Starting a new garden

by frankbeswick

Taking over a new plot is a joyful chaĺlenge, but it is a serious responsibility.

My eldest son is taking over a new allotment plot. Well ,new is a misnomer, as our gardens tend to be older than the people who tend them, but it is new to him. A new allotment plot tends to be one that has fallen into some degree of neglect, so it presents certain chaĺlenges, but it is a time of hopes and dreams, when new gardeners envisage a luxuriant plot abundant with food and flowers, but sometimes the event is tinged with sadness, as a previous tenant might have had to give up.

Photograph courtesy of LoboStudioHamburg, courtesy of Pixabay

New Beginnings

The early years of this decade have been a time of passing on the baton for me. I handed over responsibility for doing the walks that have inspired my walking articles to my youngest son, as I am now too unwell to manage the walking. I gave up my allotment as it was too physically demanding for my medical condition. But in the few weeks before Christmas there came some good news, my eldest son,who had helped me run my plot and lost it when I had to give it up, has been offered his own plot in a neighbouring borough not far from where we live. He is quite an experienced gardener, having worked in the horticultural industry for some years and helped me with my own allotment work. His taking over has prompted me to make some reflections on the process of beginning a new gardening enterprise.

Cost is an issue, but he has an advantage over me, as I had a plot in a borough that charged rents of over a hundred pounds a year, whereas his own borough charges a mere sixty five. That's good.. Support is also important. Andrew,for that is his name, is sharing the gardening work with his wife, who used to work on her mother's allotment in Portugal, and who is so keen on this project that as soon as he returned from the meeting that offered him the plot she was drawing up plans for what she wanted to grow. A little bit of advice from me will be beneficial, but it will be forthcoming. Their young daughter wants to be involved. She has already done some onion planting with me, so this has all the advantages of a family enterprise.My involvement extends the family dimension, though I am limited to giving advice.

Proximity is a useful factor in successful gardening. I had to drive a mile and a half to reach my plot, whereas my son faces a five minute walk. The allotment is just round the corner from his house. He can also keep his tools there, as his plot has already got a shed. But the incidence of burglaries on allotments leads me to advise that no electrical equipment be kept there, as that is what robbers look to steal. Keep valuable gear at home,it is the safe thing to do.

Realizing that an allotment garden is a community is vital. There are some antisocial gardeners, and they make themselves unpopular, but good allotment gardeners help other plot holders when they are in need of assistance. I remember when three of my friends helped me to carry a portable greenhouse to my plot. Assisting other gardeners with problems creates a good community spirit. 

Commitment is vital.Too many gardeners flag and give up when the going gets tough. Some people don't like hard work. A good schedule is vital. Go regularly to your plot and do some useful work.It is a good idea to link work and pleasure, so going to your plot for a picnic keeps up enthusiasm. Have a place to sit and eat. You will love it.



Beginning the Work.

It is vital to have a vision of what you want to achieve with your new garden. Your vision includes what sort of plants you want to grow. A friend of mine specializes in flowers. It includes whether you want to be a competition grower or not. Some ethnic minority growers grow favoured foods in their own ancestral lands. I have heard of a woman who grows herbs for medication and cosmetics. A vision should also include how you want the garden to progress, for example in two years time.

But your task begins with clearing any rubbish left by previous tenants of the garden. My son has to move an amount of scrap wood left by his predecessor. He is depositing it in a dumpster (skip) hired by the allotment management. But this is prior to clearing any weeds. Some weeds are baddies. Ragwort is a nuisance, as is creeping buttercup, which flourishes in the damp soils of north west England, and mare's tale, a Sicilian invasive, takes a long time to clear. These, along with others, need clearing. Weaker weeds can be tackled when hoeing the surface.

Get a good knowledge of your soil. This is vital. Find out whether the soil is clay, sando or silt, or as is most common, a loam, which is  a mixture of all three. It is a good idea to find out the pH of your soil, whether it is acid, alkaline or, more rarely neutral. Acid soils are pH I to 6.5. Alkaline are 7.5 to fifteen.  A pH of 6.5 to 7 does not need remediation. Knowing the pH helps if you want to grow acid loving plants. Some vegetables,such as cabbage, prefer a slight degree of alkalinity, a pH of 7,but they can tolerate some variation.

You also need to check the amount of organic matter in the soil. Ideally your soil should be dark,th le sign of a soil with a good level of organic matter. Organic matter is provided by compost,well rotted manure or seaweed. Leaf mold can be added,  but it is not high in nutrients. Don't add fertilizer until you are ready to plant, when some can be added as a base dressing. Sometimes growers sweeten their soil with lime, but doing this is not always necessary, and as pH rating is on a logarithmic scale, moving from pH 6 to 7 is ten times harder than moving from 5 to 6.

It is useful to ask other plot holders whether there are any plant diseases endemic in the area. Club root is a common fungal disease of brassicas (cabbage family) and the only defence is a good dose of lime,but that is a preventative not a cure. Onion white rot is a bad guy. There is no cure, except to not grow onions on the infected bit for a long time. Silver leaf is a common disease of the plum family, I had to fell a much loved damson to get rid of it. These are just a few examples, so a good book on plant diseases would be useful. 

