Practical gardening methods

a- are essays on my best Advice about what I find the most practical of gardening methods

Hardening off and transplanting, the facts

There is no operation more critical in the kitchen garden than that of transplanting young seedlings into the open ground. This is because the plants are in full growth and therefore very prone to receiving a check if exposed to cold or drying winds. Yet we are asking them to adjust to such tough conditions AND to root into a cold soil very different to the warm potting compost they have been used to

Greener manuring

Green manures, crops grown especially for returning to and improving the soil, have a long, mainly agricultural, history. Such as lupines, usefully a Nitrogen fixing legume, were grown and dug under as far back as Roman orchards. The Medieval fallow continued an ancient break in cropping combined with a green manuring by weeds. Excellent from the weeds point of view as they got to seed and multiply every few years just as the last batch faded away.

Green manuring

The idea of green manuring is simple. We grow crops on the soil when it is not otherwise employed to later return them to enrich the soil. This costs very little except the seed, which can be self saved, and the effort brings many benefits. Sunlight energy and water is turned into biomass, the soil is protected from erosion and weeds are excluded. The only minor hitch is that green manuring has been developed mostly by farmers rather than by gardeners. So we have been recommended to use such delights as Hungarian grazing rye, tares and vetches, and clovers.

Extending the harvest

Right now in this month of abundance there seems to be plenty but all too soon the surpluses will disappear and we will fall back on our stores. In an ideal world we plan to have succeeding crops without error or omission -but in practice we as often forget. We seem very keen to get the earliest tomato to ripen, the first sweet peas or apples, but then we omit to give as much value to the last tomato, the last courgettte or final picking of French beans.

Earlier crops

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........

Drainage and Aeration

We may be under-estimating and not optimising the undoubted benefits obtained by 'improving the drainage' of a soil. I propose that the removal of surplus water, and it's dissolved nutrients, is little more than a loss and would be better saved for later in the year when it's sorely needed. I further suspect that what really causes the actual benefit is not the removal of water but the improved aeration this causes. And I speculate we may dramatically improve yields by pumping air into soils and aerating water.

Composting, in theory and practice

There is an old adage that says ‘in theory the theory and the practice are the same but in practice we don’t find this to be so’. The same seems to be happening with composting. We gardeners have long been composting and with a few years experience most of us have worked out how to make it work for us. There are a lot of slightly different ways of composting and of getting a better or worse product in more or less time. We gardeners have, by trial and error, found what works, and in most cases it is remarkably similar; a large bin of mixed materials kept warm and moist.

Alternative composting methods

Everything that has ever lived will rot down eventually but by changing the conditions we can alter the time taken and the quality of the material produced. Probably most of us make our compost by the simple accumulation in a bin of the various wastes and materials as they become available. The greater the variety of ingredients the better the results and soil is usually added as an inoculant and sanitising layer. Commonly there is not a re-mixing of the ingredients once gathered, thus they rot down relatively slowly and coldly, and so the compost produced often contains weed seeds.


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