Vegetables, Salads and Protected Crops
|Published: 10th May 2007 16:50|
Vegetables, Salads and Protected Crops
As a gardener, my greatest love is to grow ornamental plants but, as a friend pointed out to me: "You can't eat flowers!"
When we decide to grow vegetables, salads or protected crops for ourselves, there are a number of factors which come into account.
Perhaps the best reason for sowing and growing our own produce is that we have full control of how the crops are maintained, from germination to harvesting. Having grown the crops in our gardens or allotments, we are able to harvest them and cook them fresh. We know that they have not passed through several hands before being used. We have had full responsibility for the crops' husbandry, having made our own decision on whether or not to add chemicals.
In addition, we have adopted full responsibility for the condition of the soil in which the crops will grow, we have made decisions on aspects of weed and pest control, which crops to grow and when and where to grow the crops. Above all, we are able to identify with the rigours, frustrations and - above all - sense of achievement of growing crops to maturity.
Although it is almost impossible, certainly in the early stages of growing produce, to be self-sufficient, there is, however, a great feeling of having achieved something and saved money by producing one's own crops. Most people who have grown their own produce believe that fresh vegetables harvested from the garden or allotment are superior in taste
By growing one's own crops and perhaps joining a horticultural society or becoming a member of an organisation such as Henry Doubleday Research Association (HDRA), it is possible to acquire old-fashioned and unusual varieties which might not normally be available in the shops or established mail order outlets.
The growing of vegetables, salads and protected crops is, however, one of the more labour-intensive aspects of gardening and should not be undertaken lightly.
For growing purposes, vegetables grown outside may be divided into five main groups and knowledge of these will assist in the practice of crop rotation, more of which we shall see as we progress.
The five main categories may be identified as follows:
- 1. Permanent plants
Although the majority of vegetable plants are grown as annuals, that is sown and harvested in the same year, a number are perennials and warrant a permanent site. Included in this section are asparagus and rhubarb and ‘cut and come again' plants, details of which are listed later.
- 2. Brassicas
Brassicas include such crops as cauliflower, cabbage, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, swedes and turnips and form the brassica family. Details of the various crops in this category will be listed in the later tables.
- 3. Legumes
These include the pea and bean family - the leguminosae, all deriving from a pod, which is the fruit of the plant. Legumes fix nitrogen into the soil through nodules in their roots.
- 4. Alliums
Alliums are bulbs and come from the family aliacaea, which includes onions, leeks, garlic and shallots.
- 5. Root crops
These are the crops with swollen tap roots and include such crops as carrots, beetroot and parsnips.
*Although potatoes are harvested as root tubers, they are covered in a separate category and may be grown at any point in the garden.
This is, to many vegetable gardeners the cornerstone of vegetable garden planning and a key factor in deciding where to grow individual plants.
It involves the growing of groups of closely related vegetables in different parts of the garden or allotment in annual sequence, generally over a three or four-year cycle.
A, year1: legumes, year 2: brassicas, year 3: root crops
B, year 1: brassicas, year 2: root crops, year 3: legumes
C, year 1: root crops, year 2: legumes, year 3: brassicas
D, May be set aside for permanent crops or, alternatively, with potatoes, alliums and salad crops
Crop rotation has a number of benefits, most notably the following:
- Pest and disease control
- Soil fertility
- Weed control
- Avoidance of ‘monocropping' * and constant takeup of same nutrients by same plant type.
*Monocropping: the constant planting of one type of crop - e,g, brassicas - in the same plot of land season after season.
The Bed system
For much of the previous century, vegetables were grown
in a series of rows across a rectangular bed, each row accommodating one type of vegetable:
Recently, however, there has been a movement towards the setting up of a series of narrow, raised beds separated by permanent paths:
Permanent Crops in the Vegetable Plot
What constitutes a permanent crop?
A permanent crop in a vegetable bed is similar to a woody or herbaceous perennial in that it remains in the same position on the vegetable plot and produces year after year from that spot. Permanent crops, by the nature of their growth and husbandry, do not have the same problems of monocropping as the groups of vegetables which benefit from crop rotation.
A permanent crop in a vegetable plot may consist of plants such as rhubarb or perhaps an interplanting of soft fruit but there is also a range of vegetables known as ‘cut and come again' (CCA). Cut and come again means that the plants may be harvested by cutting the top growth and the plant will regenerate from its basal rosette.
Examples of CCA vegetables will be listed in a separate topic ‘Cut and Come Again (CCA)