We’ve tried gardening on and off a fair few times over the years but we’ve never had the level of success that we really wanted. Possibly our best year was 2020 when we had all the time in the world due to the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown. We saw the lockdown coming rushed out and (panic) bought up the gardening supplies we’d need to get us through to the autumn at least. We had a pretty reasonable crop that year even though the ground wasn’t ready for it.
The 2021 season wasn’t as good. The lockdown fatigue had set in and we couldn’t really work up the effort to get things done. A few things did get planted by nowhere near as much as the previous year. It was also a completely rubbish growing year, every time we tried anything the weather wanted to boil or drown our efforts.
So 2022 is going to be different. This year we’re going to do some research and actually care about our garden. My biggest concern is what we do when (if) we go away. Two weeks in the blazing sun could leave us with a dead vegetable patch. We’ll cross that bridge when we come to it though. Right now we have a patch that looks like this:
It’s 6.5m x 3.3m giving a total area of 21.5m2 . It’s actually probably a little less than that because the far left wall slopes in a bit. It’s a lovely sunny patch. The area close to the camera gets sun essentially all day, the area further back gets all the morning sun and maybe the afternoon until about 3pm. Over the years I’ve dug the soil over. It was hard as rock from the building work we had done. The digging you see hear was the last of that digging effort and I think from now on we’ll try the no dig method.
What’s the no dig method? I hear you cry. It’s completely new to me as well but it seems to basically be the idea that rather than digging the soil each year you just dump 15cm of compost on top and let nature do it’s thing. I can’t argue with the results I’ve seen and it does seem to make a lot of sense. It’s fairly expensive as you have to buy a lot of compost but it should last a few years and I’m honestly not sure how long we’ll be here. With that in mind I’m going to have to source about 3000 litres of compost to build the soil up. I have to admit to feeling a bit daunted by that idea.
Friday 14th January 2022
The compost has been bought. We’ve going for 2250 litres of the finest mushroom compost. From what I’ve read this is particularly rich so should breath life back into our tired soil. I’ve also bought a load of seeds from Sea Spring Seeds. Rather than trying to plant one of everything, this year we’re going to go for a smaller variety and do better at it. The full list of what we’ll be growing are:
- Potatoes – We haven’t decided on the variety of potato yet, they will be grown from seed potatoes that we’ll probably pick up from our local B&Q.
- Tomatoes – Gardeners Delight, we’ve grown them before and had good success.
- Peas – Sugar Snap, we’ve had previous success with these.
- Cucumber – Unknown variety, only really growing it because we had seed and it seemed like fun.
- Onions – Ailsa Craig, sounds like a good all round onion.
- Spring Onions – White Lisbon, we’ve grown these before and they worked well.
- Garlic – Whatever the supermarket has available, these are really easy to grow from bulb segments
- Lettuce – Tom Thumb, the plan is to grow them in the workshop in succession. Remains to be seen how well that will work.
- Chillies – Several varieties, see the chilli page for mode details.
After much searching around for a piece of software that would help with vegetable garden layout I finally decided to give VegPlotter a go. I initially dismissed it because I thought it looked a bit like it was made for kids but it’s actually quite powerful even if it is a little unintuitive in places. I’m currently using it just to plan a layout but I like the look of the timing features it has, they should allow me to plan a second crop quite easily.
Sunday 17th January 2022
While we will certainly be following a no dig plan in the future I couldn’t leave the site as it was. There were bumps and dips at least as deep at the compost layer we have planned and along the house wall there was a trench that was filled with rock. While I know it’ll disturb the soil structure I felt I had to level the ground and finish removing the rocks but the house.
I started by undoing, as best I could, the damage I’d done with my efforts earlier in the month by filling in the holes nearer the camera.
I then worked on removing the rocks from the final section along the house. Naturally, I captured a fairly rock free section in this photo. This was back breaking work. Half a spade further to the left was solid brick that had just been dumped in the ground.
I finally loosened the top bit of ground and got going with the rake to create a flat bed to work from.
