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How to grow vegetables in small gardens - Geoff Hawkins

Following this inspirational and very instructive talk the members may be forgiven if they returned home resolved to convert their lawns into productive vegetable plots. Geoff Hawkins succeeded in covering almost every aspect of growing vegetables during his presentation. Whilst aimed at those with small gardens there was plenty of practical advice equally applicable to gardens of all sizes. Growing vegetables in containers is ideal where space is limited and the containers can take many forms including boxes, old tyres stacked on top of each other, bags and even items of ladies underwear strung up on a line. Raised beds also work well in small areas and are suited to ensuring the 4 crop (potatoes, legumes, brassicas and onions and roots) rotation system which is important to reduce the build up of pests and diseases in the soil.

Geoff explained why it is preferable to grow crops in rows running north/south so they can receive sunlight from the east and the west as the sun moves around during the day. Maintaining soil fertility through the judicious use of fertilizers and compost was also addressed. Whereas some popular fertilizers, such as Growmore, provide the three essential nutrients of nitrogen, phosphate and potash, other products, such as Vitax Q4, are superior as they also contain trace elements.

There was advice on what to grow and what not to grow when space is limited. Mangetout peas are preferable to ordinary peas, which Geoff conceded are better purchased in frozen packs. One of the benefits of growing your own vegetables is the freedom to choose tastier varieties than grown commercially, such as the tomato variety “Brandywine”, or the parsnip variety “Gladiator”, which does not require a frost to develop a sweet flavour. One can also grow vegetables rarely on sale such as kohl rabi, a brassica producing a tennis-ball sized swollen stem, which is very popular in Central and Eastern Europe.

Choosing varieties with disease resistance is an important consideration, so those plagued with clubroot, a plant pathogen that survives in the soil, should grow the “Crispus” variety of Brussel sprout, “Clapton” cauliflower and “Kilston” cabbage.

If members put only a fraction of all the advice we received into practice then we can expect even more entries and even a higher standard at future Autumn Shows.

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