As I prepare to use the final of our fresh home grown produce from last year, a Jack ‘O’ Lantern Pumpkin which has stored fantastically over winter, I am excited that the new sowing season has finally arrived and that it won’t be too long until some varieties will be ready to harvest. Last years, Black Tuscan Kale, Perpetual Spinach and Swiss Chard ‘Bight Lights’ have all gone past their best in the last couple of weeks after a long and productive harvesting period, with the Kale having bolted in the recent early spring warmth. Our Parsnips, Leeks and Sprouting Broccoli were all consumed by the end of January, and we have made a note to ourselves to sow more of all these this year as they are great winter crops, that either store well in the freezer or can be left in the ground until needed.
Deciding how much to sow of each crop type and then which variety, is a key decision we make at this time of year, with many factors affecting this decision. Available space, the local climate and prior year experiences are some of our considerations, however as a general rule of thumb, here is a list of how many plants we aim for of each vegetable.
|NUMBER OF PLANTS PER PERSON||NUMBER OF PLANTS PER PERSON|
|FRENCH BEAN - CLIMBING||3||SWISS CHARD||4|
|FRENCH BEAN - DWARF||3||TOMATO||5|
Obviously the above is just a guideline and based on what we like to grow and eat, therefore if you hate Beetroot but love Parsnips you can vary the numbers accordingly. Even if you plan meticulously you will rarely get the right amount of each crop and you will probably be left wishing you had planted more (or less) of a particular crop or variety. Personally, I can never get enough of Broad Beans and Peas, and if I had my way we would dedicate a whole bed to each of these crops, but unfortunately limited space means that this is unfeasible. However, one of the joys of growing your own vegetables is finishing the growing year with a desire to improve and grow more the following year. Finding ways to improve yields and space utilization, to get the most out of each growing season, means that I am always looking for new and exciting ways to grow vegetables. Here are some ideas which are easy to put into practice to improve space utilization even in the smallest growing space.
Successional sowing (sowing a little and often) is used for quick maturing vegetables (Beetroot, Carrots, French Beans, Peas, Radish, Spring Onions and Salad Leaves), vegetables which are prone to bolting (Spinach, Broccoli Raab and Salad Leaves) and some longer maturing vegetables (Courgettes, Cucumbers, Squash, Pumpkins, Runner Beans and Sweetcorn). The purpose is to avoid a glut but to give instead either a continuous supply of quick maturing crops or to give you a late summer and then a second later autumn harvest of the longer maturing vegetables. Successional sowings can be made either every 2 to 3 weeks, or after a wait, until the first seedlings are well developed before making new sowings.
Catch crops are generally summer crops which are compact in size and have a very quick sowing to harvesting period, such as Radish, Spring Onions, Salad Leaves (Red Salad Bowl, Lambs Lettuce, Little Gem) and Perpetual Spinach. They are sown amongst slower growing crops such as Brassicas (Brussel Sprouts, Cabbages, Calabrese and Broccoli) which require quite wide spacing to accommodate the large mature plants.
Sowing catch crops amongst these slower growing crops means that you are able to utilise the space prior to the plants maturing and effectively giving you 2 crops from the one space. This method can be used in both raised beds and in pots and containers, and if you are really lucky with your timing and re-sow as soon as you have harvested, you may be able to get several harvests of the catch crops during the summer months.
Growing in Raised beds gives a higher yield than ground level beds for a number of reasons. Raised beds are generally smaller in size, meaning that the soil warms up quicker giving early sowings a head start, they have good drainage which suits most vegetables, are easier to keep weed free (less competition for water and nutrients) and are easier to protect from pests. However perhaps the most important factor is that they can be filled with the best soil type for vegetables and then the best condition can be maintained for the particular crop using specific application of fertilizer and organic matter.
Image from the Seeds to Sow Garden raised beds in June 2016.
Growing in pots and containers is a great way in both small and large gardens to utilise space on paths, paved areas, patios, balconies, roofs, windowsills and low walls. Almost anything can be used as a container, let your imagination run wild (our most unusual container is a toilet cistern!) as long as there are sufficient drainage holes in the base and the container is sufficiently stable or supported. Our Perfect for Pots range contains varieties which have been specifically selected as suited to growing in pots or containers. The only other factor to consider is that crops grown in pots or containers will probably require more regular watering than those grown in conventional beds.
With limited space, the only way is up! Vertical growing is perhaps the best way to utilise a limited space, all you need is a wall, a fence or a hedge and the sky is the limit.
The obvious crops to grow vertically are Runner Beans, French Climbing Beans and Tomatoes, but other trailing plants such as Courgettes, Cucumbers, Squash and Pumpkins can also be grow vertically as long as the fruit are adequately supported. Fixing lightweight planters (usually plastic) to a wall or fence to grow Lettuce, Salad Leaves or Perpetual Spinach not only provides additional growing space but it can also brighten up a dull or unused space. It is also a great way to recycle unwanted pallets, which can be made into an upright planter (more of this on another blog) for growing herbs and salad crops.
Consider sowing a few additional seeds into modules or seed trays to provide spares to fill gaps which develop before the plants reach maturity (due to pests or diseases). Some crops such as Beetroot, Leeks, Pea and Cabbages can be grown and eaten as baby vegetables or as shoots and greens. Grow more of these crops by reducing the spacing between sowings and then harvesting them at set intervals to allow the remaining plants to grow to full maturity.
Hopefully, this has given you some inspiration on how to utilise whatever space you have for vegetable growing. This growing year, send us photographs of your space saving vegetable growing ideas from your garden (the more unusual and imaginative the better) and the best entry will win a free Perfect for Pots boxed collection.