frost.

Obviously they have their place in an ornamental garden setting or on a pretty patio, but if you are seriously vegetable gardening then they are best avoided.

So there you have the two forms of permanent container. One I find very useful the other really has little place in the scheme of things. In the second part we’ll look at the real essence of container vegetable gardening – the disposable and storable containers.

Coming Next in Part 2 – Disposable & Storable Containers

Happy container vegetable gardening!!

Vegetable Growing Winter Jobs | Soil Conditioning

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Vegetable Growing Winter Jobs

Part 1 – Soil Conditioning

So here we are the winter has finally arrived. I noticed it the other day. As I went out of the door first thing to walk the dog the air had that smell of winter. It’s hard to describe but as you breath the air in it almost makes your eyes water. It’s not that I don’t like winter, all the seasons have their place its just when your as keen on vegetable growing as I am there isn’t all that much to do. The harvest is almost in all bar a few parsnips, sprouts and the odd cabbage. The autumn planting has been taken care of, the garlic, broad beans, onion sets and over wintering cabbage are all in. All that really remains is to keep the weeds in check and make sure the plants that are in the ground don’t get ravaged by the frost – right?

Not a bit of it, the winter is a really busy time for anyone who is serious about their vegetable growing. Firstly, there is the soil to take care of. Now if you are growing in containers it is extremely important to recondition the soil over winter ready for the next season. It doesn’t take a great deal of logic to realise that the limited amount of soil in a container gets badly depleted over the vegetable growing season and needs reconditioning in the winter.

vegetable growingIt is vital to completely turn over the soil. If possible remove it form the container onto a ground sheet on the lawn or patio. The soil will need humus or fibre adding to it to improve its texture. As the vegetable growing season moves on the existing fibre in the soil is broken down and it becomes more and more dense, as it is the humus that keeps the soil particles apart, giving good soil a rich light texture. If new fibre is not added then in the subsequent vegetable growing season the soil will suffer from water logging and can turn anaerobic, especially if you are using plastic containers. This water-logging and increased sulphur from the anaerobic environment will be highly detrimental to the vegetables being grown. The best way to add fibre is to dig in some peat substitute. This can easily be purchased from the local garden centre. The other method you can employ is to add leaf mould collected from the floor of deciduous woodland or rotted down grass cutting also do a fine job. Add about 1/3 by volume to your soil and mix in well on the ground sheet as though you were mixing cement.

The next job is to replace the nitrogen. Now I don’t normal use brand names but in this case there is only one product I would recommend and that is Growmore. It’s become a bit of a generic name of granular NPK fertiliser. I think it was originally developed by Vitax but many gardening supply companies sell it under their own brand these days. It can be bought from any garden centre and just follow the instructions on the box or tub. Mix this well in, in the same way as the peat substitute.

Now here is a word of warning. For the containers that you intend to grow your beans in next year, don’t add the Growmore. When beans germinate they are highly sensitive to high levels of nutrients. If you’ve fertilised the soil, you will find the beans come up all yellow and then just do nothing for a week or two and slowly wither and die. For your bean containers, make sure you put in the humus but don’t add any fertiliser until they are growing strongly. Even then it is only necessary to add fertilisers that are relatively low in nitrogen as beans are legumes and create their own nitrogen in their roots. Strictly speaking it is Rhizobium bacteria that fix the nitrogen from the atomsphere in return for a safe place to live in the beans roots. Both organisms benefit; a process biologist call symbiosis.

I digress, once you have mixed all that together return the soil to the container and leave out over winter for the elements to get to work, making the ideal vegetable growing medium for you to start with next year. So thats just one of the jobs we vegetable growing die hards have to do over the winter months. There will be plenty more I’ll be sharing with you as the “slow” season progresses.

Happy vegetable growing!

P.S. Just as a quick aside. I want to share with you my first vegetable growing success in my new raised bed. I can hardly believe it myself, but my Germadour garlic sprouted after being in the ground only one week. I know the weather this sutumn has been very kind but I cant help thinking that all that care I took over the preparation of the soil has helped too – proof if proof were needed I’d say!