Growing Your Crop

Most growers use crop rotation, growing plants in family groups, but moving the groups round the garden in successive years. There are different crop rotations, so my example is not exhaustive. Divide your garden into four areas. The succession can be potatoes, then onions, peas and beans, then brassicas. Companion planting is where one plant defends another against a pest. An example of this is growing marigolds with carrots, as the scent of marigold deters carrot root fly. One form of companion planting is a three sisters' bed, invented by Native American women. It involves corn, beans and pumpkins in the same bed, making productive use of different levels of the garden. 

Make sure that you follow the planting instructions for each type of plant. The vendor's of seeds and seedlings will advise on planting depths and spacing between plants. As a rule the smaller the seed the more shallow the depth at which you plant it. Large seeds,such as beans can be planted at up to five centimetres depth, small seeds need a light covering of soil.

Take care against pests. Mice like to dig up and eat newly sown peas and beans. I used to prevent this by spraying pepper or mouse repellent on the ground into which the peas and beans were planted. Using nets to protect leafy vegetables from predatory animals is often necessary. Slug and snail defences are essential in well run vegetable gardens. Remember that some insects are the gardeners' friends. Ladybirds, known across the pond as ladybugs, eat aphids, thus protecting leafy plants from predation. In the UK we encourage hedgehogs,which predate on insects. Worms are your allies,as their activity builds up high quality soil. But do not confuse earthworms with the kind of worms in compost heaps,they are also your friends,but they need to  remain in the warmth of the heap.

But planting is only the beginning of the process. Gardening involves tending your plants, watering them when necessary and keeping the soil free of weeds,  which can be done by regular hoeing, lightly drawing the hoe back and forth just on the surface of the vegetable beds. Tending can involve deadheading flowers, removing flower heads that are past their best. Harvest the crop when it is ready.

Always remember that gardening is an art at which you can learn something new every day. It is a highly skilled task in which you can have great pride and joy. But it is not an exclusive activity for experts only. Anyone can garden to some extent. Mentally handicapped people can thrive working alongside a genius. Physically handicapped gardeners can garden in the same allotment as an elite athlete. Don't rush your gardening. Find a steady pace and stick to it. Everyone should be able to make their own little Eden. My illness limits the physical activity of gardening, but an individual's little Eden can be enjoyed by others. I am eagerly awaiting being taken to the new plot, and my son eagerly awaits my coming.


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Updated: 12/21/2022, frankbeswick
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frankbeswick on 09/15/2023

I have no knowledge of cilantro. Sorry.

DerdriuMarriner on 09/14/2023

The Hallmark film Groundswell came out in DVD this year. It's about a somewhat lesser known cultural input in the Hawaiian islands by Puerto Rican immigration since 1900.

One character, as a chef, mentions culantro, quite popular throughout Latin America. It seems to me that I never have come across it in eastern-pond recipes.

Was culantro cultivation and use non-existent in colonial India or would perhaps Goa sustain it because of Portuguese-culture interactions in colonial India?

frankbeswick on 02/03/2023

There is no right or wrong in matters of ordering the planting.

DerdriuMarriner on 02/03/2023

Punxsutawney Phil yesterday alerted us all on the western side of the (Atlantic) pond to 6 more weeks of the winter that never was thus far (anything more than rain -- not cold enough to sleet or snow -- and wind).

As soon as this weekend perhaps I nevertheless begin planning and possibly potting into counter, floor and windowsill containers your sage answers to my questions about indoor gardening.

Would you cluster the plants in the order -- acanthus, gladioli and foxglove cottage-gardenites; bell pepper, tomato and chilli edibles; lemon grass and basil herbs; geranium and prickly pear ornamentals --in which you listed them?

frankbeswick on 01/14/2023

Acanthus, gladioli, foxglove.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/14/2023

Additionally, I'm interested in English cottage garden plantings indoors.

What would be your favorite English cottage garden plants?

Which ones of the above would you suggest as counter, floor, screened-porch, shelving, stair, tabletop, windowsill houseplants?

frankbeswick on 01/11/2023

Pretty much what you have just said.You must remember that cacti are not native British, so everything we have 0of them comes from the United States

DerdriuMarriner on 01/11/2023

Prickly pear it is!

But the tempting reference to small cacti makes me think of moon (Gymnocalycium mihanovichii), sea urchin (Echinopsis ancistrophora) and star (Astrophytum asteria) cacti.

What would be some examples over on your side of the (Atlantic) pond?

frankbeswick on 01/11/2023

Cactus is popular over here. Prickly pear is the most popular, but small cacti are very much in vogue.

DerdriuMarriner on 01/10/2023

Thank you!

The plants are all so doable here, and I like them all!

In particular, I cherish the color and scent of bell peppers, which along with carrots, squashes and tomatoes are so supportive of good vision.

The cactus is a welcome surprise. The Opuntia species may be among the cacti growing the best here.

Which species would grow best on your, eastern side of the (Atlantic) pond?

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