RT… One, Friday, 8.30pm

Kitty's Garden

Programme 2

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:

  • The Ball Test - Grab a handful of your garden soil. If you can form it into a ball, the soil is too wet for planting.If it crumbles through your fingers, it's ready for planting. Easy!
  • The Bare-Bum Test! - If you want the real rough and ready test, heed the Ďold wiveísí who advise that the soil hasn't warmed up enough to sow seed, until you can sit on the bare earth with your naked buttocks!

Crop Rotation!
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
Year 1 Brassicas Onions Spuds Legumes
Year 2 Legumes Brassica Onions Spuds
Year 3 Spuds Legumes Brassica Onions
Year 4 Onions Spuds Legumes Brassica

 

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:

  • Mark off a long strip of strimmed or mown grass/lawn about 1.2 metres, or 4 ft wide with a string.
  • Once the bed is marked out, cover the area with a thinnish, 3 inch layer of manure or garden compost.
  • Using a very sharp spade carefully slice out a series of rectangles of grass-sod about 3 inch , which should flip upside-down onto the manured grass. Try not to break the Ďhingeí , which is the point where the grass is flipped over on itself. This creates a narrow furrow or trench either side of the bed, about 20cm 8 inch wide.
  • Next place your potatoes about a foot (30cm) apart. We used equidistant staggered spacing or leg of the pot planting style. Place your spuds in between cracks of the sods.
  • Then cut a few more sods from your trenches to finish covering the seed potatoes in the middle of the bed.
  • Cover all with loose soil and ensure no spuds are exposed to light. The sods will quickly rot down into soil and you will need to earth them up in a few weeks, but all going good, you should be enjoying fresh home-grown tasty early spuds in about 10 weeks.

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.

Kitty Scully

The Gardeners

The Gardeners