Preparing the Vegetable Beds for Next Year
22nd Oct 1997
The flower shows and all the excitement that is worked up around them are now long gone for another year, but we mustn't sit on our laurels for too long as now is the perfect time to be getting on with preparing the beds for next year. Before you rush out though and start digging, have a good think about this years results, were you happy with what you achieved and if not where did you go wrong.
It's very important to realise in life that we can't all achieve the same level in everything that we strive for, so if you do see an experienced grower achieving better and larger specimens than yourself, then don"t be disheartened. Be constructively critical of your own exhibits so that in time you may well achieve what the experienced grower is achieving.
Years ago when I started exhibiting along with my father both of us used to stand in awe at the marvellous collections that used to be staged by Mr Wallace Roberts from Ruthin. Mr Roberts in his prime was undoubtedly the best grower and exhibitor of collections; I remember him at Shrewsbury on more than one occasion, staging three collections, a collection of 12, a collection of 9 and a collection of six kinds of vegetables and getting the red card with them all.
Learning from Mistakes
Rather than getting fed up of coming second to him at our County show on a few occasions, I vowed that I would beat him by learning form my mistakes, reading all about the game and more than anything, joining the National Vegetable Society and entering into their Championships. The first one I ever tried in was at Ayr and what a privilege that was to meet up with the likes of Bill and Bob Rogers, Al Stirton, Allister Gray and Mel Ednie; formidable opposition I assure you.
Although we were fellow Celts, I can tell you it took a long time before we were able to understand each other, but by talking about the vegetables and sharing knowledge (not secrets I might add) I was able to improve my growing method immensely.
I remember Al Stirton and Bill Rogers coming to my garden one Sunday after the Shrewsbury show and Bill told me then that I would never grow good onions with the soil in the condition I had it. He advised me to raise the beds so that the drainage would be improved.
Building Raised Beds
That winter I decided to start on a system of building raised beds and this has certainly improved the quality of my vegetables. These beds can now be tackled as one entity rather than just digging a vast area of ground that can quickly dishearten anyone.
Test the Soil
Another big mistake is to continuously year upon year add manure to the beds without even thinking of having a soil test. This Autumn only the celery beds will have manure added to them the remainder will have course concreting sand mixed in to them from my parsnip beds.
I am more convinced than ever that onions and leeks in particular like to have good drainage around the roots so that more air can get at them with the result that they delve deeper into the beds and produce far better specimens.
Another component I want to add to both beds is some good quality top soil, preferably some turf that's been stacked on a building site for over a year. Make sure however that any soil you import into the bed is the best of quality, and ideally it should be tested just in case that it's lacking badly in any of the NPK elements. The sand, the imported soil and my own soil in the beds will then be thoroughly mixed through right down to the bottom of the beds using a Gaff. I tried this invaluable implement last year and it is far less strenuous on your back as you are constantly pulling rather than lifting g with it.
The first stage will be to remove all the soil from one end of the bed so that you can then gaff away at the remainder and adding the top soil and the concreting sand as you go along. Not an easy task I assure you, but one that is essential if you are to get the best possible results from your plants. What's the point of spending hours upon hours and lots of money on heating and lighting and the correct seed only in the end to plant them out into beds that have been badly prepared and still expect to get top results. The old saying is still as true to day as it ever was, you can't make a silk purse from a sow's ear.