A few soil conditioners for good vegetable growing….

Types of Cloche | What Cloche to Use

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Types of Cloche

At about 7.30 this morning, as most mornings, I poked my nose out of the front door and ambled down the road with Lefty to stretch her legs, and mine if it comes to it. But today something was different. For the first time this year the wind had a chill in it. It had that smell of winter that sears deep in the nostrils and the hands hurt with the cold for the first time. So, I thought its about time we had a look at what we’re going to do for the winter. Over the next few weeks I expect I shall dish out a good few pieces on how to protect your plants in one way or another. Also this winter I’m going to have a new shed and treat myself to a greenhouse, so no doubt there’ll be a lot about that too. But to kick us off I thought I’d take a look at the different types of portable protection we can have for our vegetables over the winter.

The various contraptions used by us gardeners to afford protection in this way come under the broad heading of cloche. Now cloche is French for bell and indeed, the very first cloches known to man were basically glass bell jars or lantern cloches made from panes of glass and a frame which were placed over individual plants to stimulate growth or offer protection from harsh frosts.  You can still get your hands on these ornamental gems, in fact, I’m led to believe that the French are still very keen on making design statements with their vegetable gardens and decorative cloches.

Cloches, today however include a whole variety of different structures used to warm up the soil in order to protect seeds and plants, extend the growing season or allow plants to be over-wintered, and they really do come in all shapes and sizes.

I must admit that I can actually spend a very pleasant evening online or browsing through a catalogue looking at all the different designs and imagining them adorning the tops of my new raised bed… but I’m willing to accept that I’m a bit of a gardening nut.  For the rest of you, it probably comes down to just knowing a bit about the different styles of cloche that are out there and beyond that, the choice, as they say, is yours.  So, here’s my guide to the world of cloches for over-wintering.

Barn Cloche

Barn cloches provide a little extra height than most of their cousins, giving that little bit more usable space because they are slightly higher around the edges.  Because of this, they are one of the most useful designs and are also very flexible for use on a variety of different crops. Although they can be more expensive, you’ll probably welcome the versatility and if you get one with a removable top, watering will be that much easier.

Tent Cloche

clocheMade from an inverted V shape like the tent that gives this cloche its name, the tent cloche is generally inexpensive.  The V shaped design means there is a fair bit of unused space so this type is probably best chosen for germinating seeds or bringing on early plants that don’t need much headroom.

Tunnel Cloche

Continuous tunnel cloches are the best choice for crops that have reached an advanced stage and need plenty of headroom, such as carrots or over-wintered broad beans.  As they spread out to cover more ground they can also be used for generally warming up the ground in preparation for sowing or for covering early strawberries.

Individual or Dome Cloche

Only really useful for individual plants that you need to protect in isolation, purchasing individual cloches is an expensive way of over-wintering in a standard garden. However for container vegetable gardening they are essential. The unique proposition of growing few plants well nurtured in a small container means these individual covers are needed to pop on the top of a container to protect the contents where no other design will work.

So, there you have it, my whistle stop tour of the brightest and best when it comes to the good old cloche.  Personally, I find a mixture of the above is best.  Different crops need different things and when it comes to taking on the Great British weather, well armed is definitely the best approach.  Just remember to lift your cloches now and again for weeding and watering.  Out of sight should not mean out of mind in this instance!

Later this week I shall get around to looking at my needs for the winter and when I do so I’ll have a good explore of the best online bargains and put together a “best buys” for you guys to take a look at. Until then watch out for those first frosts and remember, especially early in the winter, if your caught out without a fancy cloche a good old sheet of newspaper will work wonders in a crisis!

Here’s a few cloche ideas to be getting on with!!

