I thought I should add some further information on certain words I use that might be lost to some. Therefore, I introduce the beginning of ‘Garden Terminology’.
Mulch – material, such as decayed leaves or tree bark, that is spread around a plant or over a seed bed to both enrich and insulate the soil/plant. Mulching provides the plants with nutrients, helps to retain the water for the plant in the soil and visibly improves the garden soil in general. Wherever we mulched last year, the soil in that area is a hundred times better in comparison to a place we did not mulch. For gardeners working on sandy soil, this is a very good way of improving the condition of your soil.
We dig up our mulch from underneath the pine trees in our woodland area next door to the vegetable patch or in the woodland that the pigs roam in. It is good, brown, broken down materials, mostly leaves, bark and pine needles, occasionally some bracken too. We dig it up, remove any unwanted insects or roots and carry it in our wheelbarrows, distributing it generously over the garden. It is time-consuming work but worth the effort. We use mulch to cover paths as a form of weed control. The mulch is very good and suppressing the growth of weeds in both plant beds and on the paths. Plus, it looks actually very pretty as the colour is so rich and dark.
Catch-crop – a crop grown in the space between two main crops at a time. For example, I have sown this year radishes between my latest planting of purple sprouting broccoli. I have planted spinach between peas in one trench and chervil in another. Lettuce has been squeezed in between cabbages and asparagus, more radishes and spinach between brussels sprouts and brukale etc.
Using the catch-crop technique gives on a chance to squeeze in more varieties of vegetables in their patch, especially if they are short of space. The idea is to sow things that are small and temporary, making radishes ideal as well as lettuce and spinach as they bolt quickly. Be wary of the term companion planting before trying this technique.
Companion planting – the close planting of different plants that enhance each other’s growth or protect each other from pests. For example, poached egg plants sown near courgettes encourage beneficial insects to the pollinate the flowers. Summer savory attracts beneficial insects to eat the aphids that love broad beans. Garlic is supposed to deter carrot fly (as well as spring onions, leeks and sage) and the flea beetle that will put holes in your brassicas. French marigolds deter white fly from tomatoes. Nasturtium flowers are supposed to be a magnet for cabbage whites to draw them away from cabbages.
The term companion plating can also be applied for growing vegetables alongside each other. For example, the ‘Three Sisters’: pumpkins, corn and climbing beans are an example of companion planting, sowing them close together in the same patch. Beans provide shade for crops, like spinach, who in turn provide magnesium when their leaves break down into the soil. Tomatoes are said to protect asparagus from asparagus beetle (if you can grow them successfully outside without harboring blight). However, one needs to be wary of what plants dislike about each other. For example, cucumbers grow poorly around potatoes and sage (if grown outdoors), beetroot will compete with runner beans for growth too much and will struggle, the same with pumpkins and potatoes, both heavy feeders. Tomatoes attract pests to corn rather than repel them and dill and cilantro cross-pollinate when grown together. Read up carefully about ‘what-likes-what’ when companion planting.
The great thing about companion planting both flowers, herbs, fruit and vegetables is that it means you can fit in more types of plants in your vegetable garden than if you restrict your beds to one type of seed. It might look more tidily organised if you do this but the production will be far more impressive if you adopt the ‘mix and match’ approach.
Manure – animal dung used for fertilizing the land. Horse manure is the most popular form of manure as it is rich in nitrogen. People generally use manure from animals that have a grass-fed diet, meaning horses, cattle and sheep, rather than poultry, cats or pigs, unless they are grazers. As a homegrower, it is up to you what you use but if you ever consider selling commercially, be careful what you choose to use as some get obsessed by the hygiene and risks of illnesses from using other manure from non-grass fed livestock. There has always been debates about using manure but almost any gardener will tell you that it is a good idea. The first time I used horse manure from a friend to feed the crops I was terrified that it was not rotted enough and would kill the plants. Instead, they flourished and I have used it generously ever since. I even dig some in to the patches where I plant root crops, like carrots and beetroot that are said to dislike it but it really does make all the difference and improves the germination, growth, size and flavor of the vegetables. Vegetables that feed us need as much feeding themselves to grow up big and strong. John Collis, ‘The Worm Forgives the Plough’ writer describes manure at its best: ‘I take large spadefuls of the stuff, like great slabs of chocolate cake, and throw them into the cart’.
‘It starts with the grass and the roots and the corn upon which stock feed. These things are burned in the furnaces of their stomachs.’
It is then treated by ‘whole empires of creatures visible only under the microscope, called bacteria’. They break down complex substances. ‘Farmyard manure consists of excreta, urine, and the litter of the stable. The first movement in the bacterial symphony is the destruction of the litter and its conversion into a dark brown moist substance, hummus.’ Manure contains a great number of carbon compounds. The bacteria ‘splits the ammonia from the protein’ in nitrogen before converting it into nitrate and then changing it into a soluble form of calcium nitrate. A pile of manure should be left to rot for at least 6 months before being used. Once can increase the speed of rotting by turning it over with a fork (like one does to compost) and covering it with a tarpaulin to increase the heat for the bacteria to work in and to keep extra rain out that will slow it down. You will be able to tell when the manure has rotted enough for use as it will no longer smell strongly and will have broken down into a crumbly substance instead of being sticky.
Blood, Fish and Bone – a slow release fertilizer. It feeds and strengthens the plant as well as improving the soil. When I ‘update’ my plants, I first of all weed around them, then I sprinkle a small layer of BFB (Blood, Fish and Bone) around them, put a layer of manure on top followed by mulch to hold the nutrients for the plants for longer and to suppress the weed growth. Unfortunately, feeding the soil around the plants does increase the production of weeds as you are ultimately feeding them at the same time, hence why weeding before feeding is so important. BFB is strong-smelling stuff that comes mostly in grain form when purchased from your local garden centre. It does attract animals, cats and slugs alike, so do not be tempted to leave it on top of the ground without covering it with manure and/or mulch to deter the pests. Cats have dug up places where I BFB before but seem to not be interested wherever I lay down manure. Slugs will be more attracted to manure so set up the slug defenses after feeding immediately.
Liquid feeds – solutions that contain a combination of required major nutrients to boost the growth and health of a plant. Homemade liquid feeds include comfrey feed and nettle feed, as a couple of examples. Tomorite is probably the most popular shop bough feed used to feed tomatoes including an extract of seaweed. We have started making and using our own liquid feeds this year, comfrey and nettle. I will be discussing the process of making these homemade feeds in another post.