Last week I wrote about how I had been asked to produce a list of top tips for new gardeners and gave the first five that I wish someone had told me when I first started out. This week I’ll complete my top ten with some advice that, although coming from a variety of sources, has proved invaluable to me over the past few years, yet is rarely found in books.
6. Don’t squeeze vegetables into every gap in the garden
Although it is great to try and fill all those shady unused pockets of your garden by adding in extra vegetables, there are only a few that do well in these positions. Most of the time you end up with a lot of leaf growth but little produce – fine if you are after tender spinach during hot weather, or even a small crop of extra potatoes. But generally vegetables should have the sunny patch in your garden, without competition.
7. Water pots from below
I always used to water pots in the same way as outdoor plants – a good dousing from a watering can. But there’s a much better way (as recommended by gardening expert Bob Flowerdew): Fill a tray with water (not too cold) and dip each plant pot into it up to one third of its height. After a few seconds when they have had time to draw water up, lift them out and wait while the excess water thoroughly drains off.
Why is this better? There are three important reasons:
1. The potting soil is thoroughly dampened all the way through, rather than just on the surface levels
2. It encourages plants to grow down for water, which gives strong root systems.
3. By picking up the pots, you soon develop a feel for how much water they need and can give more or less as required by each plant. You learn how much large plants need in hot weather and have the confidence to leave others for a day or two if their compost is still moist enough. In short, you give plants in pots the perfect balance of water that would normally be provided by surrounding soil.
8. Fine mesh netting is the essential!
It doesn’t really matter what pest you are trying to stop – carrot fly, cabbage root fly, butterflies – there’s one great product out there that does it all: fine mesh crop protection netting. It can cost quite a lot but is worth every penny for those crops that get eaten to bits. Unlike fleece, a good sheet of fine mesh netting should last 10 years or more, particularly when carefully attached to a frame to make a protective tunnel or box. Just make sure that you don’t leave any gaps (cover the edges with soil) and only weed your carrots after a shower of rain when the carrot fly are unlikely to be around. The un-spoilt results will be the envy of all around.
9. Don’t try to imitate a grocery store
You’ll get much better results if you don’t try to imitate the perfectly standard, year round supplies of your local grocery store. Unless you are going for all-out self-sufficiency then pick out what other gardeners grow easily. Grocery stores may not see the value in rainbow chard but it’s really simple to grow, brightens up the garden and is versatile to cook. Similarly borlotti beans and zucchini are perfect for the home gardener.
10. Involve children in the fun bits
I’ve always wanted my children involved in growing fruit and vegetables. It’s good for them on so many levels – outdoor fun and exercise, appreciation of healthy food, fresh-picked delights. But I found it’s easy to put them off – the temptation to over-stay at the vegetable patch, or expect to get too much done while they are with me can quickly kill their enthusiasm. Instead, it’s best to separate time with them to enjoy gardening from productive time when a lot of weeding is to be done. Savour the moments with them: find homes for worms, plant some chunky seeds or eat peas directly from the pod – and you’ll see your garden through new eyes.
Don’t forget that you can give your own helpful tips by simply adding a comment below – I never cease to be amazed by some of the wonderful ideas fellow gardeners have to share!