Growing Broad Beans | Autumn Planting Broad Beans

growing broad beans

Autumn Planting When Growing Broad Beans

growing broad beansBroad beans are one of those things that can taste completely divine when small, juicy and tender; or absolutely inedible when hard, over large and over ripe.  Growing broad beans is the simplest way to ensure you only ever get to eat the former, since leaving yourself at the mercy of supermarket produce will yield mixed results at best.  Luckily, growing broad beans can be done in both the spring and autumn so with a little bit of careful planning, you can assure yourself of a good, almost year round, season of growing broad beans to feast upon.

If you’ve already grown broad beans this year and have some seeds left over, exercise a little bit of caution before you get stuck in.  Not all broad beans are created equal!  Some are best for spring, some for autumn.  There are some lucky types that will do well in any weather, but for late autumn planting you really are best advised to go with an over-wintering variety. I only ever use one variety, Aquadulce claudia. As usual click on the name and it will take you straight to my preferred supplier. I never cease to be amazed at how hardy they are. Last year the plants were under snow in temperatures of -5 Celsius for at least two weeks and still 50% of them survived. I don’t recommend you treat your plants like that but it does go to show!

Once you’ve got your seeds sorted out, the next decision is whether you want to plant straight out or would prefer to start your beans off in a covered seed tray or propagator.  If it’s the latter, simply pop one bean in each module, covering to a depth of about ½ an inch, then top up the soil, pat very gently indeed, water well and then leave under a cold frame or in the greenhouse. You’ll need to water them once a week or so to keep things nice and moist, and you can expect to wait about 2 to 3 weeks before things start shooting and a bit longer still before planting out.

If you’d rather skip the extra work, planting straight out into a raised bed or container will be fine, even as late as November.  Dig a trench and space out your beans to avoid over-crowding.  If you suffer from mice eating your seeds a little trick, or gift of the season, is to cut off some holly leaves to drop into the trench alongside the beans.  They won’t interfere with the growing but they will keep little gnawing mouths at bay… in a “kind to nature” sort of way.

After that, simply cover over and water in well.  Broad beans will get off to a great start under a polytunnel or cloche but if you don’t have one spare and are expecting a fairly mild winter, as mentioned before they’ll do fine uncovered too.

Come next year, you’ll be wanting to get canes in place nice and early to support your growing broad beans if they are in a raised bed. Put a cane at each end of the row and run string round them trapping the plants in between; putting a new string support in for every six or so inches of growth. If you’re growing your beans in a container like I do then supporting them is even easier.

As you can see from the picture taken today my broad bean container is currently being used as a strawberry runner nursery! However, when I get five minutes they, hopefully having produced some good roots, will go into their final containers leaving my broad bean container free for its intended purpose – growing broad beans! I will plant them straight into the soil and pin a sheet of polythene over the top until early spring. Now, see the four post sticking up, well they are just screwed onto the container and as the growing broad beans get higher and higher I just wrap gardening string round the four posts, and across the diagonals if necessary, to support the growing plants. This method is simplicity itself and really demonstrates the versatility of wooden containers.

My wooden container for growing broad beans

Growing broad beans over winter should mean that you get a really good, early crop of beans.  As I said at the start, the really important thing is to pick your beans whilst they’re still young and tender.  If you go away and miss the boat, or like me, actually do go away on a boat and sometimes regret missing the best of my beans, don’t despair.  Rubbing them to remove the tough outer skin will get rid of much of the toughness and prevent them causing the wind that they have a reputation for! After all, any of you who’ve been around long enough to remember the tale of my ‘fartichokes’ will know that we hardly need any extra ‘wind encouragement’ in our household.

Like all of my autumn planting suggestions, getting these in over winter really does feel a bit like cheating the season so, even if you’re yet to be converted to the joys to be had, make this the year to get started growing broad beans.  They’re delicious on their own, in salads, or mushed up as a lovely topping for bruschetta.  Enjoy!

Growing broad beans is easy!

