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One of the great things about being a member of your local Horticultural Society is that they organise talks on all sorts of topics. I went along to our village hall on Friday for a talk given by Ray Broughton from Sparsholt Agricultural College. He’s doing a series of 4 talks for us and whilst I missed the first one I really wanted to learn more about the soil in my veg beds and what I needed to do to improve it. I’d already taken and dried a sample as instructed and Ray then talked us through a series of tests to determine the soil texture, structure and pH. I have a clay loam textured soil, with a crumb structure and a pH of 7.7. The last two factors are not great for the veg garden but not disastrous (as I know from what I managed to grow this year!). But I do need to improve the structure of my soil. With a crumb structure I need to add a 50/50 mix of fine and coarse improver such as compost mixed with half-rotted organic matter. It’s important on a clay-type soil which is heavy, holding water, not to add a manure that is too well rotted as this will make the situation worse.
My soil’s pH is too alkaline at the moment. Most soil in the South Wiltshire / West Hampshire region is a chalky alkaline soil. You need to aim for a pH of between 6.5 and 7.0 as optimum. If you have 7.5 or above as I do start adding organic matter such as horse manure (use well rotted if you have a sandy soil or half-rotted if you have a clayey soil like mine). With an alkaline soil you need an acidic soil improver so avoid anything alkaline such as Growmore or Fish, Blood & Bone. Other good soil improvers for alkaline soils are seaweed, chicken manure such as Rooster, Miracle Gro, Maxi Crop, Vitax Q4. Half rotted leaves will also help on clay soil and woodash in moderation is a good additive.
Ray mentioned that the tests we completed in a couple of hours would cost over £200 if you sent your soil away for analysis so it’s well worth joining your local society and persuading them to get hold of someone who can run this through with a group – we all paid £6 which was a bargain!
This weekend I’m sorting out the greenhouse. First I dug all the old compost out of the bed and then cleaned the staging and glass with Jeyes fluid diluted in water (35ml to 5 litres). Then I left the greenhouse shut up for 24 hours to let the disinfectent do its job before the final rinse down. It’s important to sterilise your greenhouse and any pots, trays etc to remove any chance of diseases taking hold. As I have no heating in the greenhouse I then insulated in bubblewrap, £14.99 from eBay for a 750mm x 100m roll; I used about half the roll for my 8×6′ greenhouse and attached it to the aluminium frame with an assortment of bulldog clips and clothes pegs. This should keep it frost-free allowing me to grow on seedlings in the greenhouse during February. It extends the season and also stops the windowsills in the house getting filled with an assortment of pots and trays!
2009 was my first show, the Winterslow & District Horticultural Society Summer Show no less. I decided to enter as much of the veg categories as possible and was really chuffed with the results, 6 1sts, 6 2nds and 5 3rds. I won 3 cups, joint winner of the Singer Cup (Onions), winner of Challenge Bowl (root veg) and winner of the Joe Kiff Bowl (most points vegetables). I came 2nd in the Society Top Tray and didn’t enter the Master Gardener category as this is for veg & flowers (maybe 2010). All in all pretty successful for my first attempt!!
Well 2009 was a big year with the arrival of our 2nd daughter, Emily. I can’t believe that was nearly 12 months ago, wow how time flies!
2009 was the first proper year of my veg growing and I’m been thrilled with how well it’s gone. The family have eaten every type of vegetable that I have grown, nothing has failed although some have been more successful than others. The only thing still to harvest is the purple sprouting broccoli, I hope it’s survived the snow of the last couple of weeks and we can look forward to tender purple spears for the first time!
My Top 3 most successful veg 2009 were:
1) Brussel Sprouts, I can’t believe how many sprouts you can get off just half a dozen plants. We’ve been picking them since November and still going!
2) Courgettes, with the mild Autumn they produced from mid-May right through to the end of October – 3 plants gave us all we could eat.
3) Cucumber – great variety, 2 plants in the greenhouse produced cucumbers from May, the last one picked early November.
My 3 least successful veg:
1) Carrots – pretty useless harvest, I need to rethink my tactics!
2) Parsnips – good harvest but variety was smaller than I expected, I’ve picked a different variety for this year.
3) Leeks – variety wasn’t as big as I’d expected, a new variety this year I think.
Resolutions for 2010:
1) Get my eldest daughter, Chloe, more involved. She’s 3 this year so is old enough to have her own mini-patch. Also I’ve got a much better idea of what she likes to eat so I’ll be planting a lot more cauliflowers this time round and calabrese for the first time.
2) Root veg, I need to do better on the parsnips and carrots, both for the table and exhibitions.
3) More showing, I really enjoyed entering my local Horticultural Society’s Summer Show and I’d like to do more this year.
2009 list of vegetables:
In the greenhouse: Lettuce (Salad Bowl, Little Gem & Lollo Rosso), Cucumber (Carmen F1), Tomato (Moneymaker, Garderner’s Delight & Marmande), Chilli (Cayenne & Jalapeno), Peppers (Etuida).
Radish (French Breakfast, Albena), Beetroot (Detroit), Salad Potato (Charlotte, Juliette & Anya), Broad Bean (Sutton), Runner Bean (Scarlet Emperor), French Bean (Dwarf – Ferrari, Cobra), Courgettes (Aurelia F1), Summer Squash (Scallop Mixed), Butternut Squash (Cobnut F1).
Chard (Bright Lights), Brussel Sprouts (Maximus Hybrid), Cabbage (Golden Acre Primo & Savoy), Carrots (Amsterdam Forcing), Parsnips (Tender & True), Garlic (Purple Wight), Onion Sets (Radar), Shallots (Griselle), Broccoli (Early & Late Purple Sprouting), Kale (Dwarf Green Curled & Scarlet), Swede (Virtue), Cauliflower (Snowball), Leeks (Musselburgh), Jerusalem Artichokes (variety unkown).
At last after all the snow the first sign of spring, a box from Dobies waiting on the doorstep. One job for the weekend, the onion seeds can be sown in the greenhouse, can’t wait to get started!