All in all I’m pleased. If all goes to plan I’ll never dig this ground again. I’ve pulled our a few buckets full of rubbish (mostly building debris like insulation and painted wood) and about a ton of type 1 hardcore and bricks. I’m absolutely amazed that anything grew up near the house, 20mm under the ground it was solid rock. I suspect that the ground will drop a little up by the house although I’ve tried to firm it up as I went.
Monday 17th January 2022
I decided to plant up twenty of each of White Lisbon spring onions and Tom Thumb lettuces. The plan is to grow the lettuce indoors so hopefully this isn’t too early for them in those conditions. The spring onions may or may not work, I’ve got so many seeds though it’s worth a try. What I’m hoping is I can grow the spring onions to completion without potting on if I have only a single onion per cell.
Tuesday 18th January 2022
Today I planted up a whole tray of radish. I’ve multi-sown the tray, about five or six seeds per cell. The seed has a little bit of age to it hence the number of seeds and I can always thin down if necessary. I think I’ll plant the radish in where the tomatoes will go. My understanding is that I should be picking the first radish around mid March and the last should come out by the end of April. The tomatoes probably won’t be going into the ground until mid-May. I think I’m going to set up a separate page for each of our crops. That should help me learn more about them.
Friday 21st January 2022
I checked the ground first thing this morning as we had a hard frost overnight. The soil close to the house was mostly still thawed but only just. The soil at the grass edge of the patch was frozen but, surprisingly, only maybe 20mm deep. Soil, it seems, is very good at retaining warmth.
Almost all of the lettuces I planted have come up which I’m really surprised by. No news from the spring onions yet. Many of the radishes have sprouted, more seeds that I expected have come up considering the seed is a couple of years old.
Monday 24th January 2022
We had a busy weekend in the garden. I decided to do something about our compost bins. We have three 330 litre bins that have never worked very well. The problem is we have little other than grass to put on them so they tend to rot down very slowly. Digging in the contents of the first bin told me what the problem was straight away, it was bone dry. I assume what’s happened is the compost warms slightly and drives off the moisture but the lib prevents any new moisture getting back in. I’m going to occasionally water the heaps this year to see if that fixes the problem. I suspect I might end up with a bit of a sticky mess but as it stands we’re getting no decomposition at all. Most frustratingly it seems the grass from the front lawn ends up full of plastic rubbish (mostly cigarette wrappers) so I think we’ll need to pay for the green bin service to get rid of that.
In the vegetable patch I built a brick path from the spare bricks we had lying around. I was planning on running an experiment where I did one path with just mulch but I think I’ll use bricks on that too. The compost on the bed is ours, I found a small amount of good stuff at the bottom of our “dragons nest” pile. In the foreground is the mushroom compost that was delivered in the morning.
In the afternoon, about when the kids got home, I went out to lay the second path of bricks. My wife and eldest came out to help and between us we got the path laid put in and all the compost distributed. My daughter really enjoyed cutting the compost bags open and using them as stepping stones – it gave me a good break from carrying them about! We bought 2250 litres of compost and I’d say that was about right for a first application. There’s a good thick layer over the whole bed but not too thick that it’s over flowing.
25th January 2022
Over the last few days I’ve been tidying up the compost heaps. We live on a busy road and our front lawn catches a lot of rubbish. Some of that makes it’s way into our compost heap with the grass cuttings as it can be difficult to spot at the time. I’ve literally pulled a bucket full of rubbish out of what I’ve processed so far (mostly cigarette packet wrappers and chocolate bar wrappers). I now have a new and special level of hatred for people that drop rubbish.
27th January 2022
Most of the seedlings are now up. They have gone a bit leggy due to being on a window sill rather than outside but that can’t be helped. I’ve looked into getting a grow light. The cheap ones look like they would burn the house down and are full of scams (commonly giving massively exaggerated power figures). The more professions models are insanely expensive for a light, I suppose they have a market that won’t complain though.