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening | Building a Raised Bed (epilogue)

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Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening (epilogue)

Well here I am on a wet Sunday morning. That beautiful spell of autumn sunshine we had seems to be just a distant memory, but in fact it was only last week. I’m so thankful we had it because it gave me the chance to get my raised bed finished. Vegetable gardening is such a joy with the sun on your back, even if it is hard graft.

However, now it is finished I thought I might share with you a kind of little epilogue to the story. I love that word it reminds me of my childhood and watching “The Streets of San Francisco.” Those from my era will remember that Lt. Mike Stone played by the fabulous Karl Malden used to narrate a kind of “all’s well that ends well” epilogue to each episode, which for some reason I always found really comforting – no idea why!

But back to my little epilogue of this particular vegetable gardening exploit of mine. Building the bed really went rather smoothly. I actually created it out of an existing flowerbed as you can see if you look at part one of this blog series. That meant that I had some well turned over soil to start with hence the digging wasn’t too bad. However, as you know my interest in flower gardening is limited and hence the soil was pretty neglected and in dire need of a good livener, as you would say in drinking parlance. So digging in the manure and mixing in the potting compost to give it body sufficient for some decent vegetable gardening was quite a chore; as was sieving all that topsoil.I was lucky also with my post holders. We sit on a bed of clay so driving them into that was a joy compared to those poor souls that sit on gravel or flint beds.

And so it is finished and I thought I’d give you the chance to see what I’ve done with it so far; some of which I have enjoyed and wanted to do and some of which I really could have done without. Lets get the “could have done without” out of the way first, then we can take pleasure in the positive.

We are absolutely saturated with pesky cats in our neighbourhood, so I knew from my past vegetable gardening activities that they were likely to be nuisance. But little had I anticipated how much! I decided to simply pin some netting to the fence at the back of the bed and pull it tight to the front and secure it to make a kind of sloping roof over the bed. Surely that’s good enough I thought?! Oh no, the damn things just took a flying leap off the top of the fence right onto the netting pulling it down, then promptly went about their usual filthy business!

So as you can see below I have had to build a full blown structure to keep my new vegetable gardening endeavours safe from the pesky critters. I shall put netting on both of the side pieces at each end of the bed. That can be permanently attached as it wont affect my access. Then I’m going to have a piece of netting that stretches the entire length of the bed and is long enough to go right over the frame. This will then be attached to a pole that is also the length of the bed. I will then bring the pole over the top of the structure and rest it behind the back posts so a the netting covers over the top of the complete structure. Then when I want to get to my bed I simply pick up the pole and lift it over the structure and lay it on the lawn – QED! However, I would far rather not have had to do it at all – cats!!

vegetable gardening

Ok, so finally on to the good bit. I thought I’d share with you a picture of the first sowing in my new vegetable gardening exploit – onion sets. Don’t they look fab with their little heads poking up above the ground. They look kind of all snug in their little soil blanket awaiting the onset of winter. I’ve planted some red onions, variety “Electric” and the good old faithful “Troy” as the whites. There is also two rows of garlic in there too, but I can’t really show you them because there 2″ below the surface.

First planting of the new raised bed vegetable gardening exploits

In a couple of weeks time I shall be covering them all over with those expandable polythene cloches you can buy these days and lettting them over winter in that protected environment. I’ll let them out on sunny winters days to get some fresh air in there and give them a little water if they need it. So come spring we should see the first results of this new vegetable gardening venture. This week I shall also be planting out my winter cabbage seedlings, that is if this blooming weather ever cheers up!

Happy autumn vegetable gardening to you all!!

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening | Building a Raised Bed (part 3)

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Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening (part 3)

Right then we have our posts in place, our gravel boards attached and a large area in the middle with soil of varying degrees of usability, for vegetable gardening, depending on where you have decided to put you new raised bed. However, before we even look at the issue of what is best to fill our bed with we need to look at keeping certain things out!

