Tips on vegetable growing

Chris from East Pennard Nursery has come to talk to us about growing vegetables – all you ever needed to know

Rule number One. Do not despair

Rule number two. To grow good vegetables you must look after your ground. The Victorians used 20/30 different fertilizers for different crops, mixing them to suit the crops requirements.

Beware general man made fertilizers like Phostrogen and Growmore they are very strong and leach out of the soil very fast.  The slowly slowly approach is far better suited to growing plants, that means using plant and animal based fertilizers and soil improvers.

Dig and top up your beds with compost, kitchen waste etc. Compost mainly improves the soil structure rather than adding great fertility.  Use nettles, comfrey and / or borage (grow as green manure, they lock up nutrients from the soil) in your compost and cover the compost bin to reduce leaching of nutrients.

Organic matter encourages worm action, worms degrade compost mixing them into the soil to create a lovely ‘crumb structure’ which is great for plant roots to grow through. In the autumn add fallen leaves to the top of empty beds, worms will do the rest for you, drawing them down into the soil.  The leaves will also act like a mulch, warming the soil.

Do not use manure on root crops. Needs to be in for 3 years before you grow roots.


Rule number three. 3 types of nutrients groups. Nitrogen (N) , Phosphorus (phosphate) (P) and Potassium (potash) (K).

a)    Nitrogen is used by plants for leafy growth (e.g. cabbage, lettuce, spinach…)

b)    Potash for fruit and flowers

c)    Phosphates for root growth (e.g. carrots, parsnips…)

Buy organic fertilizers, for example bone meal, chicken pelleted manure, liquid seaweed, fish blood and bone…and wood ash.  These are lower in nutrients than man made fertilizers so use them when needed or nutrients will leach away with rain.

Growmore was developed in the 1940’s to help with the War effort, to help make food growing easier for everyone, it took the science out of mixing fertilizers.  Growmore is man made, quick release and contains equal N, P and K.  On the other hand Bonemeal is slow release, contains mainly K and when used in the autumn (all autumn plantings: e.g. when planting trees, shrubs, onion sets, garlic…), it releases its phosphates over a long period.

Crops will grow better with the right help.

Grow what you like to eat and / or grow what you can’t buy. Grow crops that benefit from pull and cook, for example cut and come again salad all year round. Grow different varieties than those that are available in the shops (e.g. try a different potato and / or tomato variety).

Don’t leave empty vegetable beds, grow green manures, these will prevent nutrients from being washed out of your soil in the winter.  Cut the green manure in spring and dig straight into the ground. Mustard helps to sterilize the soil.

Rotate your crops to stop diseases building up in the soil.  Divide plot into 3 areas one area each for: leafy crops, one for root crops and one for onion crops.

Sowing your vegetable seed:
For good germination, don’t sow too early, seeds need warmth. You can germinate seeds on damp kitchen paper then transfer them outside. Use guttering for sowing peas into but beware of mice!

Beans need warmth, delay sowing until Apr/May. Cover with chopped off lemonade bottles as cloches if ground not warm enough. Sow thinly, sow until July. Plan early crop carrot.

Greenhouses can get too hot during the day and then too cold at nights – not good for seeds and delicate seedlings.

Sow root crops directly into the ground rather than modules, sow seed when the soil is not too wet and has warmed (use cloches).

Protecting plants outside (e.g. to keep cabbage white butterfly off brassicas): use metal pig iron stakes on 4 corners of bed, put canes between these cane then drape netting/fleece.

Ensure continuity of supply of your vegetables by marking on the calendar when (& what) you have sown then repeat sow every two weeks. Shady gardens work well.

Try perennial crops, for example: artichokes, asparagus, kale, onions. Beware of Jerusalem Artichokes as they will take over.  Try Oca (oxalis tuberosa) for something unusual.

Don’t forget herbs, they keep pests away. Grow garlic, it needs to be well drained, plant now (or as early as September).

Liming kills slugs, 4oz/meter sq in autumn, 2oz/meter sq in the spring. Do not over lime

RHS The Vegetable Gardener is the best book Chris has seen on vegetable growing, it is out of print but may still be available on Amazon.

Look out for Pennard Plants’ Potato Day in Castle Cary in Feb 2013 (see ‘whats on’)

Notes by Zena