Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Things You Should Have Done But Can Still Do In Preparation For The 2012 Growing Season

Yes, it’s true!  As with everything in life, good preparation will almost certainly improve your chances of success in the wonderful world of Grow Your Own.  Now, I know that the word ‘preparation’ to many may as well be a synonym for the word ‘chore’, but just keep reminding yourself that you will reap the rewards in Summer of good housekeeping now.

In theory, the housekeeping should really be carried out before the season starts so that you’re rearing to go when Spring finally arrives.  In practice, however, it is cold and miserable in January and February and sitting in front of the fire with a glass of wine seems far more appealing than being outside and freezing to the core whilst undertaking some gardening housework.  Never fear!  As the old saying goes, it’s better late than never.  You can still get out there and do what needs to be done with plenty of time to spare to cultivate a prolific harvest in Summer.

At this stage, you are probably left wondering what housekeeping exactly I am referring to.  Well, here it is.

1. Clean the Greenhouse
For those of you that have previously invested in a greenhouse of any size, shape or description, it is essential to clean it at the start of the season.  This is probably one of the most important jobs to do, because it ensures that any pests and diseases that may be lurking are well and truly purged before any new seeds and seedlings can get infested and infected by them.  As far as I can tell, Jeyes Fluid comes highly recommended as an effective disinfectant and I’m quite sure that this is true.  However, if, like me, you don’t have any Jeyes Fluid and are keen to get the greenhouse cleaned as soon as possible, then an alternative is standard washing up liquid.

Be sure to scrub thoroughly and ensure that you wash down all shelving and racks as well.  There is no nook or cranny where pests and diseases won’t lurk, given half the opportunity.  Once you have scrubbed down the greenhouse, it will be gleaming, which in itself will no doubt provide you with a sense of accomplishment and an ardent desire to fill it with little signs of life.

2. Prepare The Vegetable Patch
If you had a vegetable patch last season or indeed if you are intending to have one this season, it needs to be prepared.  How it is prepared will essentially vary from one patch to another depending on soil conditions and so on.  However, in a nutshell, you should be looking at possibly adding some fresh top soil and compost or an alternative mulch.  Also, work some fertiliser into the soil at least one week or so before you intend to sow any seeds or plant out any seedlings and small plants.  After fertilising, water your patch well.

Do be sure to follow the instructions on the packet when fertilising though.  If you are too heavy handed with the fertiliser, your veggies won’t thank you for it and may end up dying.  Trust me on this one, I’m talking from experience!

If you had a veggie patch last season, you may also need to do some weeding.  Keep a close eye on these unwanted pests and try to rid your patch of them when they are young and small.  It’s a much easier job at this stage than when they have had a chance to develop a strong root system.  There is a good chance that weeds will just keep reappearing no matter how much effort you put into eliminating them, so get to grips with the weeding process as you will more than likely be doing it the entire season.

3. Clean All The Pots
Although it may sound as though cleaning the greenhouse and preparing the veggie patch are the biggest jobs at hand, cleaning all your pots can be equally, if not more, daunting a task.  In reality, it all depends on how many pots and containers you have accumulated for re-use.  As with cleaning the greenhouse, the pot cleaning ritual is vital.  Once again pests and diseases can lurk from last season and can cause devastation to you and whatever poor veggies are affected.  Not only will this reduce your yield, but is bound to dent your spirit to some degree as well.  It’s simply not worth it to leave this task undone. 

You should be pleased to know that there is no need to scrub the containers down so that they are glistening, gleaming and looking brand new.  They simply need to be rinsed out with some washing up liquid to remove the majority of the debris that remains.  Once this is done, they are ready to rock and roll and to house your future contributions to your five a day.

4. Check Existing Seeds & Stock Up on Fresh Seeds
Many seeds can keep for a number of years if stored in the correct conditions.  These conditions are usually cool, dark and dry but I wouldn’t get too hung up on this.  In my (somewhat limited) experience, you near enough have to make an active destruction attempt in order to ruin them.  That having been said, check the ‘use by’ date on the packets to ensure that your seeds are still in date.  Throw away seeds that are out of date.  Onion sets don’t keep for the same length of time as other seeds, so they will inevitably only last you the season in which they were bought

If you have decided that you are going to attempt some new veggies this year and/or you have had to throw away some out of date seeds, head down to your local garden centre and stock up.  Quite obviously, you can’t grow it if you don’t own it.

5. Stock Up On Compost
Compost is the one thing that you will go through at a rate of knots.  Even if you have compost left over from last year, get some more.  You will need it at some point and stocking up now means fewer trips to the garden centre later on.  Ensure that you buy a compost that is suitable for growing fruit and vegetables.  You can buy compost designed specifically for this purpose, but if you are unable to find it, a good multi-purpose compost is equally as fit for purpose.  Do not forget to stock up on seed sowing compost as well.  This type of compost is essential at the start of the season when all your efforts will be channelled into sowing seeds.  It is extremely nutrient rich and provides the correct balance of all these nutrients to ensure strong root development and to give seedlings the start to life that they deserve.

6. Plan! Plan! Plan!
Spend some time giving thought to exactly what veggies you want to grow this season.  Take note of the best sowing times for them and how long they will take to reach harvest time, so that you can decide when to sow what.  You may also wish to consider successional sowing this year.  This is the idea whereby you avoid the feast and famine principle of having excess quantities at certain times and absolutely nothing at other times.  With successional sowing, you sow little and often to ensure that you have a continuous supply of veggies throughout the season.  I, myself, fell victim to feast and famine last season, so I’m giving successional sowing a try this season, leaving a period of in or around three weeks between sowings.

You might find it handy to write down what your plans are and when you intend to sow your different varieties to help you keep track.  A garden journal is ideal for this purpose.  You will also find that this year’s plans will come in handy next year when you will be in a position to determine where you succeeded and where you didn’t this time round.

A Gardening Journal is an excellent way to keep track of your season.
It allows you to plan effectively, as well as monitor your successes and failures.