As I mentioned in the second part of this blog sequence my vegetable gardening exploits are severely hampered by next doors cats, yes in the plural!! In fact I’m not so sure that all the cats in the neighbourhood don’t come round and use my vegetable gardening patch as a toilet. i couldn’t believe it the other day; one of the pesky creatures had jumped into one of my large wooden containers trodden through all my cabbage seedlings, those that the slugs hadn’t decimated already, and left me a huge deposit – nice! I think it thought it was a giant litter tray.

As I’ve mentioned I intend to keep Felix and all his chums out with some garden netting and to this end I’ve left my posts long to accommodate it. However, there is another pest that comes from next door – couch grass. The blasted stuff grows under the fence and invades everything it comes across. Not content with that they also seem to kindly supply me with more than enough convolvulus to be getting on with too. So the first thing I need to do is put a membrane down. I will run it round all the sides whilst I’m at it so as nothing can get in from my lawn either.

The membrane I use is Gardman porous membrane for vegetable plots. I’ve given you a link below if you want to get some online. Now if you remember we’ve got a trench all the way round the inside perimeter of the bed so all I do is pin the membrane level with the top of the gravelboard using drawing pins and leave it to lay in the trench. It’s 1 metre wide so it will line the trench and come some way up the soil still in the middle of the bed. So I shovel a little soil into the trench all the way round to hold the membrane down and then trim the excess off so it just lines the trench. I don’t bother to line the bottom of the bed. Its solid clay under my top soil so very few things come through that. If you think you need to then you will have to empty your bed completely of soil and lay a base membrane down – good luck!! 99.9% of the time this is unnecessary and just serves to build up your muscles. Hopefully you can see from the picture the membrane along the sides of the bed. At the far left hand end of the picture you can see it lying in the trench with the small amount of soil on top to hold it in place. Sorry its not too clear, but I shall come clean and confess I forgot to take some pictures at the membrane stage of proceedings – sorry!

vegetable gardening

Now we come to the interesting part; what do we fill our hard earned bed up with. Well I think the key to all successful vegetable gardening is down to three things; preparation, preparation and preparation – of the soil that is. There is no way you are going to have a success vegetable gardening unless you supply your crops with the nutrients they need, give them access to a consistent water supply and allow them to extend their roots to maximum effect. All these three things are dictated by the quality of the soil.

This is what I do and its served me well many time now. Firstly I sift the soil that was dug out to make the trench through a standard garden sieve, and leave it in a pile on a groundsheet. Next, I standard double dig the remaining soil in the bed with plenty of well rotted manure or compost. I then make up the difference with 1 part manure/compost, 1 part potting compost and 1 part sieved top soil. I mix this up by the barrow load and spread it over the top of the double dug bed using a rake, until it has slightly over filled the bed. Finally, standing on a duck board I turn the whole lot over to a single fork depth to mix the layers together. This gives a final product that is very rich in nutrients, full of humus to hold moisture and extremely light to allow of uninterrupted root growth.

My finished raised bed ready for vegetable gardening

And there you have it! One raised bed completed and ready for service. A few more tips, firstly I never tread on the bed I always use a plank when walking on the bed and loosen up the area when I’ve finished to keep the soil light. Secondly, I always put netting over the bed. As I’ve said cats love raised beds as lavatories. And lastly, always keep the soil moist even when not in use to avoid impaction. I hope this guide to how to make a raised bed for vegetable gardening has been of use to you and you enjoy your vegetable gardening in your raised bed as much as I do.

Here’s a few things you might find useful for raised bed vegetable gardening………..

