Vegetable crops including herbs and saladings
In terms of glamour root crops seem to score pretty low. Very often seen as a bit boring and mundane, we recognize them as worthy yet hardly ‘interesting’ horticulturally. Yet as with any area of gardening there is always more to be found out and discovered than at first seems. The root crops are quite a varied bunch with a long history, and there are more than you may first suspect.
I'm often asked what differences there are between growing on fixed beds like mine compared to the usual allotment row by row plan, in particular I'm asked about my use of block planting. (For the advantages of fixed beds and block planting Vs rows please read my article in last December's issue entitled "Fixed beds, rows and record keeping'.) In this piece I am going to deal with what I do in practice -bear in mind my parameters are to minimise work and that I'm growing in a very dry area; in a richer moister soil things might be different.
Those who’ve read my works before may have noticed a certain prejudice against most garden designers. To me too many are failed artists fiddling about with gardens because they’re not good enough to follow their original leaning. When these non-gardening gardeners turn their attentions to the kitchen garden they often come out with ineffectual ideas that would hardly credit a complete novice. In particular that long abused term ‘the cottage garden’ allows them to pander all manner of poor plantsmanship.
The potato is one of our most important kitchen garden crops. It’s the mainstay of home production; from new potatoes loved by everyone to the long-storers keeping us through the lean months. Unknown before the Americas were discovered it was not the most rapid success when first introduced and many other alternatives were tried before the spud triumphed.
The 'usual' way of growing potatoes is well known to most of us and though good enough it is a compromise based on commercial practices. We gardeners have more time and skill at our disposal than the average farmer and we can use these to look after our potato crops in more careful ways.
Although any favourite crop is worth whatever efforts it takes, on the whole it's better to grow as much as possible with the least work possible. (Unless you use your garden as a gym that is.) Fruit trees are least work each year and soft fruits nearly as good, culinary herbs take little effort but only a little of each is required. Unfortunately our common vegetables are a lot of work with all their annual sowing, thinning or transplanting and care. To say nothing of the autumn dig! Perennial vegetables just have to be a good idea.
I don't know if it's the same where you garden but for me for the last few years Spring has been replaced by a sort of doubled up half hearted Spring arrangement. I have been having a remarkably early start to Spring several weeks ahead of expectation but then instead of things improving slowly into early summer they have gone awry. Instead of a steadily increasing warmth I have experienced a premature (and although incredibly brief almost as good as the usual!) summer and then a very premature autumn where Summer ought to be.
With most of the crops in our Kitchen Garden there is always a pressure for earlier harvests. True there is also the necessity to give a succession of crops, and a decent yield in total. But ask most people which crop they look forward to most and it is nearly always the first or earliest strawberries,, cherries, tomatoes, new potatoes and so on........
At this time of the year our memories are still fresh and we can recall how our harvesting went over the last few months, our successes and failures and so on. If we are sensible we note which crops did us well, which varieties performed above average and which below. Over the years we select and choose those ones that fit our needs most closely. Hopefully we don’t waste our efforts growing crops we never use and even more hopefully we don’t run out of favourites too soon.
When you think of kitchen gardens you think of cabbages, well maybe other things as well but certainly there is a row or two of some sort of brassica in every productive plot almost anywhere in the world. Which is not bad going for a humble weed found eking a living on the chalk cliffs of Dover. You can still see a few fairly true specimens though other related crops such as oil seed rape are starting to confuse the population.