Vegetable Growing by Kelvin Mason

Vegetable Growing was the subject of a talk given by Kelvin Mason, Lecturer in horticulture at Sparsholt College.

Kelvin prefaced his main subject by pointing out that the current economic climate in the UK and Euro market is experiencing rising prices, so it is cost effective to grow vegetables now.

Seed catalogues are currently available and it is therefore time to make choices and select sites for cultivation.

The first task is good soil preparation and the effort is well worth while for future successful results. Use a spade to dig out weeds; the ground must be free of them and it advisable to weed every ten days with a hoe to avoid germination as weeds take nutrients from the soil and therefore reduce the size of vegetables. Double digging is recommended. It is hard work but can be rewarding as this practice will produce better crops. The vegetable beds should be dug annually.

Add organic matter ie lots of manure. Artificial fertilizers were introduced in the 1960s, but these, however are rather expensive and over a period their efficiency is decreased. Keep the soil loose and create a tilth and avoid compacted soil. Never stand on the bed but keep a narrow strip to access the growth area. The beds should be two to four feet wide depending on the size of the plants. Then add the organic matter. Manure encourages worms which, should ensure a good crop, but watch out for slugs. Apply the manure about three to ten inches deep. Order your seed requirements at Christmas time. Sow seeds in spring bearing in mind a friable soil is essential.

A smaller number on each plant produces tomatoes with a fuller flavour. F1 Hybrids are recommended; although more expensive they are resistant to mildew and thrive in greenhouses, giving a good crop. If possible, encourage bees into the greenhouse to cross-pollinate. By planting F1 Hybrids every year one cannot be certain of high yields continually, but they are well worth cultivating. They also produce nearly identical plants which impress the Show judge!

As plants develop together it is advisable to plant at two to three week intervals. The temperature has to be right in the spring. Warmth is required in mid March and April to facilitate germination. Soil thermometers cost £5 to £8. The ambient temperature for broad beans is 4-5 degrees, 7-8 for carrots and 10 degrees for others, but plant these about a week later. Germination tails off in the summer. Again, don’t forget to plant in loose, crumbly soil. The depth of the drill is important so read the instructions on the packet. Roots will not develop if seeds are planted too deep. Water if soil is dry. Spacing is also very important. Rows should be 2 -8 inches apart. Obviously different vegetables have different space requirements, and, if growth is too close a smaller yield results.

If growing for showing uniformity in size is important. For carrots, the longer the better, with an even taper. Space them well apart. Marrows should be no more than 30cm, courgettes 15cm. Once grown check for and remove slugs, then thin the plants out, if necessary. Watch out for pests, mildew, diseases, club root, white fly and aphids which can be a problem. Close netting helps. To combat carrot root fly cover the plants with fleece

An abundance of foliage on onions produces a smaller crop. Water potatoes early but not the main crop. Water lettuce, cabbage, beetroot, carrots, beans, sweetcorn and chillies. However, check your water meter !

At the end of his talk Kelvin received well deserved applause for an absorbing and well structured presentation.