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening | Building A Raised Bed (part 2)

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening (part 2)

So here we are again with our raised bed vegetable gardening project. If you remember in the first part we marked out the shape of the bed using stakes at each corner, string and a spirit level to work out the appropriate drop. We then dug a trench round the perimeter of the plot and whacked the post holders in at each corner. If you don’t know what on earth I’m rabbiting on about then take a look at part 1 of this series of blogs and all will come clear; I hope!

vegetable gardeningNow the first thing to mention is, I have actually added another post holder in the middle of the long stretch of my bed. As you can see from the picture the other side of the bed is bounded by the neighbours fence so that doesn’t need one, however, if your bed is free standing and as long as mine you will want to put one the other side. There are two reasons for putting this extra post holder in. One is strength; I’d recommend putting one in at least every metre and a half so as to give the gravel board some rigidity when its nailed to the posts. The second is for a completely different reason – pests! My vegetable gardening exploits are plagued by pests and in my case the worst of all are the neighbours bloody cats! So, I’m resigned to having to put netting over my raised bed and to this end I need that extra post in the middle to help keep the net from sagging. Now to be fair, I would recommend using netting when vegetable gardening regardless of cats, as it keeps out all sorts of other unwanted creatures from using your raised bed as either a lavatory or larder – or both!

Ok so back to the job in hand. You should by now have the post holders in and your original stakes still in place with the string showing you the height that the gravel board edging for the bed is going to come to. So measure from the base of the post holders up and past the height of the string by about 30 cm, and that is the length you will want to cut you 2 by 2 posts. When secured in the post holders each one will then give you 30 cm clear of the gravel board allowing you to fix your net at least that height above the bed. Obviously make sure you measure each post individually as they will all be different lengths as the slope of the ground will determine their length. In my case you can see from the photos in the first half of this blog my post in the left hand corner of my bed is much longer than the right as my particular vegetable gardening plot slopes down that way.

Now to secure the posts in the post holders you will probably find the 2 by 2’s fit in the post holders like “a finger in a shirt sleeve” (that’s the polite version – I’ll leave you to replace finger with a more apt appendage.) So the first thing to do is secure them with a screw using the holes provided in the holder, however, you will almost certainly find they still wobble about. If that is the case make some small wooden wedges, or buy some plastic ones form the DIY shop and knock them in between the holder side and the post trying to use them in a way that makes the post stand as vertical as possible. As a total aside to vegetable gardening, I used to be friends with the chap who held the patent on those plastic wedges you buy from the DIY store. Levitt Urquhart was his name and yes he was the great nephew of ‘the’ Amelia Urquhart. Tragically, he died in a road traffic accident some years back now – lovely guy. Not a lot to do with vegetable gardening just thought you might be interested.

Right, so we’ve got the posts in; now its time to put the gravel board up. Cut the gravel board to length, remembering to take into account the width of the other board in the overlap. So I like to have the front of the bed presented with a full piece of board and no joints showing at the corners, meaning my front piece of board must be the length between the posts plus 2 thicknesses of gravel board – hope that makes sense. Once cut, take your first length and put a single screw through to secure the gravel board at one end at the height of the string.  Place the spirit level on the board and at the other end raise it until it is level. With luck this will correspond with the marker string. If so then secure the other end. Add another screw so there are two fixing the gravel board to each post. If you then need to secure another board below the first one to reach ground level, cut a piece the length you require and fix it to the appropriate post and also to the upper board with some wooden laths as shown in the picture. Obviously, if it is required to stretch the whole length then just fix it to the other post. Do this for all the edges and hey presto you have your raised bed ready for some serious vegetable gardening.

Now the more astute of you may have asked yourself “what the hell has he done with all the soil form the trench he dug all the way round the bed?” Well here it is. As you can see it has been sieved through a 1cm mesh sieve and piles on groundsheets unceremoniously in the middle of my garden, ready for the next part in this series of raised bed vegetable gardening…………………

Next time on “Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening”…………………..

How we prepare the soil inside the bed to optimise our vegetable gardening possiblities and how do we keep the pesky weeds at bay!

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening | Building A Raised Bed (part 1)

Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening (part 1)

Yes I know this is a blog about container vegetable gardening but I think the line can be blurred between classic vegetable gardening on an allotment type scale and true container vegetable gardening. And the little fella to blur that line is undoubtedly the raised bed. I’ve had a flower bed at one end of my garden for some time now and every year it’s the same old story. The delphiniums and lupins just get to the point of a beautiful display and the good old late spring storms bring them all crashing down. It’s such a disappointment and happens on such a regular basis I have finally given up. So what to do with the bed. Well as you can imagine that decision didn’t take long – urm, I know vegetables!

