Growing your own fruit and vegetables is an enjoyable and rewarding pastime. Flavour and exercise are two immediate attractions. Work invested in a home plot or allotment improves both physical and mental health. There is an emotional reward in harvesting one’s own produce and the succulent flavours far exceed those of food which has passed through supermarkets’ cold-chain handling.
The soil required for crop growing needs careful preparation. Healthy soil produces healthy crops. This is achieved by building soil fertility through the addition of well-rotted compost or farmyard manure. These are incorporated by turning the soil with a spade. Digging mixes organic matter into the soil structure improving its biological life, drainage and opportunities for crop root growth. Frost action helps improve the crumb structure of soils hence winter-time digging is a forerunner for successful cropping.
Ripe desert gooseberries.
Early vegetable cropping tests gardeners’ skills in plant raising and protection. Transplants raised in greenhouses or under cloches provide an initial taste of future rewards. Depending on location, main crops are direct-sown from mid-March onwards into well prepared seed-beds. These are achieved by secondary cultivation with hoes and rakes developing a fine crumb soil which easily allows germination and successful root penetration.
Land used for fruit growing requires similar initial preparation. Fruit trees and bushes are carefully planted as bare-root plants into holes with sufficient space which accommodates the entire root-ball without congestion. Careful husbandry through the next two or three years ensuring the land is kept weed free and pests and diseases held at bay will result in rewarding finely tasting crops.
What to grow? For greatest pleasure avoid mundane crops generally found in supermarkets. Desert well ripened gooseberries are one of the garden’s finest and most delicately flavoured crops and provide considerable health benefits.
Similarly, blackcurrants boost health and make superb summer puddings. The cultivar Ben Connan is a heavy cropper with compact habit. Early potatoes such as cultivar swift are rewarding firstly because of their flavour and secondly as cleaning crops shading out weed growth, when initially starting a new garden or allotment.
Increasingly expensive shop-bought fruit and vegetables and of restricted supplies make successional growing of lettuce such as cultivar little gem very attractive. Courgettes planted out as soon as frosts have gone are quick growing, prolific and very rewarding vegetables. Additionally raising soil health increases its store of carbon and planting trees and bushes harvests atmospheric carbon dioxide, both actions are small but important steps towards net-zero carbon and reduced global warming.
Written by Professor Geoff Dixon, author of Garden practices and their science, published by Routledge 2019.