This is the time of the year when activity in the garden is at its highest. The days are getting longer, warmer and everything is starting to move with only that pace that the magic of spring can bring.
Many gardeners, who have been growing for some time, will know that what they do now will influence their crops and results significantly.
Plant spacing is a fascinating subject. Obviously, up to a certain point, the more space you give a crop the bigger it will grow. However, do we all need massive cabbages, leeks, lettuce and so on?
I have been speaking to a lot of gardeners around the UK in the past few months at horticultural societies and gardening clubs, and the main point that I have come away with is, that for a lot of people, a massive plant, in terms of vegetables, is what they do not need or want.
A lady told me that her husband had brought home cabbages that were so big that even with a family of four, it was three meals later when she had used just one cabbage and that week he had brought home 3! The leeks, parsnips and many other greens her husband had laboured over were really too big. She did not want to keep the vegetables in the fridge for above a week before they were eaten, what she really wanted was smaller sized individual crops which could be harvested and eaten the same day.
Research carried out at the National Vegetable Research Station over many years has shown how row spacing and the distance between rows had an effect on the ultimate size of the crop and the overall yield, and they have come up with some useful figures that help us when deciding what it is we want.
For example Brussels sprouts – where you want to grow this crop to give you succession pickings as the sprouts mature, space the plants at 36” x 36”, while if you drop the spacing to 20” x 20” you will produce a single harvest of small sprouts all mature at the same time and suitable for freezing.
For cabbages in summer spacing 14” x 14” will give you small heads, while increasing the spacing to 18” x 18” will give you larger heads.
Leeks spaced at 12” x 6” will give you the maximum yield of normal sized leeks. Onions from seed at a spacing of 12” x 2” will produce medium sized bulbs, but from sets space at 10” x 2” to achieve the same results.
Root crops also respond in a similar manner. If you want larger parsnip roots space at 12” x 6”, but for smaller roots reduce the spacing to 7.5” x 3”.
It all goes to show that what we do when growing our plants really does have an effect.
How and when we water also has an effect, but I will tell you much more about that in my next article. However, to set you on the right path ensure you water the plants you are putting out both before and after planting. Ideally the plants due to go out should be given a good watering the day before panting and then water them well in to aid establishment.
The reason for this advice is that if you put a dry plant into the soil and then water the surrounding soil the plant will draw water from the surrounding soil and may, subsequently, create a dry area into which the roots will fail to grow.
If the root ball of the plant you are planting is moist and then watered in, the roots will grow out into the moist soil. Just remember to water the plant well until it’s established. The other effects of water, and what it can achieve, will all be revealed in my next article.
With the withdrawal from sale of so many chemicals for the control of pests and diseases a very good way of preventing damage to things like greens from cabbage white butterflies, or cabbage root fly and even leek moth is to use horticultural fleece over your crops.
Do it from seed sowing or planting out and remember to ensure that the fleece is anchored down to prevent any entry by low flying insects. Ensure that it is a fine fleece or use enviro mesh as the finer grades give better protection.