Soil Testing without accoutrements!
Rightie ho, beds are in place, April is here, and itís planting time. Iíve got to be sure that the soil is in the right condition and sufficiently warmed up or else the chances are my seeds will rot before they germinate. For two simple tests that donít rely on any apparatus, I went for:
Before I get too stir crazy with my seeds I have to plan where Iím going to plant things in my wee plot or to use the ominous words Ė crop rotation!
Why? Well, vegetables belonging to the same botanical family tend to have the same nutrient requirements and tend to be affected by the same pests and disease and if the same crops are grown in the same piece of ground for several years, the soil becomes exhausted and the levels of soil-borne pests will build up. Sure it makes sense really and not to mention that rotating crops improves soil fertility, soil structure and weed control.
A 3-4 year rotation is what is recommended, and a very basic, easy to remember 4-year rotation taught to me was simply BASL :- Brassicas (Broccoli, Cabbage, Radish, Swede, Turnip), Alliums (Garlic, Leek, Onion, Shallot, Spring onions), Solanaceae or simply Spuds and Legumes (Peas & Beans). It goes as follows:
|Plot A||Plot B||Plot C||Plot D|
If youíve got the space itís great to leave a few garden beds for miscellaneous use such as growing roots etc. The good news is that some edibles such as lettuce, swiss chard, spinach, cucumbers and squash arenít as susceptible to soil borne diseases and can go pretty much anywhere you have the space. Remember containers are a great way of getting around rotations and in reality, effective rotations are notoriously difficult in small gardens so donít lose sleep over them, simply keep those veggies on the move as much as you can!
A Lazy or not so Lazy Bed!
Soils ready, crop plan in place, Iím ready for action. Itís good to start with the basic easy to grow veggies and you canít get much easier than potatoes. Traditionally, first early potatoes are planted in Ireland on St Patrickís day so with that in mind I called on my good friend Jim McNamara from Co Limerick V.E.C.s Organic College in Dromcollogher to give me a hand to plant a few early spuds, using the traditional Irish lazy bed way. Early potatoes are great because they are fast growing and are usually out of the ground before blight season hits. Potatoes also break up the ground, suppress weeds and leave your soil broken up and ready for following on with more veggies.
Jimís tips on creating a lazy bed the traditional way:
Ready Steady, Onion Set!
Sure what dish or garden would be complete without onions? Another easy to grow vegetable that can be planted from sets in early Spring. Sets are readily available and are simply small, immature onions which increase in size when planted.
Onion sets usually come in a red and white variety and enusre that you only select the best firm sets to plant. Avoid very large sets or those with shoots and roots sprouting. Remember a good set = a good onion.
Spacing depends on the size onions you want, but 25cm between rows and about 12cm apart in rows should see you right. Good onion practice advises that sets be planted so their top half is still showing but often this provides too much temptation for the local birds, so it is best to push them right down. If you have really keen birds, you could cover your onion bed with a net cloche.
Remember that onions like well drained soil in an open site and enjoy regular weeding because of their narrow leaf type but apart from that there is little else to do only to sit back and watch them grow.
With the hardiest of the vegetable families planted (potatoes and onion sets) and the temperatures on the up, itís time for me to start looking at sowing more tender seeds and get this garden up and growing.