The plot is about 1.5 metres by 3.5 metres which is the ideal size, when vegetable gardening, for making a raised bed. I’m definitely of the opinion that raised bed vegetable gardening is nearer the container than the vegetable plot. In the raised bed you still seem to have that extra bit of control which I really like. As I’ve said before I love to nurture individual plants to maximise their yield. I don’t like the numbers game approach to vegetable gardening; planting loads in the assumption that some will survive, it’s just not as much fun.

vegetable gardeningSo, here I am with a weedy old flower bed full of phlox, delphiniums and lupins, plus a few rocks for a bit of interest; how you may ask do I go about turning it into a raised vegetable bed. Well with a lot of sweat that’s how. Especially as I must be the most unfit human being to stagger wheezing around this planet. Still, I’m always up for a challenge so here we go!

What I thought I’d do is make this a series of blogs so you could see my progress and hopefully learn, if you don’t know already, how to make a raised bed for the purposes of vegetable gardening. Right here is the flower bed I started with in the picture above. The first job is to mark out with stakes the shape and size of the bed and use string and a spirit level to get a handle on the drop you’re dealing with. Whack a stake in at each end of the proposed bed site. On the post that is at the highest part of the garden tie a string where you want the top of the raised bed to come. Take the string to the other post and pull it tight, check its level and tie it to that post, as shown in the diagram below.

Now my drop over the 3.5 metres is about 0.25 metres, left to right as you look at the picture. This means if I use standard gravel board (150mm wide) for the edgings I can get away with them 2 deep and still have a 5 cm rise above the lawn level at the far left hand side. Also most of the drop is at the right end so I won’t have to put a full lower plank in. I can just put a piece long enough to fill the gap. Yes I know its confusing best thing to do is look at the pictures; it all becomes clear then.

So what’s the practical upshot of all that I here you cry! Well it means I can get away with digging a trench only 2 gravel boards deep plus the depth of the post holder cup, which by happy chance is about one spades depth. The diagram opposite shows how the arrangement looks at the left hand end i.e. the highest point. At the right hand end there will be two gravel boards, one on top of the other to compensate for the drop in ground level. If you look at the pictures below that is how the arrangement has ended up. The basic idea is to keep the bed level to world, for want of a better expression, which means as the ground slopes from left to right the bed will be higher above the lawn at the right hand end.

Picture on the inside ends for my raised bed for vegetable gardening.

So back to the plot (pardon the pun), once the trench has been dug to a depth of about 30 cm all around the perimeter of the bed as marked out by the string, the next step is to sink the posts. I find the best method for, raised bed vegetable gardening, is to use post holders. These can be easily purchased from a good DIY store and are basically a metal spike with a square cup on the top in which you place your post. There is no need to go over the top with the size of the posts as in the end there is very little pressure on the sides of the bed as most of the gravel board is sandwiched between the lawn and the soil in the bed. I find that 2 by 2 or 44mm in metric is more than adequate.

Ok, a couple of tips when putting in the post holders. Firstly, to position a post holder correctly in the corners of the bed, turn it upside down and place it in the corner with an off cut of gravel board sandwiched on both sides between it and the trench wall. Give it a tap with a sledge hammer and this will then leave a square impression in the soil exactly where you want the post holder to finally end up. Confused just look at the diagram. All you have to do then is turn the post holder up the right way and align the spike in the centre of the square impression. The other tip is make sure before you bash the post holder in, that the holes in the cup for the screws to go in to secure your post are facing in a direction that leaves them accessible. How many times have I whacked in a post holder to find the securing holes are butted up against the side of the trench!! So with all that sorted it just remains to put a piece of sacrificial 2 by 2 about 8 inches long in the cup and whack the post holder into the ground trying to keep it as square as possible……………………

Next time on “Raised Bed Vegetable Gardening”………………

How we put the posts and boards up so they are square and level ready to receive the soil.

