Vegetable plots and allotments
21 August 2007
Wildlife gardening can be part of any garden - even one which is used for growing produce. In fact, it can help to deter pests and improve yields.
Plants grown for human consumption benefit from the natural pest control provided by predators, such as birds and predatory insects, that you can encourage into your garden. Planting with crops that will prosper in the soil conditions and using mixed beds with plants that benefit each other also help to produce healthy homegrown food.
If you feel your garden is too small, you do not want to use containers, or the soil is not right for growing vegetables, why not consider obtaining an allotment? Allotments are a great way to grow fresh garden produce, meet like-minded people and get exercise and fresh air!
Tips for allotments and vegetable plots
The following tips will help to maximise the productivity of the plot and help the environment and wildlife.
- Water butts reduce the need for tap water
- Compost bins provide natural fertiliser.
- Plant produce suited to the soil, location and season to reduce the need for fertilisers and ensure a healthy crop.
- Plant crops on rotation to improve soil structure, fertility and disease resistance. Using the tried and tested 4 group rotation of potato, root, brassica, legume should ensure a healthy plot.
- Plant companion plants that may help protect or enhance the surrounding crop. Planting the borders of a patch with species known to be popular with nuisance insects, such as aphids, may relieve pressure on crops in the middle of the plot.
- If you have a large plot, create a beetle bank - a ridge of tussocky grass - across your plot. This will provide a wintering site and refuge for predatory insects and spiders that are great natural pest controllers.
- Erect bug-boxes to provide a home for ladybirds and lacewings - effective predators of less welcome insects, such as aphids.
- Use non-toxic slug and other pest control such as a ‘bran barrier’ around the plot to intercept slugs or spray aphids with a soapy water solution.
- A good crop of vegetables often exceeds demand. When there is a surplus, allow some of the produce to set seed so you have a sustainable crop ready to sow the next season. You do not have to collect all the seed to re-sow in the following year. Try leaving some for birds to feed on over the winter.
- It is cheaper and economical to grow your own produce from seed. These can be germinated in trays of peat-free compost in a greenhouse of cold frame. If you decide to use pre-grown plants, look for plants grown in peat free compost and avoid contributing to the destruction of threatened peat bog habitats.
- Weeding should be carried out sparingly to reduce soil disturbance and minimise moisture loss. Constant cultivation perpetuates the opportunity for seeds to grow. However, it is worth considering the benefits of the seeds to birds and compromise with a balanced and pragmatic approach.
- Grow clover in grass adjacent to your vegetable plot. Clovers are of great value to bees, which will pollinate your plants, as a source of nectar.
- Consider growing wild arable flowers among your vegetables, such as corncockle, fumitory, poppy, larkspur and campion. They are easy to maintain, provide additional colour, sources of nectar for pollinating insects and help divert pest species away from your crop and provide seed food for birds.