When I started at my allotment three years ago, I thought that growing vegetables without pesticides would be a real headache, and while it hasn’t all been plain sailing this year the soft fruit, carrots, beetroot and courgettes have tasted wonderful and there have been plenty of them.
So let me share the two main things that have helped to produce an abundant supply:
Having good soil
Plants get a good mix of nutrients so they grow well and are as strong and healthy as possible.
I also know that they’ll suffer if there’s too much rain or not enough, which often happens in spring. The answer is to add plenty of compost to the soil, then if it’s too wet, it drains well and if it’s too dry, it holds onto water for longer. Over time, you get a more even amount of moisture in the soil, and plants love that.
You can buy compost in, well rotted manure, mushroom compost or green waste are all good, but better still make you’re own on site and recycle all that plant material, though not the weeds.
Ideally it’s best to cover bare soil with a thick layer of compost at least two or three times a year and you’ll really see the difference.
To be honest improving the soil is my answer to most garden problems… and it usually works.
Growing vegetables without pesticides means that I have to think more like a grower did before chemicals were invented and use other methods to control them.
The main pests on my plot are cabbage white butterflies and pigeons. I make sure the netting is in place in plenty of time, and properly tucked in over the crops to keep the blighters off, this simple barrier is all that’s needed.
It’s surprising how much difference this makes, when plants don’t have enough room to grow, they’re smaller, weaker and therefore more prone to disease. Fungal spores are more likely to lurk around where there isn’t much air circulating too.
Oh yes, there are plenty of those, the usual suspects, like dandelions, are easily scuffed out with a hoe when they’re small. Bindweed loves growing through the raspberries, I’ve been pulling it up for months and it is less of a problem, but I know that if I turn my back on it for too long, it’ll be off again. Time will tell if this is a long-term solution.
Grow easy vegetables, I’ve realised that there are some plants that are reliable and undemanding, get to know your plot and what likes growing there:
For me it’s courgettes, they’re great producers and don’t have any enemies on my plot, they just need good, rich soil and off they go.
Early potatoes need very little attention, so I always grow them, they taste delicious too.
Beetroot and carrots did well in the new raised beds this year, there was plenty of soft soil for them to nestle into and they grew nice and straight.
I’m growing squash for the first time and they’re doing well, though I’ve had twitter conversations with other gardeners who haven’t had much success with them this year.
By happy coincidence, these tips work for plants in the garden too.
Here’s an earlier post about crop rotation, how to grow strong, healthy plants with fewer pests and diseases.
all images: Jill Anderson