Growing Cabbages | Treating Cabbages for Club Root

Treating Cabbages for Club Root

club rootSo here I am back from the garden centre. Those of you who have been following my autumn vegetable growing exploits will know that my cabbages and cauliflowers, grown from seed, have not exactly gone to plan. Some form of garden pest, a slug would be my first guess, has made short shrift of all the seedlings leaving me with no alternative than to go to the local garden centre and purchase some replacement plants from them.

Now I have to say I was pleasantly surprised when I turned up and found a reasonable number of cabbage, broccoli and cauliflower plants all looking quite healthy. They were as is always the case with garden centre plants, a bit on the leggy side, but fortunately brassicas are quite happy to be planted deep and so in some ways the extra stem is a bit of a bonus, as when planted below ground it will help with stability. Of course the choice was not exactly spectacular, we had “winter cabbage” or “spring cabbage,” “cauliflower” and “purple sprouting broccoli.” What variety they might be is anybodies guess but to be fair to my local garden centre, all the seedlings I have bought from them before have turned out to produce nice vegetables in the end. The biggest problem I can foresee is if they are varieties with massive amounts of outer foliage, because when container vegetable growing space is the big limiting factor. Still we’ve got what we’ve got and we’ll have to make the best of it. I think you’ll agree from the picture they look good and healthy anyway.

Ok so what now? Well they are going to need to be transplanted to their containers right away so as to get the best chance of establishing themselves before the real winter weather sets in. Now you can just ease each plant from the tray, taking the soil round it so as to disturb the roots as little as possible and plant it in your container. If it were me, I wouldn’t do that for one simple reason and that is club root. Club root is a fungus that affect brassicas, and when you’ve been vegetable gardening as long as me its one of those names that makes your heart sink into your boots. There’s loads of pests and diseases to deal with when vegetable growing; its part of the territory. Normally you’ll see the signs of some aphid infestation, or powdery mildew beginning to form, treat it promptly with the appropriate chemical or biological agent and by enlarge the plant will recover. With club root there is none of that. Once it is in the root of the cabbage the plant is doomed, there is nothing you can do to save it. So I make sure I treat all my seedlings at the transplanting stage to prevent this heart breaking disaster from occurring.

So how do I do it? Well I use a product call Dithane. It is easy to use, works every time; and here is how:

Club Root Treatment for Brassica

  1. Prepare the Dithane club root solution as per the instructions in a suitable vessel such as a large glass or beaker.
  2. Lift the seedling from the tray with as much soil as possible. Ideally plant seeds in podules so as the podule can just be popped out.
  3. Place the plant in a bowl of cold water and gently remove all the soil from around the roots.
  4. Drain all excess moisture from the roots on an absorbant surface such as cardboard or blotting paper
  5. Dip the roots of the plant in the Dithane club root solution and aggitate to make sure all the root is good and soaked.
  6. Plant the seedling immediately into its final growing position.
  • Club Root Treatment

It is that simple and believe me it is worth it! There is nothing more soul destroying than slowly watching your cabbages start to “grow backwards” and wither away due to club root. It is a dreadful disease as there is nothing you can do once its taken hold. Using the Dithane solution works really well. I recommend using it even if you know your soil is club root free as it will mean it remains that way. Once the soil is infected you won’t get it out and the Dithane might only be particially effective if the soil is heavily contaminated. Of course with container vegetable gardening we can always throw our whole container away if it gets infected which is good news. The bad news is we grow so few plants as container gardeners that any loss is a big one.

So I hope this has been helpful and if your growing brassicas keep an eye out for my blog featuring an interesting design of container for growing cabbages and cauliflowers. Think strawberry pot and then some. I love to keep you guessing. Until next time folks, happy club root free cabbage growing!

By the way if you want to buy the same Dithane product as I use then the link is below.

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